When it comes to grad school applicants, I’ve seen it all. And sadly, those who don’t come prepared to an interview or fill out their application and supplemental materials appropriately often put themselves in line for a denial letter.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are a few tips compiled by the Master of Accounting admissions team at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School.

The Application

Do: Set yourself apart by telling an engaging story.
Don’t: Put the admissions team to sleep.

Know your audience

Whether it’s the application essay or the interview, be prepared to answer why, specifically, you want to attend the school you’re applying to. Do some research—the job placement rate, the starting salaries, the professors and curriculum. Connect yourself to the program you’re talking to by telling them how they’ll make a difference in your professional development.

Show them you can lead

Top accounting schools build leaders in the profession. If you’re applying to a top school, you’ll need to showcase your potential in this area. If you’ve had personal or professional leadership experience, talk about it in your resume, your essay and your interview. If you’ve done a summer internship or attended a workshop on leadership (like the AICPA’s Accounting Scholars Leadership Workshop) or team management, it matters. Be proud of your accomplishments; they will make a difference.

Come highly recommended

It should go without saying that the person who recommends you should think highly of your abilities to lead and achieve, but that’s not always the case. Choose your recommendations carefully, and make sure that they understand your goals and what makes you a strong candidate. If you don’t prepare the authors effectively, don’t be surprised if they miss your message. 

Tell a great story

The end is the beginning. When it comes time to sit down and write your graduate essay, have a clear goal in mind and construct a cohesive story. The admissions team wants to know why you want to be an accountant and why their program is the best match. By thinking about the end of the story first, you’ll stay on track and maximize the impact of the message every step of the way.

The Interview

Do: Wear business-appropriate attire to your interview.
Don’t: Wear a baseball cap.

Keep it professional

It’s easy to get sidetracked, especially when you’re nervous during a big interview. While a funny story about your dog is cute, what admissions folks really want to hear about is you. You only have a short time to squeeze in everything there is to know about your drive to achieve a Master of Accounting degree, so make every minute count.

Confidence sells

Being a leader means identifying individual strengths from your team and leveraging them to achieve your shared goals. You need to be a masterful communicator capable of motivating and inspiring others with your vision. During the interview, stay positive and exercise humility. Your attitude can determine how high you will go. 

Know your weaknesses

If you think your transcripts need explanation, or a disappointing test score wouldn’t be so bad if it came with some context, address this in the interview. Any explanation that will affect your candidacy in a positive way is worth sharing. Furthermore, demonstrating humility and pinpointing areas for improvement can be important forces that shape your overall character, which is undoubtedly being judged during an interview.

Bring questions

If you’ve done your homework on the program you’re applying to, you certainly will have some questions. Most interviewers invite applicants to ask those questions at the end of the interview session. This question period is not only a face-to-face opportunity to get the answers you need, it’s also a great time to impress the admissions team with your interest in and excitement for the program they represent. 

One more thing to keep in mind: Sure, the nation’s top Master of Accounting schools are looking for students with strong academic credentials. But even students with the best grades and test scores need to showcase their professionalism and communications skills. Admissions teams—not to mention the accounting firm or and corporation you’re eventually hoping to call your employer—look for these important soft skills.