B-school discussion boards and blogs have become so popular that it’s hard to remember what MBA admissions were like without them. It may take applicants some time to find their way to these websites, but once they’ve found a board or blog they like, they go back to again and again, and use the information and advice they find there.

There are a lot of good things to say about this trend. The admissions blogs and discussion boards hosted by Wharton, Chicago, Harvard and Yale add transparency to the admissions process. They help applicants understand what those schools are looking for in prospective students and clarify what goes on in the application process.

Of course, the drawback to the official websites is precisely the fact that they’re official. There are topics that school representatives can’t reasonably be expected to discuss in a public setting. That may be one reason why unofficial blogs and discussion boards have become so prevalent. (I regularly serve as the monitor for an MBA admissions thread on an independent discussion board myself. My posts can be read on the ‘Ask Admissions Consultants’ thread in the MBA section of AdmissionsBoards.com. I’m also a regular contributor to the AdmissionsConsultants Twitter account.)

There are some good things to say about this trend, too – but the blogs and discussion boards also present b-school applicants with some serious hazards, especially when they present purported information or insights from other applicants. Here are some reasons why you should be cautious about believing everything you read about b-school admissions on the Internet.

Browsers Beware

– Do you really know who you’re talking to? BSchool_Bud says he’s a 26-year-old working for a bank in Manhattan, juggling offers from top business schools. How do you know he’s not really in Manhattan, Idaho, hoping to get into community college? Or that he (she?) is not an unscrupulous rival trying to mislead other Wharton or Harvard or Stanford applicants with bad advice? (I know of a case where an applicant to a top b-school was doing exactly that.)

– Are you sure you’re not reading a sales pitch? If a blogger or message board member repeatedly mentions a particular test prep company or an admissions consulting firm, ask yourself whether they might be receiving money to get the company’s name out. (Again, I know of a case where a purported b-school applicant turned out to be a promoter for an admissions-related service.)

– Does this person really know what they’re talking about? The biggest problem with applicant blogs is that their authors write from a very limited point of view. That means that an applicant might be completely upfront and sincere in what they write about their experience with b-school admissions and still dispense inaccurate information.

For example, someone might genuinely believe that she was rejected by every school she applied to because she never worked for a Fortune 500 company. That doesn’t mean that’s really why the admissions committees dinged her. It might be, rather, that the applicant submitted weak essays, or that her recommendations were lukewarm, or that her undergrad record was less than inspiring.

It would be hard for an applicant, looking at the admissions process from the outside, to realize those things. And even if an applicant did understand where she fell short, she might not be inclined to discuss her failings in public. It’s hard to be honest about ourselves, especially when we’re looking at our failures. That’s another reason why applicants’ aren’t always a reliable source of information on b-school admissions.

Caveat Emptor

I’m not trying to get anyone paranoid about blogs and discussion boards. They are good resources for certain aspects of the admissions process and should be used by aspiring MBA students. They have to be read with a grain of salt, however.

Think of it as good practice for your career. In business, you’ll often have to make judgment calls based on information and analyses that might or might not be on the mark. Get in the habit now of sniffing out the authentic from the untrue, the accurate from the off-base, the sincere from the spin. It’s not a skill anyone ever develops to perfection. As Abraham Lincoln noted, it is possible to fool all of the people some of the time. But like any other skill it is one that gets better with use, and can be one of the most valuable assets you bring to your MBA program and to your career.