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Applying to Business School

Applying: MBA Application Components

Pursuing an MBA is a constant balancing act of time, cost, relationships, and motivation. The experience will fundamentally challenge, change, and strengthen you personally and professionally.

There are four important components to consider when applying for your MBA:

  • Application Timeline

    While each program will have unique deadlines, timelines, and enrollment periods, the general timeline for two-year programs (the most popular MBA program) includes three rounds in which students can apply:

    •Round 1: September-October (Deadline); December (Decision)
    •Round 2: January-February (Deadline); March (Decision)
    •Round 3: March-April (Deadline); April (Decision)

    There is lots of conjecture about which round is the ‘best’ round in which to apply. Does Round 1 have the highest acceptance rate? If everyone believes this, won’t the round attract the most competitive candidates?

    Round speculation is counterproductive, apply in the round in which you are most prepared. Applying in Round 2 vs Round 1 to increase your GMAT score from 710 to 730 is a better strategy than appling in Round 1 when yield is highest and there are the most number of class seats available.

  • Application Requirements

    Most MBA programs require the following components for your application:

    • GMAT or GRE score
    • Undergraduate academic transcript
    • TOEFL, IELTS or Pearson Test of English (PTE) (if you did not attend an undergraduate institution where the sole language of instruction is English)
    • Essays
    • Letters of Recommendation
    • Resume
    • Application forms (demographic information, short-answer questions, honors/awards, etc)
    • Application fee
    • Interview (typically upon request)

  • Application Strategy

    A simple Google search reveals that there is an entire cottage industry for application strategy: books, blogs, GMAT coaches, GMAT practice software, and admission consultants. Understanding the what, hows, and whys of each piece of your application is time-intensive, bewildering, overwhelming, exhausting, and nuanced. To start, consider the following:

    Know yourself. Do not be scared to identify your strengths, weaknesses, and behaviors. Are you a terrible standardized test taker? Can you write an amazing essay in one evening? Do you work best when you have a coach pushing you along? The earlier you know your constraints, the stronger you will perform during the application process;
    ReadHow to Apply for an MBA’, ‘MBA Admissions Strategy: From Profile Building To Essay Writing’ or ‘Great Applications for Business School
    Find an accountability partner (ideally an MBA alumna/us who can offer tips, provide feedback, and help you set (and stick to) deadlines).

  • Application Requirements Timeline

    Business school, unlike Law or Medical school, sees a wide distribution in terms of applicant age and work experience. Each school will have a different average student age and years of work experience. There is no ‘right’ age at which to apply for an MBA; the older you become, however, the higher the opportunity cost of applying. The best time for you to apply for an MBA is when you have clarity on your career leadership goals and purpose and how an MBA can help you realize them. For some applicants that may be straight out of undergraduate, for others it may be two years after graduation, and for others it may be seven years after graduation.

    When should you start preparing your MBA application? To answer that question, let’s review the main application requirements: GMAT/GRE, School research, Essays, Letters of Recommendation, and Resume:

    GMAT/GRE: On average, students spend three months studying for the GMAT/GRE. If you take the exam more than once, add a month for each additional exam;
    School Research: Depending on the number of schools to which you apply and the depth of your research (online, presentations, alumni interviews, school visits, and student interviews), school research can last for two to three months;
    Essays: Writing essays involves a series of rewriting (think seven or eight, not two). On average, students spend two months researching, outlining, writing, and revising their essays; the time, however, will increase based on the number and type of school to which you apply as you will need to write a unique essay for each school;
    Letters of Recommendation: Selecting, preparing, and finalizing letters of recommendations, student spend, on average, two months;
    Resume: Similar to essays, a good resume will require several rounds of edits. Students spend, on average, two weeks to finalize their resumes.

    Your essays, letters of recommendation, and resume will require rich stories, relationships, and impact metrics, all of which require time. While you will be able to do several requirements simultaneously, rigorous planning is essential.

MBA degree requirements

At this point, you know the common motivations for an MBA and whether you are interested in receiving one. But are you a competitive applicant? According to MBA Prep School, the common MBA selection criteria includes:

  • Academic Profile

    • High cumulative GPA and GPA in major
    • Above average performance in quantitative or business-oriented courses
    • GMAT score above the school’s median
    • TOEFL score above the school’s median (if applicable)
    • Undergraduate degree from a school with an excellent academic reputation

  • Career Progress

    • Extensive evidence of career progress
    • Visible progress made in the direction of career goals
    • Employer is known to have very high standards for hiring
    • Excellent references/recommendation letters
    • Plenty of evidence of managerial potential

  • Leadership Portfolio

    • Evidence of leadership at work
    • Evidence of leadership outside of work
    • Self-awareness of leadership capabilities and development needs
    • “Servant-Leader” leadership style as opposed to autocratic or self-serving

  • Career Goals

    • Defined career goals
    • Career goals reflect a sense of purpose: passion, meaning, and significance
    • Admissions committee can connect the dots between prior skills/experiences and post-MBA career goals
    • Convincing motivations for pursuing an MBA
    • Rock solid case for pursuing an MBA from the school(s) you are applying to
    • Career goals reflect a global perspective

  • Other Qualities

    • Evidence of self-awareness
    • Evidence of maturity/life-experience
    • Dimension (e.g., not too much of a “poet” nor too much of a “suit”)
    • International/cross-cultural experience
    • A great fit with the school’s culture

  • Common Reasons for Rejection

    Of these criterion, according to MBA Prep School, the five common reasons applicants are rejected are:

    • Generic Reasons for Applying
    • Vague or Unconvincing Career Goals
    • Limited Career Progress
    • GMAT Score 30+ Points Below Target School Median
    • Low Grade Point Average (usually below 3.25)


Job Search Resources

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