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MBA Application Components

There are three important components to MBA applications:

  1. The application timeline
  2. The application requirements
  3. The application requirements timeline

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 versus Round 1 in order to increase your GMAT score from 710 to 730 is a better strategy than trying to apply 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)

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;
  • Read ‘How 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. In total, successful applicants will need roughly a year to a year and a half to complete all the application requirements. While you will be able to do several requirement simultaneously, rigorous planning is essential. 

Tip: 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. Good luck!