What is involved in the MBA Application Process and How to Tackle this Challenge
Application to MBA programs is a process that requires a lot of planning and strategizing. According to Dr. Randall S Hansen, career coach and founder of Quintessential Careers, the ratio of students accepted to the number of applicants at a premier MBA school stands at 1 to 50. It goes without saying that a lot depends on how you prepare your application and present it.
However the application process and package to most MBA schools follow a somewhat standard pattern. Below are the key components common to most if not all of the competitive MBA Programs.
Academic Records: You must send in transcripts of your undergraduate scores/grades along with your application. Make sure to have this information well in advance of deadline. International students must submit transcripts that have undergone an official translation, so make sure to prepare those in advance to the deadlines.
Your undergraduate transcripts are an important part of the application process. However, they are just that – one part of the application process. If your college GPA is not great, that does not mean that you will not be admitted to a top MBA program (although you do stand a worse chance). If your undergrad GPA is great, that does not mean that you will get in either. Your post-graduation work and volunteer experience, GMAT scores, essays, and the other components of the application package are yet to skew a decision for or against you.
GMAT Scores: The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is essential for MBA admission, so prepare thoroughly and take the test well in advance. Few schools are now also taking GRE scores instead of GMAT, allowing students to substitute one for the other. The GRE is the standard test used for admissions to most other graduate school programs except for Law, Medicine and Dentistry, among others. Some students might find it easier to tackle, while others could find it tougher. Since most schools still only accept the GMAT, unless you already took the GRE and performed very well there, you should still consider preparing and taking the GMAT.
A note of caution during the MBA admissions process: If your GMAT grade falls below the minimum reported GMAT scores for the class, it is very likely that your candidacy to the school targeted will be in jeopardy. Prepare to take the GMAT as many times as you need to pull your score up, or your chances of entering the program of your choice will be close to none. This is probably one of the toughest steps in the admissions process for many students. Brace yourself with patience and hard work and keep fighting until you get a top grade. The GMAT is one of the most important components of the MBA application process. We might agree or disagree in its validity to measure performance and success potential of a student within an MBA program. But at present, it is one of the most important and non-negotiable ways schools measure if you will be able to thrive in their MBA program, or not. Be prepared to take many practice tests, engage in tutoring and concentrate in this aspect of your application to become admitted to the school of your choice.
Application Forms: Each school has its own application, most of them available online. Make sure that your application is neatly presented. Type the application and use the online versions nowadays offered by most schools, if possible. Sending the physical application by snail mail is no longer the most accepted format. Schools count with user-friendly online systems nowadays, that allow you to submit online quickly while checking that all aspects of your application have been fully completed.
Essays: This is one of the most important aspects of your MBA application, where you get the chance to explain why you make an exceptional candidate. Schools get to know you, understand why you will be an asset to their classes and how you could become a contributing member. This is especially important since top MBA programs have a very important class participation component. Lectures, case studies and special projects become more interesting and enriching for students as peers bring their own perspectives and experiences to the discussions. Brainstorming with groups of students that have diverse and unique experiences enables a cauldron effect, mixing acquired knowledge of leaders and effective team members allows for an explosive combination that many times has resulted in MBA graduates launching successful startups that it no time, have achieved millions in venture capital securing and profitability upon MBA graduation.
Take your essays to heart and express your uniqueness here especially. “Make no mistake that these essays are taken lightly. Write and rewrite several drafts — and get outside opinions and feedback – before you complete your personal essay,” Dr. Hansen cautions. GMATCAT.com also advises that you must spend time to introspect and identify what motivates you to go back to school for MBA, what special skills and attributes you bring in to the school and how you wish to proceed after the course. MBA Admission Essays also explains, “this self-reflection may seem like a waste of time, but you will gain from it mature thinking and generate a wealth of examples and situations.” The essays are one of the most important marketing tools we will have during the MBA admissions process. Most candidates will have similar stories, so it is vital that you strategize and come up with a unique positioning. The essays typically revolve around questions like these:
- Why do you want to do an MBA?
- Describe a few significant events that shaped your life/career.
- Who is your role model/mentor and how has this person played a significant role in your life?
- What are your plans after MBA?
- Describe a situation that tested your leadership skills.
Schools like University of Chicago and NYU’s Stern Graduate School of Business often times challenge applicants with innovative questions that you will not see in all applications. These have included creating a powerpoint presentation on who you are, creating a special project on you as a candidate in a free format of your choice that does not exceed certain measures, and others. Be prepared to get creative – it pays off to devote time, thought and effort to ensuring this part of your application is nothing less than superb. It is the one aspect that you can control. Although hiring an essay writer would be not only immoral but illegal, you can seek help from a professional to discuss content of your essays, review sentence construction, grammar and orthography. Your writing skills are important for an MBA program, and schools want to see how good you express yourself. However, no one is expecting an MBA candidate to be a professional fiction novel writer. Business writing skills are what schools seek and also, shall be enhancing during the years of the MBA program.
Letters of Recommendation: Most MBA Programs ask for recommendation letters from two or three people who know you. Typically these have to be from your educational or business background. Again, choose professionals who are likely to recommend you strongly. Another point to remember is to identify people who will help to bring out different sides of your stance as leader and team player. Business schools are especially looking for clues on how you have differentiated yourself from the pack, how you have brought added value to the environments you have been immersed in, and how you will be able to contribute to the MBA program. Do not hesitate to have each one of your letters speak about a different aspect of your professional persona.
Professional Resume: Another aspect of the application you can control to ensure it is the best it can be. If you do not know this yet, a resume is not an informative document, it is a MARKETING document. This is the face recruiters first see most of the times when you are a job seeker. It is what causes the first impression in a job search process, and you can stun decision-makers with it, or simply get tossed. A similar situation applies for the MBA admission process. If well developed, a professional resume can support you in becoming a top candidate. Portray your accomplishments, focus on how you made a difference within your team while at work, in volunteer experiences, during your college years. Express how you have been involved with companies and associations as a leader, decision-maker, innovator, what legacy you have left in for others to follow, even in a small scale. Create a professional format, one that helps readers get a 50,000 feet view of your differentiators with key phrases. Develop a resume headline instead of a boring objective. Make sure it does not exceed two pages, and if you can, limit it to one page.
A final word of caution: During your MBA admission process, it doesn’t pay to be too modest. There are so many smart and accomplished professionals out there competing, and if you don’t make yourself noticeable, chances are no one will notice you. Therefore, emphasize your achievements and unique skills. Control your personal brand through the application process to ensure it is a strong and true reflection of yourself, and what you want it to be. This is how you will be one step closer to conquering the MBA Admissions Race!
By Claudine Vainrub, MBA ’97 Ross School of Business and Principal of EduPlan