How To Apply For an MBA: 10 Steps to Success

US News and World Report

By Ilana Kowarski
March 21, 2017

A methodical approach can make the MBA application process more manageable.

Many prospective MBA students feel intimidated by the amount of work involved in applying to business school.

“Fear is the primary reason applicants lose the energy to continue,” MBA admissions consultant Stacy Blackman wrote in a blog post for U.S. News. “Self-doubt, anxiety, procrastination and generally feeling overwhelmed by this process are often the roadblocks to success.”

One way to mitigate the stress of the business school admissions process is to take a step-by-step approach to MBA applications, experts say. Below is a to-do list for people who are contemplating business school.

1. Assess whether an MBA is a good fit: Experts say although it is common for people who are unsure about their career goals to apply to business school, prospective students should only apply to MBA programs if they have a clear answer to the question of why they want an MBA and how an MBA will help them in the future.

“The answer should show focus, direction and sufficient self-reflection,” Blackman wrote in a different post. “If you aren’t 100 percent sure that an MBA is what you need to succeed, the admissions committee isn’t going to take a chance on you either.”

The case to pursue an MBA is strong for workers who hope to become leaders in industries where executives usually have MBAs, Blackman wrote in a blog post. “If your sights are set on working for companies such as Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase & Co., McKinsey & Co. or Boston Consulting Group, know that having the MBA credential is typically an unspoken requirement.”

2. Prepare for either the GRE or GMAT: Experts say MBA applicants should take diagnostic exams for both the GRE and GMAT, so they can compare their performance before choosing which standardized test to take since many business schools accept both GRE and GMAT scores.”

I would only ever recommend preparing for one of the two tests,” Dan Edmonds, a test prep tutor with the New York-based admissions consulting firm IvyWise, said in an email. “If students don’t see the kind of improvement or score they expected from one test, it might make sense to switch to the other test.”

It’s also important to allow sufficient time for test preparation, experts say. “Most applicants devote at least 100 hours to test preparation, and depending on where you are in the process, you may have to take a prep class and perhaps take the test more than once,” Blackman wrote in a blog post.

3. Research schools: Experts say it is important for prospective students to investigate the academic credentials of admitted students at various business schools in order to gauge their competitiveness in the business school applicant pool.

“Not all programs are the same, so I suggest applicants do a lot of research as well as soul-searching prior to the school selection process,” Blackman wrote in a blog post. “Being realistic about your profile and aligning yourself with programs that mesh with your particular academic and professional background is the surest recipe for success.”

4. Decide where to apply: Experts recommend that prospective business students apply to a mix of business schools, including at least one reach school, at least one safety school and a school where their test scores, grades and work experience match with that of the typical student, except in rare cases where only one school matches a prospective student’s requirements. Applying to a variety of business schools increases the odds of acceptance to an MBA program assuming that each application is carefully constructed, experts say, but applying to an excessive number of schools often results in sloppy applications.”

Don’t apply to more than six schools,” Blackman wrote in a blog post. “This is an intense and time-consuming process. Applying to too many schools leads to burnout and diminishing returns.”

5. Understand deadlines: Some business schools split their application season into three rounds, so prospective students have the option of applying to these schools during round one, round two or round three. Understanding the timeline of the MBA application process can help prospective students stay organized.

At schools with an early action or early decision program during round one, prospective students who apply during round one have a higher chance of admission than those who apply later on, experts say.

“Early applications show serious interest and planning,” Blackman wrote in a blog post. “In this round, you may have the greatest statistical chance, since you’re only being compared to the current candidate pool.”

The other advantage of applying to an MBA program during round one, Blackman wrote, is that prospective students can respond to a rejection or wait-list decision by applying elsewhere for admission.

However, prospective students who want to retake a standardized test or who are receiving grades for quantitative courses after the round one deadline should consider waiting to submit their application until round two, Blackman wrote.

6. Visit business schools: A campus visit can help prospective students assess whether an MBA program is worth the investment.

“Spring is an ideal time to schedule your school visits,” Blackman wrote in a blog post. “It makes little sense to check out the campus during summer, when classes aren’t in session, because one key characteristic you want to observe is the interaction between students and faculty.”

Conversations with current students can also be illuminating, Blackman wrote. “Often you’ll learn more about your fit with a particular school over these types of encounters than during an official admissions tour.”

7. Craft a compelling resume: Business school admissions consultants say an MBA resume should highlight soft skills that are essential for business executives, such as leadership, communication and teamwork skills. It’s also important, experts say, to show evidence of meaningful personal growth.

8. Write a standout essay: Experts say that an MBA essay should express the author’s personality and clearly communicate his or her reasons for wanting to attend business school.

It’s also vital to establish a cordial tone throughout the essay, experts say. “How you communicate is often more important than what you communicate,” Don Martin, a higher education admissions expert and former admissions dean at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, wrote in blog post for U.S. News. “In other words, your tone needs to be positive but not pompous; conversational but not colloquial; thoughtful but not trivial.”

9. Take time to revise: Once the MBA application is complete, it’s essential to take a second look at the application a few days later, experts say.

“If you can come back to your essays days later with fresh eyes, you’ll often think of a better example or more inspired language to illustrate a certain point,” Blackman wrote in a blog post. “This won’t happen if you’re forced to work at warp speed.”

10. Anticipate admissions interviews: Not all applicants will receive an invitation to interview at each program. Schools generally invite strong applicants to interview within a month of their application.

It’s important to directly and fully answer questions that come up during an admissions interview, Martin wrote in a U.S. News blog post.

“Do not yield to the temptation to veer off track or avoid answering a question. This leaves a very negative impression and makes it look like you are not listening, have something to hide, or are taking control of the interview.”