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MBA Admissions FAQ

By Lindsay, IvyWise MBA Admissions Counselor

The MBA admissions process is highly competitive, and for many applicants, especially those who are applying after years in the workforce, navigating the MBA admissions landscape can be difficult. There are a number of questions that come up time and time again when applicants are weighing their MBA options, and Lindsay, our expert MBA admissions counselor, is here to answer them.

How can MBA applicants identify their best-fit MBA programs?
There are a number of factors that can differentiate programs which look similar on the surface and knowing the difference can depend greatly on how well you know yourself as a student. For example, if you’re making a complete career change, a concentration that has an intensive internship and practicum focus may be a better fit for you, as it will give you practical, hands-on experience – something which will be less important to a student who has already worked in the field for several years. You need to assess your professional and theoretical/academic deficits and seek out programs that have specific components to address these deficits and help you build the specific skill set necessary for your target career. A program that teaches only to your strengths won’t be as challenging or as valuable to you professionally.

A strong MBA program will offer a holistic experience, including high quality faculty, robust career resources and support, a strong curriculum that fits the needs of their student body, and opportunities to build a solid network with fellow students and alumni. Student clubs are an important aspect of that final piece of the overall MBA experience, because they provide structured opportunities to build your network, which is incredibly important. Additionally, they can be fun! The student life experience is a major aspect of b-school, so applicants should certainly ensure that their MBA programs of choice offer a variety of professional and social clubs and inquire into the types of events these clubs hold each year.

How can MBA applicants choose a concentration?
For MBA applicants who have a clear career goal and specific profession in mind, the hands-down best way to identify a good concentration and program fit is to look into the program/concentration’s alumni network, and the career outcomes for that specific program/concentration in recent years. Most admissions offices will have this information available to prospective applicants. Look for a program/concentration that has a strong track record in your target field or profession and ask the questions:

  • Are the alumni of this program or concentration working in the same field you’re targeting, in the types of jobs you’re interested in?
  • Are internships available to students? If so, are they relevant to your specific career goals?

Another way to go about this is to reach out to your professional network – who do you know that is already working in this field? Pick their brain, and find out what type of program they completed or better yet, what educational background do they look for when they are hiring? If they had to do it all over again, what concentration would they choose today, compared to 10 or 15 years ago? A connection working in your industry now can tell you a lot about what the reality is right now and what they need.

How important are test scores in MBA admissions?
While most business schools utilize a holistic review process and consider all parts of an application to paint a well-rounded picture of each applicant, the test score does play an important role. The GMAT or GRE is a strong indicator of an applicant’s ability to handle the academic rigor of a b-school program, so admissions committees take it very seriously, and it’s important for applicants to prepare adequately and aim for a strong score.

Should MBA applicants take the GRE or the GMAT?
Start by researching both the GMAT and GRE to decide which test will better play to your strengths. The GMAT was historically preferred and shows specific intent to attend business school, but many b-schools have been accepting the GRE for years now, and truly have no preference between the GMAT and GRE. A benefit of taking the GRE would be if an applicant might consider any other graduate programs within next five years, or if they feel the quant approach on GRE is better fit for them. I recommend taking practice tests for each to determine which test will better play to an applicant’s strengths, and target test prep from there.

What score do MBA applicants need to achieve on the GMAT or GRE?
It goes without saying that applicants should aim for the highest possible score they are able to achieve, of course. Despite the fact that schools utilize a holistic review process, the higher GMAT or GRE score, the more likely an app is to go into the “review further” pile, rather than the “no” pile! But beyond that, it’s a good idea to look at the incoming class profiles for your top choice schools. Most schools publish their GMAT/GRE average or middle 80% range, which can give applicants a really good idea of the types of scores needed to have a stronger chance of admission to that given b-school.

If an MBA applicant chooses to take the GMAT how can they prepare?
The GMAT is often the biggest hurdle for most b-school applicants, so it’s important for applicants not to procrastinate, but begin studying right away to give themselves ample time to prepare. One of the best strategies is to target your prep is to take some practice tests and determine where you are struggling. What areas offer the most potential to make gains in points?

Create a study plan, whether it’s utilizing free materials (many are offered on the GMAC website) or purchasing an online or in-person test prep course and stick to your timeline. Remember that there is no harm in taking the test more than once! Many applicants find that the experience of actually sitting in the testing center is very different from taking practice tests at home, so allow yourself plenty of time to sit for the GMAT again in the event that you want to improve your score. Whether you choose to study independently or enroll in a GMAT prep class, plan to take the test at least 3-4 months before your first application deadline. This will allow you some buffer room should you need to take the test again to aim for a higher score.

How can MBA applicants approach short answer and “Why an MBA” questions on their applications?
Most b-schools will ask you to answer the questions “Why an MBA” and/or “Why our school” directly in your application, but it never hurts to remind your reader why you are seeking an MBA from their school, specifically. If the short answer prompt asks you to address your short-term career goals, for example, you should be direct about how you hope to see your career grow in the next few years, but also sprinkle in a sentence or a few words about how an MBA from this particular school is going to help you achieve those goals, specifically.

In some ways, the short answer questions are more difficult to answer because you do not have the luxury of over-explaining. It may seem obvious, but it’s important to be succinct and ensure you are answering the question prompt directly. Since you have limited space, edit your responses well, avoid overly flowery or wordy language, and try not to use 20 words to say what you can say in 10. Allow yourself time to brainstorm ways of getting your point across succinctly, while still maintaining your authentic voice. Every word counts here, so respect the word limit. If you have multiple sentences beyond the word limit, it can be a red flag to the admissions committee that you are unable to follow simple instructions.

Keep in mind these questions are just one small part of your overall application, and each component of your app should come together to tell your complete story. You will have other opportunities to let your personality shine through throughout your application, so be direct here, do not repeat yourself, and edit, edit, edit.

Pursuing an MBA can be an extremely rewarding experience for applicants who are looking to further their skills or change professions. It’s important to understand how the MBA admissions process works and what applicants need to be doing now to prepare. At IvyWise we work with MBA applicants to help them identify their best-fit programs and compile competitive applications that best represent who they are as scholars, professionals, and people. For more information on our MBA admissions counseling services contact us today.