By IvyWise MBA Admissions Counselors
There are a number of resources out there that provide tips for undergraduates who have an eye on graduate school after college, but what about graduates who are years removed from academia? For many people, the MBA path isn’t apparent until after they have been in the workforce a few years, and, actually, the ideal time for most people to think about attending business school is with a few years of professional experience under their belts.
Many working professionals don’t prepare ahead of time for the rigorous application process that exists at most top-tier business schools. While professional experience is extremely important in the MBA admissions rubric, it may surprise some applicants to find that many of the elements present in the undergraduate admissions process still apply when evaluating MBA applications. Grades, test scores, extracurricular activities, and more are still crucial pieces of the MBA admissions puzzle. For those of you who didn’t get the chance to prepare years in advance for the rigors of the MBA admissions process, let these tips guide you in preparing the best application with the time you do have.
Take GRE or GMAT prep.
You may be a few years (or more) out of school and of course you know that one of the biggest pieces of a business school application is standardized testing. You may feel a little rusty with your study skills, so take some practice tests and see how you do off the bat. Most likely, you can do much better with some help through tutoring or another guided study program. Some programs can be costly, but it may make the difference between getting into your top program or not. Even if you are on a budget, any extra help will go a long way. The GRE/GMAT isn’t always the top deciding factor when admissions officers look at your application, but you have to be in a certain range to be considered a strong candidate. Get familiar with your top school choices and what their GRE/GMAT ranges are. Take a look at the Class Profile on their websites; you can get a good idea of how you fit in by comparing your stats to others who have recently entered the program.
Low GPA? You can do something about it.
Some students have less-than-stellar undergraduate transcripts and may feel their lower grades don’t represent their full potential for future academic careers. Maybe your major in fine arts doesn’t muster confidence in your quantitative abilities. Your GPA and your undergraduate major will inform the admissions committee about your ability to thrive in a rigorous academic environment. They don’t want to set anyone up to fail, so if you can’t show that you can cut it, they aren’t going to take the chance. If you are lacking in these areas, consider taking 1-3 classes in finance, accounting, economics, or another quantitative subject. Get an A. You should address any weaknesses you have in the optional essay on your application and highlight the fact that you took initiative to brush up on your quantitative skills and demonstrate your potential for excellence (but try to keep it modest). Recent, relevant coursework is a great way to support your application and may take only a semester or two to complete. Another consideration if your undergraduate major is very removed from the business/quantitative field is to get a Business certificate. Many schools have a certificate program that will usually consist of 4-6 classes and cover the main areas of a core business curriculum. You can test out the waters to see if business school is the right fit, and if and when you are inspired to go the distance with an MBA, you will have the relevant coursework to elevate your application.
So you weren’t the president of your sorority.
That’s OK, you have a chance as a working professional to add extracurricular activities to your resume. Find out if your company offers any volunteer or community service work. Some offices or companies have relationships with local charities or organizations that make it easier for you to find a way to give back to the community and demonstrate your commitment to others. Some have mentorship programs where you can take a new hire under your wing and serve as their resource and guide in their particular career path. Search for a charity that means something to you. Find a cause that motivates you and that you will make time to dedicate from your busy schedule. Be creative even if you have limited time. Having extracurricular activities on your application is very important, and the time you have spent doing those activities in meaningful to admissions committees. Start as early as possible and consider things you were doing in the past that you hadn’t considered “extracurricular,” like donating to a food pantry. Take the next step and work a few shifts at the food pantry every month. It’s a continuation of your service and you can connect those dots to strengthen your demonstrated commitment. If you are already part of an organization in some capacity, volunteer to take on a leadership role. Being able to list a leadership position shows confidence, maturity and your desire to contribute assertively. These are qualities they will be looking for in MBA applicants- dynamic members of their MBA cohorts.
As a working professional, you have the potential to build the elements you need into your MBA application, but you may have to be creative with your time and the way in which you present your accomplishments. Be sure that you are solid in all of the main areas that you will be evaluated in your application to business school- GRE/GMAT, professional experience (resume), academic background, extracurricular activities, and essays. You should seek help in areas that you feel you are lacking and make sure you are warming yourself up for a demanding academic program. You are embarking on a journey that will change your life and your career. You should be prepared and excited for the challenge.