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How to Apply to Business School: The Definitive Guide

May 21, 2021
Part 1. IntroductionPart 2. Applying to Business School – A Brief OverviewPart 3. How to Apply to Business SchoolPart 4. Choosing Where to ApplyPart 5. Tips for Making your Application Stand OutPart 6. Common Mistakes to AvoidPart 7. FAQsPart 8. Conclusion

Introduction

When candidates apply to business school, they must go through a long, meticulous process that often leaves them feeling overwhelmed and confused. With the pool of applicants becoming more and more competitive with each passing year, it is essential to ensure that your application helps to push you far above the rest. But where do you even start? What do you need to do to apply to business school? When is the application deadline? How do you choose which school is right for you? If you find yourself asking these questions, you’ll be glad to know that this article will help you get the answers you’re looking for and make applying for the MBA a breeze.

Applying to Business School – A Brief Overview

To apply to business school, there is a list of things that you first need to acquire: an undergraduate degree, transcripts, test scores of either the GMAT or GRE, recommendation letters, and essays. Before we discuss each of these items in detail, let’s first discuss the MBA application process in general. 

There are two main types of admissions: rolling admissions and round admissions. Rolling admissions refers to the kind of admission where candidates submit their applications before a single deadline. These applications are then reviewed on an ongoing basis, depending on the order that they are received. Check with your prospective schools to determine when they have their deadline set; but nonetheless, it is better to apply sooner rather than later. 

Round admissions, on the other hand, refers to the admissions process where there are multiple deadlines. Schools will consider all applications in that round before progressing to the next. The number of rounds that a school has can vary, but the average number of rounds is typically three: the deadline for round one is in September/October, December/January for round two, and April/May for round three. Though the deadline you apply for is ultimately up to you, we recommend applying in the first or second round, when the availability and probability of acceptance are at their highest.

How to Apply to Business School

The MBA admissions process is an intricate one that requires you to collect a range of documents and do various things before you apply. Here’s a breakdown of some of the different elements you need to apply to business school:

Transcripts

One prerequisite for your MBA application is having an undergraduate degree from an accredited university. While some schools focus primarily on your most recent grades, schools still take a look at your overall Grade Point Average (GPA). While most business schools do not set a minimum GPA requirement, the average GPA of accepted students that make up the class profile is 3.5 to 3.7. Having a high GPA isn’t the end-all-be-all; it won’t necessarily secure your acceptance into your desired MBA program. So, if you have a lower GPA, you can still get into a top business school; this is where your personal qualifications and professional experiences come into play.

You have to sell yourself in the application, explain why the school is perfect for you, and what you hope to contribute if you are accepted. Your transcript is an essential element of your application because it is indicative of how you will do in graduate school.

Standardized Tests: GMAT and GRE

Nearly all MBA programs in the United States require applicants to take either the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) or the General Record Examination (GRE). Both tests are an essential tool that admissions committees use to narrow the vast pool of qualified candidates. Taking either test will also help applicants get a good sense of the thinking they will be doing in business school. Before discussing what scores you need to apply to business school, let’s first look at the difference between the two tests. Unlike the GMAT, which is used explicitly for MBA admissions, most graduate programs accept the GRE, so it may be a good exam to take if you are still unsure about which program you want to pursue.

The GRE consists of two 30-minute essays in the Analytical Writing section, two 30-minute Verbal Reasoning sections, two 35-minute Quantitative Reasoning sections, as well as a 30 to a 35-minute section which can be either math or verbal. The GMAT, on the other hand, consists of a 30-minute Analytical Writing section that includes an essay, a 30-minute Integrated Reasoning section, a 62-minute Quantitative section, and a 65-minute Verbal section. The results of both tests are valid for up to five years after you receive your results. To get into a top MBA program, you need to have a solid score in either exam. A general rule of thumb is the higher the score, the stronger the application. 

Although GMAT and GRE scores are important, like your transcripts, having a high score won’t necessarily guarantee your acceptance when you apply to business school. Candidates with both high and low scores are rejected from business school every year. What is more important than just putting all your energy into one aspect of the application process is thinking holistically about your application, ensuring that it is strong across the board. The range of scores for GMAT or GRE exams required for admission into business school is dependent on your prospective school. When preparing for the exam, it is important to do practice tests to get familiar with its format and structure. We recommended that you either sign up for a course to help you to prepare for the exam, whether it is online or in-person, or even hiring a tutor. While your GMAT/GRE score won’t guarantee your admission into an MBA program, if you receive a score well below average, don’t feel as though you can only take it once; feel free to retake the exam.

Resume

Another important aspect of your application is making sure you have a resume that is a clear, precise, and professional resume, one that shows how you added value to your professional experiences beyond doing a job well. Spend time crafting your resume and use it as another opportunity to represent yourself. While you should include as much information as you can about your accomplishments, make sure to point out quantifiable results for the projects you worked on, such as the amount of revenue earned. Doing so makes a more significant impact on the reviewer and adds specificity that improves your overall resume. It is also necessary to include experiences that highlight your ability to work in a team setting and lead others. When crafting your resume for your MBA application, keep in mind that it should convey how well you understand your achievements and the impact that you have made. Your resume should be well balanced. Besides having substantial professional experience, don’t forget to include community service or volunteering that you have done and any notable endeavors.

Essays

Like your resume, your MBA essays provide an opportunity to tell the story of who you are as a person, who you hope to become, what you’ve accomplished, the things you have done, and what you have to offer. The admissions committee is looking for well-rounded applicants; they aren’t just interested in your grades and academic achievements but also your contributions outside of the classroom. Most business schools ask applicants to submit answers anywhere between one and four essay questions. These essays are the part of your application where you can include all the aspects of those things that wouldn’t necessarily fit in your resume. Don’t be afraid to show your personality or to be vulnerable; this is what sets you apart from other applicants.

Think about how aspects of your identity: your gender, sexuality, race, or ethnicity has impacted your perspective and your experiences. Make sure to include lots of real-life examples. These little details make your essays more vivid and impactful and can help you to support your claims. Though the exact essay questions depend on your prospective school, many of these questions cover similar topics. Some of these topics include why you decided to apply to business school, how you will be a good fit into your prospective school, your goals and career plans, and your ability to demonstrate your leadership abilities. For more details about writing your MBA Essay, be sure to look at How to Write a Killer MBA Essay.

Recommendation Letters

One way to add credibility to your application is to have personal and specific professional or academic endorsements. Almost, if not all, MBA programs require two professional letters of recommendation when you apply to business school, and a few also request that you submit a personal letter. What is most important is that you are very selective when choosing your recommenders. Your recommenders should know you very well and be able to speak to your achievements and unique skill sets. Don’t shy away from advising them on the qualities you highlighted in your application and suggesting that they include real-life examples of your performance to support their points better. The most important thing to keep in mind when asking for a recommendation is to give them more than enough time, at least four to six weeks, to write a thoughtful, detailed letter. Don’t just surprise them with deadlines; early preparation is crucial. If you want to know more about who and how to ask for letters of recommendation, take a look at How To Get A Letter Of Recommendation For Your MBA Application.

Admissions Interview

Interviews are another tool that schools use to find out more about who you are beyond your test scores and grades. A good interview could be the difference between being accepted and being denied. The average interview can last anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. To help you prepare for your interview, be sure to have a good grasp of why you have chosen to apply to a particular school. You may want to practice speaking about your career goals, interests, and accomplishments. Have a few examples on hand that you can draw from and think about a few things about yourself that can help the interviewer remember you. You may have to answer a range of questions about leadership, entrepreneurship, and how you will fit into the university. Interviews are conducted by either admissions staff, faculty, alumni, or even current students. Student and Alumni interviews tend to be blind interviews, meaning that the only information an interviewer has about you is your resume. As a result of this, they will mostly spend time getting to know you and your aspirations. In non-blind interviews where an interviewer has read your essays, recommendation letters, and other parts of your application, it is best to discuss information that you have not already provided. Interviewers will likely be more concerned about the details behind what you accomplished and their impact rather than the accomplishments themselves. It’s best to select the date and time for your interview as soon as you receive word from your prospective school. If you delay scheduling your interview, it may cause your decision to be delayed by several months, thereby putting your application into a more competitive round.

Choosing Where to Apply

When deciding where you want to apply to business school, it is crucial to base this decision on more than just ranking. It is not about finding the school with the most prestige but about finding one that is best suited for you, where you will thrive. Be very thorough when researching where you are going to apply to business school. It’s a good idea to have a clear sense of what you want and need from an MBA program before you apply. Consider reading student blogs that delve into the student population’s diversity, extracurricular activities and internship opportunities, and the pros and cons of the university’s location.

While we recommend starting your research on business school’s with their websites, remember that this is their opportunity to sell themselves to you; it is where they present themselves in the best way that they can. Forbes suggests looking into detailed reports on your prospective school and their MBA program by a third party, as well as paying attention to the information provided by admissions directors through blogs on the school’s website, open forums, or other events. Harvard Business School, for example, has a “Direct from the Director” page on their website. It can also be worthwhile to get an idea of what your prospective school’s MBA program is like from the perspective of current students or alumni. If you don’t know anyone personally, there are tons of students on social media platforms like Youtube and Facebook talking about their experience.

Tips for Making your Application Stand Out

The best way to make yourself stand out when you apply to business school is by representing your authentic self. Don’t try to present or edit yourself in a way that you think the school wants you to be. Present not only who you are but also who you want to become. What makes you stand out from the other candidates? The answer to this question requires you to reflect on the different aspects of your life, the things you have done, and the things you want to achieve. Here are a few tips on how you can be yourself within your application to business school:

Write Compelling Essays

As you are writing your essay and moving forward with your application, keep the admission reviewer’s perspective in mind. Ask yourself what kind of application do you think they would like to read? Would they rather read an essay that is nonspecific, generic, and clipped, or one that is honest, ambitious, and even thought-provoking? If you want to appeal to the admissions council, tell a story with your application. Using anecdotes as evidence to your claims will help bring your essays alive; they will leave a more significant impact than simply stating your achievements. It is best to focus on developing just one or two examples in your responses, highlighting how particular experiences helped to change your perspective, reveal something about yourself that you hadn’t known before, etc. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and self-reflective in your essays. Admissions officers prefer that candidates show that they are self-aware and have made moves towards conscious growth.

Be Consistent Throughout Your Application

Though there are many different parts to your application, it is important not to think of them as separate entities. Each item you send in for review ultimately works together to paint a story about who you are in the minds of the admission committee. For example, your resume should go hand in hand with your letters of recommendation, where your supervisors or professors are vouching for what you have done, and the skills you possess. Your essay should serve as the jumping board for your interview, the first flicker of who you are and what makes you unique outside of your credentials and professional or academic experiences. Thinking this way when you apply to business school will help you avoid inconsistencies in your application.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Rushing the Application Process

One of the primary mistakes that applicants make people fall into when they apply for business school MBA programs is not starting early enough. It would be best if you gave yourself enough time to gather all the documents you need and review your application several times to ensure there are no errors, etc. The admission reviewers are meticulous when it comes to noticing mistakes or sloppiness in MBA applications.

Always check and recheck even the seemingly minor details of your application. Even the most subtle things can impact a school’s decision and affect the most exceptional candidates. There are many deadlines and application fees that you have to keep abreast of when you apply to business school. Giving yourself adequate time to complete your application will also allow you to meet your deadlines without stress. It can be a good idea to keep a schedule for any important dates and deadlines to keep yourself organized and have someone trustworthy look over your application.

Not Using Your Essays Wisely

Another area where many applicants go wrong is wasting valuable space within their essays. It is essential to use the word count wisely. Don’t waste time regurgitating information about your school or overstating why you think the institution is so great. Your essays are meant to tell the admissions committee more about who you are. Your goals, accomplishments, and experiences should be at the center of every essay that you write. In providing those details about yourself, another mistake to avoid is giving too much detail about a particular experience or achievement. Instead, make sure that you spend your time discussing the lessons you have learned from those achievements and how they have impacted you personally and professionally. Make sure to always answer the question being asked and avoid redundancies.

Being Inauthentic

Many applicants make the mistake of presenting the version of themselves they think their school wants them to be. Admissions officers are not looking for applicants who have a “perfect profile.” Instead, they are more interested in candidates who present themselves authentically in each aspect of their application. It is important to demonstrate who you are, what you care about, and what sets you apart academically, professionally, and personally. An aspect of your application that is a great place to focus on authentically representing yourself is your essays. To do this, Forbes suggests that you write your first draft of your essay as if you are being asked the question by a close friend or family member and then edit it with your prospective school in mind. Think about what messages you want to convey about yourself and make sure that they come through in every part of your application.

FAQs

1. When should I apply? When is the application deadline?

There are three application rounds for most MBA programs, each of which has its deadlines. The deadline for the first round is in September/October. The second round is in December/January, and the third round’s deadline is in April/May. While it is possible to apply in any of the three rounds, we recommend submitting your application in round one or two. The probability of getting accepted decreases significantly as the rounds increase.

Business schools want to admit a group of students that is as balanced or diverse as possible, so there is a chance that applicants with similar professional and academic backgrounds may be chosen over you if you want until later rounds to submit your application. Make sure to check on your school’s website for their deadlines.

2. How much does it cost to apply?

MBA application fees vary depending on the school you are applying to, though they don’t often exceed $300. It’s always best to overestimate how much you might need for application fees, especially when applying to several MBA programs. Remember that your school’s application fee is not the only cost you have to pay, also keep in mind the fee for taking the GMAT and GRE, which costs $250 and $205, respectively.

3. How long does it typically take for an applicant to receive a decision after they have submitted their application?

Receiving your decision about your MBA application depends on which round you choose to submit your application. Most admissions decisions take up to two to three months.

4. Should I take the GMAT or the GRE?

Traditionally, when you compare the two exams, the GMAT has been considered more important, given that it has been designed specifically for business school applicants. In contrast, the GRE can be used to apply for various programs, which encompasses the MBA. With that said, more and more business schools are starting to accept both tests. The GRE is a test best suited for what they refer to as “creative/flexible thinkers,” as it comprises questions that focus on quantitative and text comparisons and sentence equivalence. The GMAT, however, is best suited for “number-crunching thinkers,” given its questions that center on data sufficiency, sentence correction, and critical reasoning. The test you decide to take will largely depend on your school’s requirements. If your school accepts both exams, be sure to play up to your strengths and choose the test you think you will perform the best. No matter which exam you decide to take, make sure you prepare for it.

5. Who should I ask to provide my recommendation letters?

It is best to ask your current and past supervisors, employers, or business peers to write your professional recommendations or your professors or other reputable people that helped you during your studies. Whoever you do choose to ask should have a good sense of who you are as a person and what you have achieved, either professionally or academically. Check your prospective school’s procedure and requirements for recommendation letters for more information.

6. Can I submit an MBA application before completing my undergraduate degree?

Applying before completing your undergraduate degree largely depends on your prospective school. Still, if you are just a few months shy of completing your undergraduate degree, you can apply without a degree. If you are an international student and have to take the TOEFL exam, many schools will process your application but won’t offer you a place until you submit your results. If you are in this situation, include the date you expected your results within your application.

Conclusion

When you apply to business school for your MBA, it is essential to remember to be as authentic and true to yourself as possible. The various aspects of your application should tell the story of who you are and who you want to become to the admissions committee. When deciding which schools to submit your application to, be sure to do so with your best interest at heart. The application process is a long one, so it’s best to start as early as possible. Doing so will give you to gather all the documents you need without stressing to meet deadlines, and it will also give you the highest chance of success. Applying for your MBA is a massive step in your personal and professional life, and it is one that you should take with the utmost care.

About Inspira Futures

At Inspira Futures, our sole focus is to get you accepted at your dream business school. Our team of experts consists of former admission committee members and alums from Harvard Business School, Stanford GSB, and other M7 schools. Our goal is to help you write great essays, ace interviews, and win scholarships. Without any stress or hassle. Our clients have gone on to secure admits at the world's top business schools while also being winners of some of the most prestigious scholarships like Stanford Knight Hennessy, HBS Baker Scholars, and many others.
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