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Guide to applying for an MBA

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A Master of Business Administration (MBA) prepares business professionals for leadership roles within their chosen field, but these programs are usually incredibly competitive. When applying for an MBA program, schools will consider your personal essay, test scores, letters of recommendation and more. Here’s what to know before sending in your application.

MBA application deadlines

Many business schools have several rounds of deadlines for admissions throughout the year. Students typically apply during the fall, winter or spring and receive an admissions decision within two to three months. For the 2022-23 school year, many top MBA programs have their deadlines in September 2021, January 2022 and April 2022.

Here are some examples from the top business schools:

  • Stanford Business School: Sept. 9, 2021, for Round 1, Jan. 5, 2022, for Round 2 and April 12, 2022, for Round 3.
  • Harvard Business School: Sept. 8, 2021, for Round 1, Jan. 4, 2022, for Round 2 and April 28, 2022, for Round 3.
  • University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business: Sept. 8, 2021, for Round 1, Jan. 5, 2022, for Round 2 and March 30, 2022, for Round 3.

These deadlines often correspond to academic and scholarship opportunities. For example, Columbia Business School has an early-decision deadline in October for students whose first choice is Columbia, with a January deadline for students who wish to be considered for merit-based awards. All other students may apply by the April deadline, but these applications are evaluated after the early-decision applications have been reviewed.

A few schools offer rolling admissions, where students may apply at any time during the year. In these cases, admission is granted on a first-come, first-served basis. In any case, it’s usually best to apply to your MBA program as early as possible.

What are the application requirements for an MBA?

Each school has its own application process, and you’ll need different information for each one. However, there are a few common requirements for your MBA application.

Standardized tests

MBA applications require test scores from the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) to compare applicant ability. Students should take this test several months before the application deadline to give themselves enough time to retake the test if needed. Applicants can prepare for the test through in-person or online prep courses.

Students can take the test only on specific dates set by the testing centers. Business schools often accept scores in the 650 to 690 range but prefer scores of 700 or higher.

Undergraduate transcript

Undergraduate transcripts showcase the applicants’ academic ability. MBA admissions officers look at an applicant’s cumulative GPA but also consider factors like the undergraduate institution’s academic reputation and the types of courses taken by the student.

These factors help admissions officers compare and rank students by their GPAs.

Many top business schools do not set a minimum requirement for undergraduate GPAs, but you’ll have the best chance of being accepted with a GPA above 3.5.

Resume

MBA applications often require a professional resume. Many business students work for several years before applying to an MBA program, and setting career goals early on can help students prepare to apply.

For example, students who want to pursue an MBA in finance should work in finance before applying for their MBA. Business schools seek applicants with clear professional goals and experience relevant to their chosen program.

Students can also highlight any volunteer work and community service if it has a connection to their MBA goals.

Essays

Many business schools require personal essays as a part of the application process. The number of essays usually ranges from one to three, depending on the school.

MBA admissions officers use personal essays to get to know the candidates; a well-written essay may be the deciding factor for applicants with similar academic backgrounds. Admissions officers look for clear, concise essays with no grammatical errors, and they often reward creativity.

Students should expect essay prompts such as:

  • How will this MBA program help you meet your career goals?
  • What will you contribute to the business school/MBA program?
  • What makes you a good candidate for this MBA program?

Letters of recommendation

MBA programs typically require one to three letters of recommendation from people who know the applicant in a professional capacity, such as an employer or college coach. Students should avoid asking for letters from family members or friends.

Letters of recommendation must emphasize professional accomplishments and desirable qualities and should explain why the applicant would be a good candidate for the program.

Interview

Some top MBA programs require students to perform an interview with an alumni of the program. Potential applicants should check the business school’s website or call the admissions department to determine if they require an interview.

Admissions departments use alumni interviews to get a trusted perspective on the applicants. Alumni understand the MBA program and its demands, which allows them to evaluate any potential candidates and decide if they will be a good fit.

Applicants should prepare for an interview by dressing nicely, arriving early and preparing a few questions about the program. Interviewers will expect professional and thoughtful answers to their questions.

Frequently asked questions about MBA applications

How can I apply for an MBA?

If you’re interested in pursuing an MBA, start by researching which schools you want to apply to. Then browse the school’s website or call the admissions department to find out the application requirements. Pay careful attention to application deadlines — most schools won’t consider applications submitted after the deadline.

What makes a strong MBA candidate?

A strong MBA candidate is a well-rounded student with few or no weak spots in their application. Strong test scores, relevant work experience and creative personal essays all contribute to a successful MBA application.

Is it hard to get into an MBA program?

MBA programs at top schools are very difficult to get into. Applicants need strong transcripts, excellent GMAT scores and relevant professional experience. If you’re curious about your chances, you can typically view admission rates on program websites.

What is the best age to do an MBA?

While some students assume that it’s best to start a graduate program immediately after receiving an undergraduate degree, programs generally prefer that you have some work experience. There’s no one best age or number of years of work experience for everyone, but many students enter an MBA program in their late 20s.

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