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A Master of Business Administration prepares business professionals for leadership roles in their chosen fields. When applying for an MBA program, schools will consider factors including 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 2023-24 school year, many top MBA programs are already well into their application review process, with initial applications accepted in September and October 2022 for many schools.
There are still two more application periods ahead. Many schools have winter deadlines throughout December and January and spring deadlines in March and April. Application deadlines vary, so check with your school of choice.
Here are some examples from the top business schools:
- Stanford Business School: Sept. 13, 2022, for round one; Jan. 5, 2023, for round two; April 11, 2023, for round three.
- Harvard Business School (currently accepting applications for 2025): Sept. 7, 2022, for round one; Jan. 4, 2023, for round two.
- University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business: Sept. 7, 2022, for round one; Jan. 4, 2023, for round two; March 29, 2023, for round three.
These deadlines often correspond to academic and scholarship opportunities. For example, Columbia Business School has an early-decision deadline in September for students whose first choice is Columbia, with a January deadline for students who wish to be considered for merit-based awards.
A few schools offer rolling admissions, where students can apply anytime 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.
MBA application requirements
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.
MBA applications require test scores from the Graduate Management Admission Test or Graduate Record Examination to compare applicant ability.
The GMAT evaluates an applicant’s quantitative, analytical, writing, reading and verbal skills. Students should take this test several months before the application deadline to give themselves enough time to retake it if needed. Applicants can prepare for the test through in-person or online prep courses.
Business schools often accept scores in the 650 to 690 range but prefer 700 or higher.
While the GMAT is often the first choice for MBA students and schools, you can also consider the GRE. This standardized test measures academic readiness for graduate programs of many types. More than 1,000 business schools accept GRE scores.
The costs for the two different tests vary. You can take the GMAT at a test center for $275 or online for $300. The GRE’s cost will increase from $205 to $220 on Nov. 1, 2022.
Undergraduate transcripts showcase the applicants’ academic ability. MBA admissions officers look at your cumulative GPA but also consider factors like the undergraduate institution’s academic reputation and the types of courses you’ve taken.
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.
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 with a concentration 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. While some programs look for applicants with four to five years of relevant work experience, most recommend at least two years.
Students can also highlight volunteer work and community service if it connects to their MBA goals.
Many business schools require between one and three personal essays from applicants.
MBA admissions officers use personal essays to get to know the candidates. A well-written essay may be the deciding factor among applicants with similar academic backgrounds. Admissions officers look for clear, concise and persuasive essays with no grammatical errors.
Students should expect essay prompts like:
- 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.
Some top MBA programs require students to complete an interview with an alumnus 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 applicants. Alumni understand the MBA program and its demands, allowing them to evaluate potential candidates and decide if they will be a good fit.
Applicants should prepare for an interview by dressing professionally, arriving early and preparing a few questions about the program. Interviewers will expect professional and thoughtful answers to their questions.
How to be a strong MBA candidate
MBA programs at top schools can be highly competitive. You can improve your odds of being accepted by the top MBA programs by ensuring you have a well-rounded application with no weak spots.
Top test scores: One of the best ways to set yourself apart from other MBA applicants is to nail your GMAT exam. You’ll want to score at or above the average for the school or schools where you plan to apply. Research the averages for your schools of interest by looking for the “class profile” on the school’s website.
Relevant work experience: Your application should demonstrate that you have quality work experience that allowed you to build your skills, help drive change or even lead a team on your own. The specific companies where you worked typically matter less than the achievements and leadership you add to your resume.
Build relations with personal references: Another important part of your MBA application is letters of recommendation. You’ll typically be required to submit one to three such letters. Start laying the groundwork at work and school. Develop relationships with your supervisors and regularly ask for feedback. A supervisor, instructor or colleague who knows you well is more likely to write a persuasive letter of recommendation. You may also gain a mentor who can help guide you throughout your career.
What is the best age to do an MBA?
While some students assume it’s best to start a graduate program immediately after receiving an undergraduate degree, MBA programs generally prefer applicants with 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.
No matter when you pursue an MBA, consider whether the degree will be worth it for you and your long-term career goals. This includes carefully contemplating the cost involved as well as the program requirements.
The bottom line
Getting accepted into an MBA program is a competitive process, particularly at the most prestigious schools. As you embark upon this effort, be sure to do your research. Track application deadlines and lay the groundwork for a compelling application. Plan on gaining relevant work experience, building relationships with potential references and preparing for the GMAT or GRE.