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 programs can be competitive. When applying for an MBA program, you’ll want to 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 deadlines in September 2021, January 2022 and April 2022.

These deadlines typically correspond to available academic and scholarship opportunities. For instance, Columbia Business School has an early-decision deadline in October for students who have decided that Columbia is their first choice, while the January deadline is the cutoff 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 may offer rolling admissions, where students may apply at any time during the year. In these cases, admission may be granted on a first-come, first-served basis. In any scenario, 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 time to retake the test if needed. Applicants prepare for the test through in-person or online prep courses.

Students can take the test year-round, but only on 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 show business schools the academic ability of applicants. MBA admissions officers look at an applicant’s cumulative GPA but also consider other factors, including 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 GPA, but you’ll have the best chance of being accepted if you have 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, so setting career goals early while in undergraduate school can help students prepare for their MBA application.

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

Students also need to highlight any relevant background experience in their chosen area of specialization, including volunteer work and community service.

Essays

Many business schools require personal essays from applicants. The number of essays may range 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.

Students should expect essay prompts such as:

  • How will the 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?

Admissions officers look for clear, concise essays with no grammatical errors. Creativity is often rewarded.

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 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, allowing them to evaluate if potential candidates will be a good fit.

Applicants should prepare for an interview by dressing nicely and arriving early. Interviewers expect professional, respectful answers to questions. Candidates may want to prepare a few general questions about the program to ask the interviewer as well.

Frequently asked questions about MBA applications

How can I apply for an MBA?

If you’re interested in pursuing an MBA, first research 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 received past the deadline.

When can I apply for an MBA?

MBA application deadlines differ depending on the school, but many programs accept early-decision applications in September or October for students who know exactly which school they’d like to attend. Students who’d like to keep their options open may apply through March or April. A few MBA programs offer rolling admissions with no set deadline, but it’s best to apply as early as possible.

How can I make my MBA application stand out?

Top business schools see strong academic candidates in each admissions cycle. You can find ways to stand out within several steps in the application process:

  • Personal essay. Your essay, along with being free of grammatical errors, should highlight any unique experiences or interests that draw you to the program.
  • Alumni interview. Within your interview, dress professionally and come prepared with talking points. In particular, practice talking about your accomplishments and bring examples of times when you’ve demonstrated leadership.
  • Resume. As with your essay, ensure that your resume is free of errors, and use this document to highlight your most relevant work experience. If you have volunteer or community service experience, include this as well.
  • Letters of recommendation. Choose professional contacts who can speak to the specifics of your experience and work ethic. If possible, talk with your contacts in advance to give them a sense of why you’re pursuing the program; this way, they can better tailor their letter to your goals.

What makes a strong MBA candidate?

Strong MBA candidates must consider all aspects of 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.

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