Key takeaways

  • Applying for an MBA program can be a long and difficult process.
  • Focus your energy on optimizing the key application components to create a standout application.
  • Know your application deadlines and plan in advance to complete each part of your MBA application on time.

Getting into a Master of Business Administration (MBA) program is certainly a challenge. The average acceptance rate for the top MBA programs in 2022 was 22.2 percent. But the odds are getting better over time. This acceptance rate used to be under one in five.

Even with improved odds, getting into an MBA program can seem daunting. However, with the right preparation, persistence and a little guidance from an expert, you can increase your likelihood of getting accepted.

What you’ll need to get into an MBA program

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.

Stand-out standardized test scores

MBA applications require test scores from the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) or Graduate Record Examination (GRE) 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. You can find a lot of free or low-cost resources online. The makers of the GMAT have provided several of their own resources to help test-takers prepare, including a mini quiz and a free eight-week study planner.

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. Taking the GRE costs $220.

A strong undergraduate transcript

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 to top MBA programs with a GPA above 3.5.

A tailored resume

Your resume should focus on grabbing the attention of the MBA admissions counselor. A traditional resume highlights your job skills and experiences. With an MBA resume, you want to highlight your accomplishments and help the reader understand why they matter.

“I always ask this question: ‘So what?’ after reading each bullet on a resume,” says Barbara Coward, founder and principal of MBA 360° Admissions Consulting. “Make the reader care. Show the significance of your work. Also, establish an emotional connection with the reader. Tie all of your experiences and education together through a single narrative.”

The resume should tell the story of why you are a good fit for the program. To craft a stellar resume, familiarize yourself with the MBA program and what they look for in candidates. Highlight experiences and skills that show you fit the mold.

Well-written essays

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?

There are a few keys to writing a good essay for your MBA application. One of the common mistakes applicants make is not answering the question, according to Coward Ensure that your essay actually addresses the prompt. She also advises that you focus on clarity over complexity.

“Make it easy for the reader to understand what you are saying,” says Coward. “Simple sentences and concise messaging make it easy for a reader to get to know you better. You’re not trying to impress. Your job is to educate the reader so they can make an informed decision.”

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 skills

Many MBA programs require applicants to interview. This can be a sign that you’ve moved on to the next stage in the admissions process. You may interview with an admissions officer or an program alumnus alumnus. In all scenarios, the MBA interview is a chance to stand out and fill in any gaps in your application.

Preparing effectively for the interview can give you a leg up on other applicants. Here are a few things to remember as you prepare:

  • Practice (but not too much). Research common interview questions and rehearse your answers. You may want to practice adding more details than you normally would if you don’t like to talk about yourself. However, don’t practice so much that it feels like you are reciting a script. Instead, memorize your main talking points for each answer and vary your delivery.
  • Review your application materials. Look over your resume, personal essays and other application materials before the interview. The interviewer may ask you questions about what you wrote, so you’ll want to have a fresh memory. Make sure your written application and interview answers are consistent.
  • Be yourself. You’re looking for a program that wants you, so let your personality and interests shine. Talk about how you want to use your MBA. Discuss your passions and interests and don’t try to be a different person. Showing your personality can help your application be unique.

What MBA admissions officers want to see

While you want to show your personality, it’s important to understand what MBA admissions officers are looking for. You don’t want to be fake, but you also want to show desirable qualities.

Emotional intelligence, ability to work with others, empathy, curiosity and kindness are some of the key traits that MBA admissions officers search for in MBA candidates, according to Coward.

“I say that the admissions process is like the TSA at the airport. You don’t want that alarm to go off when you walk through security,” she adds. “Show that you will be a positive contributor to the cohort and that you are a nice person, not a jerk.”

Look at your own experiences and resume and think about how you can highlight examples of these traits in your own life. You can also show that you have these key traits through your interview process.

When to start prepping

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.

You’ll want to give yourself plenty of time to prepare each of the components of your MBA application. Think about how long each part of the application may take you and build a timeline accordingly. You’ll also need to consider when you can take the GMAT or GRE in order to get the scores by the application deadline. As you prepare, try to give yourself extra time so you don’t feel overly stressed.

If you find yourself on a tight turnaround to complete an application, remain calm. It’s best to focus your energy on the components you find most difficult first. You can get those out of the way and complete the easier application components closer to the deadline.

The bottom line

Getting accepted into an MBA program is a competitive process, particularly at the most prestigious schools. As you embark on 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.

Once your application is locked in, explore MBA loans and other funding options to ensure you can cover the cost of attendance.