Getting a Master of Business Administration (MBA) can teach you invaluable skills and take your career to the next level. But getting into business school, especially a highly ranked one, is not an easy feat. How can you send off an impressive application that will get you noticed by the admissions committee?
By understanding exactly what business schools look for, you can make your candidacy the best it can be.
How to get into business school
Here are our seven tips on how to improve your chances of getting into business school, as well as some thoughts on why a solid application is so important.
1. Figure out your goals
2. Find the right MBA program
3. Get some professional experience first
4. Gather letters of recommendation
5. Study long and hard for the GMAT
6. Apply for first-round admissions
7. Start early
Why it’s important to apply to business school the right way
This first step may seem obvious, but it’s essential. Only by identifying your personal and professional goals will you be able to articulate them in an application.
Admissions committees want applicants who set clear goals for themselves. So in your application essay, get specific about why you’re applying and what your goals are. That way, admissions officers might set aside space for you in the next incoming class.
When considering how to get into business school, think about what makes you special. Before you start applying, ask yourself how the degree will advance your professional career. Then, consider what unique qualities you have that will make you stand out from the pack.
Dr. Don Martin, a higher education admissions expert, encourages you to learn about a school’s educational philosophy and class sizes before applying to business school.
Figure out whether the student community is more conservative or liberal, individualistic or collaborative, Martin told Student Loan Hero.
Before investing your time and money, find a program that offers the best cultural fit for you. Not only will you get more from your experience, but you could increase your chances of getting in. Admissions officers are looking for candidates who will do well on campus.
Harvard Business School, for instance, is looking for leaders who are vocal and involved in their communities. Once you find your right program, you can communicate what makes you the perfect fit in your application.
Most business schools aren’t interested in students straight out of college. Instead, they prefer people who have had a few years of professional experience under their belt.
Admissions company Magoosh suggests that you work for three to five years before applying to business school for an MBA. The average age of MBA students, in fact, is 27 to 29.
By working for a few years, you’ll gain professional skills that will help you in business school. Plus, you’ll get the chance to network with colleagues, learn about workplace cultures and clarify your own career goals.
When figuring out how to get into business school, focus on business school requirements. This often includes two to three letters of recommendation. Admissions officers want to learn about you holistically. They’re interested not just in your grades and test scores, but also in your relationships with managers and professors.
Letters of recommendation are a chance to offer insight into your personality and the contributions you’ve made at school or work. To get good letters of recommendation, seek out people who know you well and are happy to support you.
Ask a few months ahead of your deadlines so that your recommenders have time to produce an outstanding letter. Additionally, take the time to sit down with your recommenders and talk about your ideas. By sharing your thoughts, you can make sure the letter is more in-depth.
The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is a major hurdle you’ll have to jump if you want to go to business school. Most schools require the GMAT for admission.
This fast-paced test will measure your analytical and quantitative skills. It’s especially tough for anyone who hasn’t taken a math class in a few years. The GMAT is scored out of 800, but the average score for all test-takers in 2019 was only 561.27, according to Magoosh.
Schools usually don’t set a score cutoff. However, you can learn about business school requirements by researching the average scores of accepted students. Harvard Business School, for instance, has an average GMAT score of 731.
Since the GMAT is so tough, leave yourself several months so you can take it more than once. There is one forgiving aspect of this otherwise brutal test: The GMAT shows you your scores right after you finish.
You can choose whether to cancel your scores or send them to schools. If you cancel, the schools will never see your unsatisfactory test performance.
Most business schools have several rounds of admissions. The first tends to be in the fall, the second sometime in January and the third in the spring.
Schools continue to let in applicants until all slots are full. That means they have the greatest number of spaces available in the first round.
If you can, aim to meet a first-round admissions deadline. That way, you can maximize your chances of acceptance for the following year.
Just be sure that accepting early admission doesn’t adversely affect your financial aid possibilities. It might not leave you enough time to compare award letters from multiple schools, for example.
As you can tell, there are a lot of moving parts to a business school application. You need to research MBA program requirements, gather letters of recommendation, take the GMAT and more.
All of this preparation takes months, if not years, of planning. Business school admissions are competitive, so don’t rush the process.
Start early so you can send off the strongest possible application. If you’re running out of time, it could make sense to wait until the following year to apply.
An MBA is a highly respected degree in the business world, and it has among the highest returns on investment. It can lead to a world of opportunities, whether you want to move up in a company or start your own enterprise.
Plus, you can develop a vast network of contacts over the two years of your program. Before applying, take the time to clarify your goals and find the right programs by researching MBA program requirements. Given how large a role your school could play in setting the tone for your career, it’s worth the effort now to nail your application to the best of your ability.
Once you’ve done some soul-searching and put together the strongest application you can, it’ll be time to focus on covering your cost of attendance. If your school’s financial aid package leaves you hanging, investigate your private student loan options to fill in any final gaps.
Andrew Pentis contributed to this report.
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