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The MBA Application

Applying to business school is no small feat. The application is extensive and takes months of preparation, so doing all your research ahead of time is paramount to getting into an MBA program. Experts say you’ll spend up to 40 to 60 hours preparing four to eight applications, which includes complete editing and revisions of essays for each school. Fear not—we’ve got everything you need to know for applying to an MBA program.

When to Apply

application-when-to-applyMBA applications are unlike many other types of school applications. There are multiple rounds in which you can submit your application, each round warranting its own strategy. Many applicants who submit during round one have spent six to nine months in preparation, as they typically have known they want to apply to business school for a very long time. Rounds two and three are ultimately more competitive, as more people wait to submit applications. Round three is ultra-selective for business schools. Only those with stellar experience and qualifications should consider applying in round three.

It’s best for students to apply in rounds one and two to spread out the work of applications. Once you’ve decided which schools you’ll choose to apply to in each respective round, you’ll need to factor in exams, essays, letters of reference and more. Let’s look at a breakdown of the most effective way to use your time for the lowest-stress path to business school.

Prepare for Round One Applications
This is where the six- to nine-month preparation begins for all application materials.
Take the GMAT
It’s best to take the GMAT at least six weeks before your applications are due.
Submit Round One Submissions
Round one applications are typically due in the fall, around October. Some may even be in September.
Plan for Interviews
Those being strongly considered will get interview requests two weeks to one month after applying.
Submit Round Two Applications
If you have a full-time job or family commitments, it may be best to spread out your workload and apply to some schools in round two.
Submit Round Three Applications
By round three, most schools have already chosen the majority of their cohort. Only exceptionally qualified students should apply during this round.
Make a Deposit
Those who enroll in a school will usually be required to submit a deposit by the end of April, depending on the round they applied.
Prepare for School
The summer before you start business school is an important time to prepare. Use this time to connect with incoming classmates and get more experience.



application-coursesGetting into an MBA program is more than just good grades. While you do need to show academic dedication and good test scores, you also need to show that you are a well-rounded person. This means that exemplifying strategy and leadership skills is a must.

No matter which program you apply to, you’ll need to have a bachelor’s degree. While many students get their bachelor’s in a business or economics field, it’s not necessary to do so to apply to an MBA program. There are an increasing number of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) students applying for MBA programs, a trend similar to medical programs receiving applicants with non-medical degrees. It is ideal to have completed prerequisite courses for an MBA, since MBA programs are mostly designed to build on top of foundational business knowledge and acumen. However, there are some students who will make use of first-year MBA courses designed to strengthen core business knowledge.

If you’d like to get a step ahead if you’re not feeling comfortable with your core business content understanding, you can enroll in one of many universities’ pre-MBA programs or courses. These programs prime your business thinking, and many are found online. A pre-MBA program also allows you to assess your professional and cultural understanding of the business world, especially if you are from a different country than the one in which you are going to school.

Some of the basic courses it’s helpful to take before business school include:













Did You Know?

  • You can still apply to business school without prerequisites, you’ll just need to complete them before the program starts if they are required by the school.

    • Common prerequisites include management, finance, accounting, marketing, economics and statistics.
  • You can test out of prerequisites without taking the classes by taking the College-Level Examination Program (CLEP). With a satisfactory score, you’ll prove you have sufficient knowledge in that area.


As mentioned earlier, most MBA programs are aimed at accepting students who have some work or professional business experience. This allows programs to go more in depth and teach applicable, real-world practices that can be more easily understood by seasoned business folks. Because of this, many MBA programs require that you have a certain number of years of real-world experience in order to be accepted. Every program is different, and for specialized MBAs, students will have specific requirements in line with that field of work.

Application Materials

While most of what you need to apply to business school will take place in your undergraduate and/or work career, don’t forget about putting it on paper. When it comes to submitting your application, these are the items you’ll need to plan for:

Application forms
Spell out your accomplishments in school and the workplace and let them know the basics about yourself.
Admission essays
Be prepared to let the program committee see why you’re a good fit.
An easy way for selection committees to see your experience and how you represent yourself.
Official transcripts take time to send, so don’t leave them until the last minute.
Letters of recommendation
Your professors, bosses and co-workers are an important part of representing your abilities.
Test scores
Depending on the program, you’ll need to take the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) or the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and submit your scores.

Admissions Essay

Your essay is a vital piece of your admissions application—don’t just treat it as a supplement to the rest of your materials. The MBA admissions essay gives you a chance to tell each program’s selection committee who you really are since it’s not entirely reflected in your GMAT score or your GPA.

The essay may be shorter than you think, some schools have shortened their requirements so applicants don’t spend an overwhelming amount of time on them. This also helps them see if you can communicate as those in the business world do—in a succinct, clear and direct way.

Show them who you are.
Tell them who you are.
Research every school to understand their ethos and mission.
Use the same essay for every school if they have different expectations.
Brainstorm a brag sheet of all of your accomplishments.
Start with fewer ideas and try to fill the space.
Be succinct.
Write two sentences for something you can say in one.
Play up anything about you that is unorthodox or unique.
Try to force yourself into a cookie-cutter MBA student profile.
Use real-life examples.
Write commentary with no concrete evidence.
Leave time for editing and word counts.
Use too much industry jargon.

Ultimately, you are trying to reveal to the admissions committee that you are a good fit for their program. If you feel like you’re forcing this, consider whether it’s the right program for you.

Letters of Recommendation

Most MBA programs require two to three letters of recommendation with your application packet to get an outside perspective on your academic, professional or leadership skills.

Who Should I Choose?

In general, business schools prefer professional recommendations to academic ones. This makes sense considering that the goal of an MBA program is to prepare you as a leader in the real business world. If you are currently working, one of your letters should be from your immediate supervisor, but, if this is not possible, a former supervisor can be used instead. If up to three letters are required, one from an academic source, such as a professor or advisor, can be used. Ideally, your recommenders should be able to speak to your qualifications, including leadership and interpersonal skills, career achievements, and general preparedness for working with others.

How Do I Prepare Them?

There are several items you should give your recommenders so that they can use specific details and examples in their letters, which will make the letters more compelling and eye-catching.


Résumé: Give them the same one you will use in your application packet.


Admissions essay: This will help the recommenders see what you are most proud of and how you are representing yourself.


Talking points: If there is something specific you would like them to write about, let them know. Give them the details and chronology of specific projects or assignments.


A list of schools: It’s helpful for them to know why you chose these schools.


Deadlines: Don’t make them do any more work than they have to. Give them every school’s deadline.


Submission details: Outline each school’s submission process and sending location. If they need to mail in material, provide them with stamped and addressed envelopes.

Thank Them

After everything is completed, don’t forget to thank each recommender. A formal email or hand-written note will definitely be appreciated. Once you find out your admission results, let them know where you got in; they’ll enjoy knowing all the hard work you both put in turned out for the best.


application-resumeMost MBA programs require you to send in a résumé along with your application. The one-page rule still applies, as a business résumé is different than a C.V., which is a longer, more academic version of a résumé. Think about a résumé as the icebreaker for your interview too; it should really highlight what is unique about your experiences.

While your résumé illustrates your specific path, make sure it represents the skills you’ve learned. These skills should ideally be transferable across industries or jobs because the admissions committee wants to see that you can succeed in highly collaborative environments. Here are some tips for a top-of-the-line résumé:


Avoid an objective line. They know what your objective is.


Avoid a lot of business jargon.


Speak to your team-work and leadership skills.


Highlight innovation and growth.


Focus on what’s relevant to the school’s program.


Stay chronological.

Think of your résumé as something to represent you without having the ability to explain yourself in person. Without your essay, application forms and recommendation letters, does your résumé accurately reflect the growth you’ve made, the skills you’ve learned, and the abilities you’ve developed to problem-solve and build initiative? Have several people read over it, too. Ask them to summarize what achievements the résumé’s owner has made and what direction it seems they want to go in. If it doesn’t sound like you, then you know what you need to change so the admissions committee has a better idea of who you are.


Many of the top online MBA programs require interviews. While they are face-to-face, typically, online MBA program interviews are just that—online. Understanding the purpose of an MBA interview is key to your admission because coming across as determined and prepared can seal the deal for some admissions committees. What should you do or say in your interview? Let’s break it down:

Create an elevator pitch
This short speech should take no more than a minute to reveal what you’re about and what you want out of your career.
Know your résumé in and out
Much of the interview will come from your résumé, so it’s imperative you know all the details you’ve put on it.
Prepare for typical interview questions
While you do want to be able to convey your narrative to the interviewer, you will need to take time to answer standard questions. What are your strengths and weaknesses? What is one example of a time you failed? And so on.
Lay out your future goals
Be specific about what you want to achieve. MBA admissions committees want to know that you are ready to commit.
Play the part
Show up dressed for the job you want. Don’t forget to maintain eye contact, shake hands before and after the interview, and be on time.
Prepare questions
You will get some time to ask the interviewer(s) questions. It reflects well on you if you’ve put forethought into your time with them by having pertinent questions regarding their specific program.


Most business schools require some kind of entrance exam as a marker of your overall performance. While the majority of these schools require the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), there are some that accept the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) instead. Both of these standardized tests measure your verbal, quantitative, critical thinking, data and writing skills. Here’s a look at how they’re structured.



The GMAT is broken up into four sections for a total exam time of three hours and 30 minutes. According to the official site of the GMAT, it’s structured as follows:

GMAT Test Section
# of Questions
Question Types
Analytical Writing Assessment
1 topic
Analysis of Argument
30 minutes
Integrated Reasoning
12 questions
• Multi-Source Reasoning
• Graphics Interpretation
• Two-Part Analysis
• Table Analysis
30 minutes
37 questions
• Data Sufficiency
• Problem Solving
75 minutes
41 questions
• Reading Comprehension
• Critical Reasoning
• Sentence Correction
75 minutes
Total Exam Time
3 hours, 30 minutes


Widely used for graduate programs across the board, the GRE tests for the same critical thinking skills as the GMAT. According to the official site of the GRE, the computer-based test is structured as follows:

# of Questions
Analytical Writing (One section with two separately timed tasks)
One “Analyze an Issue” task and one “Analyze an Argument” task
30 minutes per task
Verbal Reasoning (Two sections)
20 questions per section
30 minutes per section
Quantitative Reasoning (Two sections)
20 questions per section
35 minutes per section

1An unidentified unscored section that does not count toward your score may be included and may appear in any order after the Analytical Writing section. Questions in the unscored section are being tried out either for possible use in future tests or to ensure that scores on new editions of the test are comparable to scores from earlier editions.

2An identified research section that does not count toward your score may be included in place of the unscored section. The research section will always appear at the end of the test. Questions in this section are included for ETS research purposes.

No-Test Programs

There are an increasing number of accredited online programs that do not require any standardized tests for admissions. Many students arrive with years of experience from their careers, so schools are willing to let that take the place of a test score. Even if your top-choice school requires a GMAT or GRE score, petition to waiver this if you think your work experience proves just as, if not more, valuable than a test result.


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