- Research the MBA program’s breadth of offerings
- Ensure your academic record is within range
- Gather intel to show LOVE
- Be true to yourself
- Choose recommenders who will be your champions
- Take the 10,000-foot view in your MBA applications
- Pay attention to the details—every touchpoint matters
Demand for the MBA continues to rise due to the economic slowdown triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. Consequently, countless inquiries to Stacy Blackman Consulting ask what it will take to get into business school. In particular, to those elite M7 MBA programs.
At SBC, we cull intel and real-time trends every week across our team, which includes former MBA Admissions Officers from every top US and EU MBA program. Many of these folks stay in touch with current MBA admissions staff to hear their priorities and use that information to help our clients.
We’ve interviewed a select few SBC consultants to distill their advice on how to get into business school. These seven tips will give you an edge as you map out your MBA application strategy.
Research the MBA program’s breadth of offerings.
Sherry, who has been with SBC for over ten years after a tenure at Duke Fuqua admissions, suggests applicants attend as many admissions sessions and events as possible to get to know the program better. “The MBA admissions team may provide updates on their requirements given current times,” she says.
“Talk to current students and/or recent alumni to become more familiar with the program,” Sherry adds. ‘Hear their stories and discuss your short- and long-term goals to see if they seem realistic based on their knowledge of the program.”
“Do your research on schools, find the right fit, know what they each offer,” says the former MIT Sloan Admissions Officer on our SBC team.
Meanwhile, SBC consultant Caryn, a former Kellogg Admissions Officer, suggests applicants think beyond the traditional two-year MBA program. For example, Kellogg has a full range of MBA programs that include the One-Year (1Y) program, MMM, and the new MBAi program.
“If you are a good fit for any of these programs, it may be a more targeted way to apply to Kellogg and help set you apart from the masses applying to the 2Y program, especially with all the increased COVID applicants this year,” Caryn says.
Ensure your academic record is within range.
These are increasingly competitive MBA admissions years. To get into business school, your GPA and GMAT/GRE need to be well within the program’s averages. Check the average reported stats online, like this one at Wharton, to compare your academic record. Remember, there’s always a range for test scores and GPA for every MBA program.
You can’t do anything about your undergrad grades. But, if you had grades lower than a B in a quant class, consider taking an online class (and getting an A) to demonstrate classroom proficiency.
“If your overall GPA is low or you have several C’s, it’s helpful to write an additional essay to explain why the grades were low (be sure to own up to any issues!) and how they are not indicative of your ability to succeed,” Caryn explains.
“For a low GMAT or GRE score, I advise retaking it at least once,” she adds. “Not only can this improve your score; it also shows self-awareness and that you are trying to improve.”
Get Into Business School: GMAT or GRE?
If you are having trouble with one test, say difficulty with the GMAT quant section, try the GRE (or at least take a practice test). This exam still has a quant component, but it tends to be easier for those from non-quantitative backgrounds.
“I know very few people enjoy taking these tests, but it’s a necessary evil in most cases,” Sherry says. “I have seen candidates improve their chances dramatically by trying a different exam. For example, as of now, Duke is accepting unofficial GMAT, GRE, and Executive Assessment scores (official scores are required if admitted).”
What about those business schools offering test waivers this year? Does that mean admissions might be easier? Not likely. Our former MIT Admissions Officer says, “Take the GMAT/GRE even if it is waived—especially if you have a lower GPA or some bad grades.”
The test waiver during the pandemic has created opportunities for many MBA hopefuls. By the same token, it has also contributed to a carefree test mindset among some applicants. At SBC, we favor submitting a test score to increase admit odds for most MBA applicants for the top programs.
Gather intel to show your LOVE for the MBA program.
The application process for top MBA programs is like a courtship. If you want to get into business school, you must show them the love. And it needs to be authentic and sincere. Demonstrating a deep knowledge of the MBA programs is extremely important. When relaying why X MBA program is perfect for you, get specific about the classes, professors, and clubs that interest you.
“Across all application touchpoints including essays and interviews, it’s important to relay that the MBA program is your number one program. Demonstrating interest and knowledge of nuances about the MBA program are extremely important,” Caryn says. A good rule of thumb, she adds, is that “if you can easily substitute in another school’s name, you need to be more specific!”
Be true to yourself.
“Everyone has a unique and powerful story,” says SBC consultant Meg, formerly with the Chicago Booth Admissions Office. It’s imperative to focus on conveying an authentic version of yourself. Don’t try to deliver what you think the committee wants to hear.
AdComs look for every possible opportunity to get to know you so that they can determine whether you’ll be a great fit for their community, she explains. You, in turn, must want the same!
“Your job is to know yourself and seek out schools where you can see yourself thriving,” Meg says. “As much as this process can feel one-sided, the reality is that you should be vetting them as much as they’re vetting you.”
Choose recommenders who will be your champions.
Applicants should give MBA recommenders plenty of time to do their work and make sure they know what schools expect. “Think deeply about your recommenders and prepare them accordingly. Admissions Committees rely heavily on the perspective of your recommenders,” Meg explains.
In many cases, and especially if that recommender has an MBA from a top program, that opinion can be the deciding factor for candidates, she reveals.
Make sure they know what you believe your weaknesses are. Also, be direct about asking them to highlight examples of your leadership, promotability, and collaborative nature in the workplace.
Finally, “if one of your recommenders isn’t your current supervisor, be able to have an exceptional reason for this,” Meg advises.
Take the 10,000-foot view in your MBA applications.
Does the combination of all your application components add up to showcase a well-rounded MBA candidate? One who can not only compete in the classroom but can work on teams, bounce back from setbacks, and work tirelessly to achieve success?
MBA programs are looking for more than a “perfect on paper” candidate. Resilience, grit, proven collaboration, and work experience with promotions are critical indicators of success within a program.
SBC consultant Caryn emphasizes the following key success factors that should run through all of your application components.
Leadership and collaboration
The ability to motivate a team to make an impact continues to be important. Demonstrate leadership but be careful here not to only convey “I did this, and I did that.” Instead, use the space to show (versus tell) the reader how you lead.
Show where you questioned the existing way of doing things or came up with an out-of-the-box solution. In light of COVID, there were most likely a ton of new ways you had to go about doing things this year.
To get into business school, you need to show you are more than your job. Use extracurriculars to set yourself apart from other applicants, especially if you are in an oversubscribed population. Highlight not just a laundry list of extracurriculars but also go deep into a cause that is important to you.
It’s important that goals are not only clear and ambitious but also achievable. Ideally, they should have some linkage with your background, even if it’s an extracurricular activity.
Pay attention to the details—every touchpoint matters.
Our former MIT admissions officer reminds applicants to fill out the application carefully and completely. Double-check your grammar and spelling on all written portions, and answer the questions asked. Tell them what they want to hear, not what you want to say.
“Answer the questions! Whether a short-answer prompt or a long-form essay, every word should relate directly back to the question asked,” Meg counsels. “Essays are a test within a test. Admissions committees want to see that you can tell your story in a compelling and concise fashion.”
Your resume, meanwhile, should be able to tell most of your story. While there are nuances to everyone’s individual story, your resume should be a one-page summary of your life to date in a format that’s easily digestible.
Your work experience should showcase a high-level of contributions to the organization that added value, were innovative/unique, or were above your current level. Your undergraduate and post-graduate extracurricular activities and interests’ sections should showcase a multi-faceted individual who is comfortable in many settings.
In closing, we’d like to share this advice our entire consulting team agrees upon for MBA applicants. When you want to get into business school, you need to block out the noise. Ignore the forums. Don’t feed into all the stress. Just put your head down and focus on putting together the strongest possible MBA applications.