The MBA admissions process is rigorous and time-consuming. Therefore, having a strategy to guide you will go a long way toward helping you manage this experience. Admissions committee members evaluate MBA applicants across a host of components, so your goal is to maximize the impact of each one. Turn your focus to these five specific areas for MBA admissions success in the fall.
Remember, each touchpoint is an opportunity to tell the admissions office something new about yourself. As we noted on Find MBA, it’s a good thing that the adcom will judge you on your entire package. After all, we’re so much more than just our jobs, our grades, and our volunteer experience.
Focus Areas for MBA Admissions Success
Your GPA is a significant element of your MBA application. Besides your admissions test score, it’s a clear signal of your ability to handle the academic rigor of business school.
Unfortunately, it is also one of the only components already set in stone. Keep in mind that a 3.5 or better undergraduate GPA is acceptable for most MBA applications. Check the mean standard for admitted students at your target programs to see whether you have a problem to overcome.
If you have a below-average GPA or low grades in quantitative/business classes, consider taking an online course this summer. Earning A’s in college-level quant courses will help convince the admissions committee that you can succeed in a challenging, fast-paced MBA program. Also, taking steps to shore up those weaknesses shows maturity and your ability to balance academics with work.
When applying to a top-tier business school, show a clear path of professional growth in your application. The admissions team likes to meet potential students who have the drive to advance their skills and leadership abilities continually.
If this is a trouble spot for you, it’s time to get creative. Think of ways to add value and continue to develop your career. If an official title change is not in the cards in the coming months, find other ways to take on more senior responsibilities at work. Ask to join a high-level project. Take on a leadership role. If you have a new member on the team, volunteer to mentor that person.
Even within a flat organization with no title change, you can still show career progression on your resume. Review your accomplishments and see how you can portray them in a way that reveals your professional growth. Each time your responsibilities grew, you can describe it in a bullet point with the date. For example:
- Directed a staff of three in servicing 45 client relationships of global corporations with more than $25B in assets. (2020)
- Contributed to the growth of $34B business through a mix of market research, marketing, and client servicing. (2019-2020)
The essays also provide ample opportunities to summarize career progress and explain the structure of your organization.
Unlike your GPA, business school aspirants have a great deal of control over this aspect of the application. Try to get the test out of the way as soon as possible. Then you can focus your energy on the essays and recommendation letters during the summer months.
Explore your options and take a practice test. Consider taking a free or paid prep course, studying with a friend, or hiring a tutor if possible. These strategies can help you maintain discipline while studying. If English is not your first language, factor this into your plan as well. After all, preparation is essential for most candidates to excel on the test.
If you received a below-average score the first time, plan to retake the exam. Reflect on whether you genuinely gave it 100 percent the first time around. Admissions committees often look favorably upon applicants who try to improve their scores. A score boost can help clear the path for MBA admissions success.
The admissions committee pays close attention to the content of recommendation letters in support of your MBA candidacy. Therefore, you should only choose recommenders who will champion your business school aspirations. A lukewarm letter of recommendation could do more damage to your chances of admission than a lower GPA or test score.
Few applicants realize how much they can influence their recommenders to help them draft powerful, persuasive letters of support. While you should never write the letter yourself, you can guide your recommender to focus on key traits—leadership, communication skills, integrity, innovation mindset—that you wish to highlight.
Remind them of at least three compelling, work-related anecdotes that show how you contributed to a project, led a team, inspired others, communicated effectively, etc. Your recommenders can help you stand out from thousands of other highly qualified applicants by painting a clear picture of both the personal and professional you.
Recommenders need to do a lot of work on your behalf. Start identifying who you want to approach now and have a preliminary chat with them about your MBA plans. Once they are on board, begin assembling materials so you can guide them to write the most effective letter on your behalf.
While most schools have yet to publish their essays for the 2020-2021 season, you can get a good idea of the types of stories you will need by reading last year’s application. Knowing that you will have to describe a leadership experience may motivate you to take on a new leadership role – in or outside of work. Realizing that you will see questions about your level of community involvement may push you to step up your volunteering efforts.
It is also a good idea to begin brainstorming your answers to two questions that will crop up in either essay questions or the MBA interview. First, what are your career goals? And second, why do you need an MBA now? Reflect on your background and what stories you could share. If you identify gaps, create a plan to fill them.
We recommend that candidates allocate two to three hours each time they sit down to work on their essays, especially for the first few drafts. Non-native English speakers may find they need to allow even more time for their applications, particularly writing, revising, editing, proofing, formatting, and inputting essays. That said, applicants should also avoid the “marathon session.” Few people remain sharp or creative during eight hours of writing and editing.
Summer is right around the corner. Now is the time to launch into your MBA application journey with an eye toward MBA admissions success. Make this the year you take those vital first steps toward transforming your career.