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Mastering the MBA Application Process: Five Essential Steps to Business School Success

Getting into business school is no easy task; it is one of the most challenging things you do in your entire life. However, if you want to make it, there are five things you need to know before applying; keep these simple instructions in mind, and your trek to the bright future you deserve becomes much smoother.

1. Admission Criteria:

  • Understand the three primary factors that business schools consider when assessing applicants: undergraduate GPA, GMAT scores, and work experience.
  • Aim for a competitive GPA (typically at least 3.5).
  • Target GMAT scores within the range preferred by your desired schools (often between 500 and 600).
  • Prioritize work experiences that demonstrate leadership, interpersonal skills, and problem-solving abilities.

First, you must understand how business schools decide who gets in – and who gets left out in the cold. As a rule, business schools look at three things when assessing applicants: their undergraduate GPA, GMAT scores, and previous work experience. What sort of GPA will get you considered for biz school? That answer depends upon the institution, but it is widely understood that business schools prefer students with GPAs of at least 3.5. As for desirable GMAT scores, the big thing is that schools invariably look for applicants who score between 500 and 600 (700 is usually the cutoff) for every section; if you are not well-rounded, you can forget about getting in.

Finally, when it comes to work experience, it never hurts to have previously held positions that demand leadership, interpersonal, and problem-solving skills.

As a rule, when deciding upon the jobs you will take on during the summer, try to access positions that place you in administrative roles (leadership) in roles where you work collaboratively with other people on projects (interpersonal skill development) and jobs that entail event planning or logistics planning (problem-solving). Aim for these occupations, and your stock will rise in ways you can scarcely imagine.

2. School Selection:

  • Research and select schools based on factors like reputation, instructional methods (e.g., case-based learning vs. theory-based lectures), curriculum breadth, and post-graduation opportunities.
  • Choose a school that aligns with your educational preferences and career goals.

The second thing you need to know is what kind of school you want to be a part of. We will discuss the “three tiers” of school selection in a short while, but the big thing right now is to discuss the little things (which aren’t so little, in truth) that should determine which institutions interest you and which do not. 

Firstly, when choosing a school, bear in mind the reputation of the school and the instructional methods utilized (does it involve case-based learning or does it rely upon theory-based lectures?). The nature of the curriculum (is it wide-ranging and holistic, or does it emphasize some aspects of business to the exclusion of others?) and the options the school offers its students upon graduation. If you want a school that will give you a well-rounded and practical education, then attend to an institution that embraces theory but not case-study work and cooperative experiences is the wrong place for you.

3. Specialization:

  • Determine your preferred branch or specialization within the business field (e.g., financial services, marketing, operations management, information technology, sales).
  • Ensure the schools you consider offer strong programs in your chosen field.

The third thing you must know before applying to any MBA program is which branch of the business field you want to be a part of financial services, marketing, operations management, information technology, sales, or something else.

Attending an Ivy-League institution is wonderful, but if that school doesn’t have a strong program or specialization in the field that most piques your interest (and for which your own skill set is best suited), you are hurting your chances of placement after graduation. If a state university has a well-earned reputation for churning out operations managers while your dream Ivy-league school doesn’t, you may want to go the state school route.

4. Interview Preparation:

  • Familiarize yourself with the interview process through mock interviews.
  • Seek guidance from professors or individuals who have experience conducting admission interviews.
  • Gather insights from successful business school applicants and be prepared for unexpected interview questions.
  • Develop flexibility and adaptability in your responses.

The fourth thing any applicant has to know before taking those fateful first steps towards business school involves knowing the interviewing process - that means enduring one mock interview after another in the lead-up to the actual interview process. If you have a couple of friends in academia – a professor with whom you are friendly, for instance – who have conducted admission interviews in the past, then ask them if they can grill you on what to expect; another good idea is to have mock interviews with more than one person so that the predictable rhythms of one interviewer do not lull you into a false sense of security as the big day approaches.

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Another thing to remember when it comes to knowing the admission process forward and backward is that it never hurts to approach successful business applicants: ask them what questions were asked and if there are any common themes that interviewers like to emphasize. Lastly, always try mock interviews in which odd or unexpected questions – weird questions like “What’s your favorite color?” – are thrown your way; expect the unexpected, and you will be far more supple and responsive when the time comes.

5. Self-Assessment and Application Strategy:

  • Assess your capabilities realistically and apply to a mix of schools:
    • Safety schools (where admission is likely)
    • Target schools (where admission is challenging but feasible)
    • Dream schools (where admission may be more competitive).
  • This strategy provides backup options while pursuing your ultimate goals and helps maintain your confidence.

Last of all, there is a fifth thing you need to know from the outset: your capabilities; this is where those above “three tiers” of schools come into play. As a rule, it is a good idea to apply to three different types of schools: a school you feel comfortable you will get into, a school just above your level (or your comfort level), and a school that is your dream school – the Ivy-League school you’ve always wanted a degree from. Doing things this way will ensure a couple of things: firstly, you will be less likely to 3 suffer disappointment because the odds are in your favor that at least one of your applications will be successful; secondly, the confidence of knowing that you have “one in hand” will make you more relaxed when you go in for your interview at any other institution. Another nice thing about applying to schools just above your (comfort) level is that it forces you to get better in the areas you lack – but it keeps things realistic so that a sense of hopelessness does not set in. Giving yourself a backup plan when you apply - at the same time as applying to institutions that may appear out of your grasp - will allow you to maintain your confidence while still pursuing your ultimate dreams.

In the final analysis, know what business schools look for in candidates, know what each school offers, and know yourself. Do these five simple things with plenty of studying and prep work, and you’ll be amazed at how high you can climb.

In summary, you can increase your chances of a successful business school application process by understanding the admission criteria, carefully selecting the right schools, choosing a specialization that aligns with your goals, preparing for interviews, and strategically assessing your capabilities. Diligent Preparation and self-awareness will be key factors in your journey towards a brighter future in the business world.

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