Applying to business school is an extremely competitive process. Top schools such as Harvard Business School, Stanford Graduate School of Business, and Wharton hold applicants to high standards, so putting together a good application is key.
The three key components of a good MBA application are: a strong academic profile, work experience, and a compelling answer to why you are applying to MBA programs.
- A Strong Academic Profile
Your academic profile is the first impression you will make on an admissions officer. A good GPA, strong GMAT or GRE, and competitive undergraduate institution, will put you in a good place.
Your GPA is an indicator of how well you perform in a traditional academic setting, and admissions officers will look to this number as evidence of your ability to succeed in business school. If you have certain concerns with your GPA or transcript, such as a drop in grades one semester, or a slow start at the beginning of college, these are points you can address in an addendum. That being said, the addendum should be used to explain extenuating circumstances, such as a drop in grades one semester due to a death in the family, or something of that nature. Using this additional information section to explain these sorts of situations—without making excuses—can be a good way to shed light on your GPA or transcript.
The GMAT or GRE are thought of as indicators of how well you will succeed in your first year in business school. For students coming from non-business-related majors, the GMAT is a good opportunity to display your aptitude at quantitative skills, if you are lacking those in your academic background.
Applying from a competitive, undergraduate school will also help your chances at top MBA programs, especially if you performed well at that school. That being said, your GPA, GMAT, and undergraduate school are simply the first means of evaluation. Once you meet a certain academic threshold for schools, it becomes a matter of standing out in comparison to applicants with similar qualifications.
- Good Work Experience
Good work experience is a major point of evaluation for MBA schools. Unless you are applying directly out of undergrad through a program such as Harvard’s 2+2, you will need a strong resume.
If you are coming from a more traditional finance or consulting background, then you should think about ways in which your work experience has differed from your peers. Have you led individual projects? Have you recently been promoted to a managerial role? Have you displayed leadership and initiative in your recent jobs? An upward, promotional trajectory is something top MBA programs look for on applicants’ resumes.
Your letters or recommendation should speak to your leadership and initiative in the workplace. Make sure that your recommenders can draw on concrete examples of how you were a changemaker at your job, and how you will continue to impact the business world following your MBA degree.
- An Answer to: Why are you pursuing an MBA?
Many students apply to business school to simply “get ahead.” Yet, admissions offices are looking to admit students who will use their MBA degree in impactful, meaningful ways. This means that as you write your business school essay, you should consider this question of why are you pursuing an MBA degree?
You want to be able to tell a compelling, cohesive, and unique story through your application. Let’s say, for example, you have been working at an Investment Bank for the past few years and have been a leader in your specific division, but that your true passion is in sports technology. Maybe you played a Division I sport in college, and you have continued that interest by running in marathons or volunteering to coach a youth basketball team. Now, you need an MBA in order to transition your past leadership skills into this new field, in which you plan to start your own company.
This is a compelling answer to “why I need an MBA.” It also brings work experience, academic interests, extracurricular activities, and future goals together in a cohesive way. As you work on your MBA applications, think about what makes you a unique applicant. Formulate your application around this persona. Your academic background may qualify you for top schools like HBS or GSB. But the story you tell about your work experience and your goals for the future may be the ultimate, deciding factor.
About the Author:
Hannah Smith is a Graduate Coach and admissions expert at InGenius Prep, an MBA admissions counseling company, with Former Admissions Officers from top business schools such as Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton.