by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.
So you've decided to go to graduate school and obtain your master's in business administration -- your MBA. Simple, right?
Not necessarily, especially if you are applying to one of the premier MBA programs, where applications can outnumber accepted students by a 50 to 1 ratio. This article will help you through the most important steps in completing your MBA applications.
Keep in mind that the factors that most graduate business programs consider in the admission decision include:
- scores from the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test);
- prior academic record;
- employment history; and
- recommendations of instructors, employers, or others.
Your first step is identifying the best MBA programs to fit your needs in terms of program type, faculty, placement, cost, location, etc. -- and, based on their admissions formula, would be likely to accept you in their program.
Once you have narrowed down your choices to a select few MBA programs, your main task is then to complete each application as completely and professionally as possible -- remembering all the time that you are completing these documents that they are all marketing tools to help position you as an ideal graduate candidate.
The key components of your applications package include the application form, your resume or CV, your personal essay, letters of recommendation, and placement exam scores.
The MBA Application Form
The application form is the cornerstone of your graduate school application. While many graduate admissions forms will ask for the same types of information, some will be much more detailed than others, and you should pay careful attention to the specific elements of each application form.
Next make note of each program's admission deadlines -- many having rolling admissions windows -- and plan sufficient time to complete all the application forms.
Finally, if possible, type all your information onto the forms. Typing presents a more professional look to the application form. If you must print, do so as neatly as possible and avoid all mistakes.
Your Resume or CV for Your MBA Application
It should go without saying that your resume or curriculum vitae (CV) is an essential part of your MBA application, and you must have a current and professional resume to include with your application.
Your resume should be tailored to the specifics of each graduate program, just as it would be for different employers. However, common elements on all versions of your resume should focus on:
- key accomplishments and skills
- evidence of managerial and leadership skills and experiences
- exposure to work teams and team leadership
- identification of your USP.
Consider adding an objective to each version of your resume stating your goal of entering that school's MBA program.
Need more information about resumes? Check out all of our Resume Resources.
Your MBA Application Personal Essay
We strongly suggest you read Writing the Graduate School Application Essay. And our friends at EssayEdge.com, the premier application essay editing service, offer a free course on writing application essays (as well as some great services for a small fee).
It is absolutely critical that your personal essay be a shining beacon of your planning, thinking, and writing abilities. Make no mistake that these essays are taken lightly. Write and rewrite several drafts -- and get outside opinions and feedback -- before you complete your personal essay.
What types of topics are applicants asked to write about? Here are just a few examples (from our friends at EssayEdge.com):
- Why do you want an MBA?
- What are your career plans once you receive your MBA?
- If you could walk in someone else's shoes for a day, whose would you choose and why?
- Who are your role models -- and why?
- Describe a situation that tested your leadership skills. How did you manage the situation?
- What interests do you have outside your job and school?
- Describe yourself and the significant events that have shaped you.
You can find lots of general writing tips and resources in our companion site, Indispensable Writing Resources.
Letters of Recommendation for Gradute Studies
Most MBA programs request two or three letters of recommendation, or request that you have two or three references complete a recommendation form. Your critical task is choosing the right set of people to complete the forms or write the letters.
Most importantly, make sure to ask people who know you -- and who you know will give you a strong recommendation. The best choices are people in business or education. In business, consider asking your current supervisor (if appropriate), a former supervisor, or a current or former co-worker. In education, ask a favorite professor who ideally knows your work, your dedication, and your key skills and abilities.
It's best to provide each person who agrees to write a recommendation with a copy of your current resume or CV and a summary of your key skills and accomplishments. You may also want to provide them with the reasons why you are interested in going back to school for your MBA, and perhaps a copy of your completed application form. Some may even ask for a rough draft of a letter of recommendation; whether you write such a draft is up to you.
Be sure to allow enough time for each person to write the letter. Most experts suggest at least one or two months before your deadline. Be sure to follow-up about a month before the deadline. And once each has written and sent the recommendation, be sure to follow-up with a thank you note for their efforts.
The GMAT: Placement Exam Scores
Most graduate business programs, and certainly all accredited programs, require at least one standardized test score from applicants: the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test). Most non-native English speakers (and foreign nationals) are required to demonstrate their proficiency in written and spoken English through the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language).
The GMAT is an aptitude test that measures intellectual ability in three areas: math, English, and logic. There are plenty of practice books, courses, Websites, and other resources. Take advantage of at least one of them. Practice is key to getting comfortable with taking the test and the formats and style of the test. EssayEdge.com has an excellent free GMAT Help Course.
The GMAT is available in conventional testing centers (pencil and paper tests) as well as in special computer centers (which provide results much faster).
To learn about graduate programs, go to GradSchools.com.
To learn more about the graduate admission process, including getting help with your personal essay and the GMAT, go to EssayEdge.com.
To learn if the MBA is right for you -- and to get even more MBA-related resources and Websites, read our companion article: The Master of Business Administration: Is the MBA Worth the Time, Effort, and Cost?
MBA Application Checklist
- Research schools
- Determine desired MBA programs
- Request applications
- Determine deadlines
- Study for and take GMAT
- Take TOEFL (if necessary)
- Order transcripts from all previous colleges
- Solicit letters of recommendation
- Compose personal essays
- Schedule interviews
- Update resume or CV
- Write dynamic letter to program coordinator
- Mail completed applications (and fees)
- Follow-up to make sure applications are complete
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker's Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Have you seen all our career and job resources for job-seekers considering an MBA, currently attending an MBA program, or who have an MBA? Go to: Job Resources for MBAs or MBA Degree Resources.