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Your Business School Application & Admission

When it comes to applying to business school, think of yourself as “the product.” Your application is your marketing document. Marketing yourself doesn’t mean that you should exaggerate or embellish the facts. It simply means that you need to make a lucid and convincing presentation. Everything on your application should contribute to an overall picture of yourself that clearly demonstrates that you belong in the class and will make a solid contribution to the learning of your peers.

Sell yourself. Your application should look like it’s the only one you are submitting. The admissions committees don’t care if you cranked out 6 applications in 2 weeks—they only see one application, so make sure it’s worth it.

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When to Apply to Business School

Understanding how each business school’s application cycle operates can help you determine the best time to submit your application. Some schools use “rolling admissions,” which means they review applications on an ongoing basis and commit to responding within a given time period after receiving your completed application. 

Many other schools have multiple application rounds, designed so that everyone applying by a certain date will get responses at a scheduled time, generally 4-6 weeks after the deadline. While there are potential risks and rewards no matter when you apply, the general rule of thumb is that it’s better to apply earlier than later. This holds true because as the final deadline approaches, candidates are competing for fewer spaces. Also, by applying early, you are showing a strong interest and commitment to earning your MBA.

Business School Early Decision and Early Admission

Some top business schools have early admission or deferred enrollment programs for undergraduate seniors. Acceptance into these programs guarantees a spot in the business school after an agreed-upon amount of work experience (usually 2-5 years), taking the pressure off applying while working full-time. Usually those accepted into a business school deferred enrollment program are placed in the same cohorts as matriculants who applied in the traditional way, creating a diverse student body made up of older, experienced students and younger, enthusiastic students. 

Keep in mind that if acceptance into an early decision program is your goal, you’ll need to perform extremely well throughout your undergraduate to prove that you’re a qualified candidate. Those who apply later, after several years of work experience, have additional time to be promoted, take on impressive projects, and prove that they’re a good fit for the program. You don’t have the same opportunities as an undergrad, so you’ll need to find other ways to show admissions committees that you’re worth considering. 

About the Business School Application

Each business school has its own specific application requirements, but usually you’ll be required to write several essays and provide GMAT or GRE scores, your resume, undergraduate transcripts, and letters of recommendation.

Business School Essays

Most b-schools require 4-6 essays so admissions officers can get to know you as a person–beyond your GPA, test scores, etc. The application essay is the best tool they have at their disposal to achieve that. Common topics include significant accomplishments, reasons why you are pursuing an MBA, career goals, and ethical dilemmas that you’ve faced while in business. There are no right or wrong answers to essay questions, and you should be honest and write about what you know, as opposed to trying to write what you think the admissions committee wants to hear. What you choose to write sends clear signals about what’s important to you and what your values are.

Don’t hesitate to go beyond your current job experience when responding to essay prompts. Feel free to discuss other events that help define who you are. If you have overcome significant obstacles, say so. If you were honored with an award, describe the award and what you did to achieve recognition.

Top 5 Business School Application Essay Tips

  • Directly answer the essay question.

  • Demonstrate a fit with each school.

  • Be genuine and unique.

  • Tell stories that make your essays interesting.

  • Ask other people to read your essay and give you feedback

GMAT or GRE Scores for Business School

Virtually all business schools require applicants to submit a GMAT or GRE score as part of the application. Which test you take depends on your individual strengths and if the schools to which you’re applying have any preference for one test over the other. Acceptance of both GRE and GMAT scores is generally ubiquitous, but do your research and talk to admissions officers to determine if taking one over the other will increase your chances of acceptance. 

[ Learn more: What’s a good GMAT score? •  What’s a good GRE score? ]

Business School Resume

Your professional experience will be evaluated throughout your application. Most schools prefer 2-3 or even up to 4-6 years of full-time work experience. Experiences you’ve had, both professional and personal, made you who you are today, and b-school admissions officers want to know what you will therefore contribute to next year’s MBA class.

You’ll want to showcase your growth in your role, how you excelled, your management skills and how you made a contribution to your organization. In addition, work experience is the best indicator of your potential to succeed and make an impact in the business world. Don’t forget that alumni are the product of the school—and its most effective advertising vehicle. You need to prove to the school that you are and will continue to be successful in your career.

Your resume serves as an important part of your business school application because it provides a concise but comprehensive overview of your professional history and relevant personal information. Imagine that the reader knows nothing about your experiences. Use active and specific language to discuss how your experiences have affected you and what you accomplished through them, and write for a general audience—don’t use industry-specific jargon or terminology. And remember, admissions officers are looking for evidence of leadership and management skills. It’s important to shape your resume accordingly by focusing on your accomplishments rather than the tasks of the job itself.

Transcripts for Business School

You’ll need to submit your transcripts from any undergraduate and graduate institutions you attended as part of your business school application. These transcripts should include a list of all courses taken and the number of credits and grade received for each. 

If you’re not happy with the grades you received in several classes, it’s not uncommon for business school applicants to retake a class at a community college to show they’ve progressed, and that they can perform well academically in subjects that might have been a challenge for them previously. 

Business School Recommendation Letter

Most business schools require you to submit two to three letters of recommendation with your application. The majority of these should be from current and former supervisors who can attest to your success in and contributions to your workplace. Academic references can be used as well, but keep non-professional references to one out of your three letters unless you feel very confident that they would contribute more to your application than that of a supervisor. 

Give your recommenders plenty of time to complete your letters of recommendation, and give them all the information they need to write clear, specific letters for you. Don’t write your own and ask them to sign, but do provide them with items such as your personal statement, talking points, your resume, and instructions for how to submit the letter for each school to which you’re applying. After they’ve submitted your letter, write them a thank-you note. 

Business School Admissions

When you hear back about interview invitations and business school admissions decisions depends on when you submit your application. 

Business School Interview Questions and Info

While not every business school requires an interview, for many it is an important requirement for admission. Some schools use interviews to evaluate borderline cases, while others conduct interviews on an invitation-only basis to narrow down the top pool of applicants.  Whatever the reason for the interview, it’s important that you schedule with the admissions officer early. Business schools usually offer 2-3 rounds of interviews, with the most qualified applicants being interviewed in the first or second round. 

Top 5 Business School Interview Tips

  • Review your application.

    In some cases, the interviewer is likely to ask specific questions about it. Be ready to relate several stories on how you took initiative or participated in a leadership role.

  • Ask good questions.

    Make sure the answer is not on the school’s web site or application.

  • Have your answers prepared.

    Be prepared to give a convincing answer to the inevitable questions: “Why business school?”, “Why our school?”, and “Why now?”

  • Follow proper business decorum.

    Watch your non-verbal clues, such as eye contact, posture, and fidgeting. And, be courteous to the administrative staff. How you treat them can have an impact (positive or negative).

  • Write a thank-you note.

    This will leave a good taste in the mouth of the interviewer and give them one more reason to remember you.

Business School Admissions Decisions

If you were accepted to your one or more business schools, congratulations! You need now only indicate your intention to attend one school and decline your acceptance offers from any other schools. 

If you were rejected from your dream school, consider how you’d feel about going to a different business school. If you have your heart set on one particular school, apply again during the next application cycle. Keep in mind that you’ll need to make significant changes to your application to be considered; if you weren’t accepted one year, it’s unlikely that you’ll be accepted the next year without showing that you’ve worked more to become more qualified. 

If you were waitlisted for a business school, you still have a chance of being accepted. Often applicants are waitlisted so the admissions committee can see who applies in later rounds, not because your application was unimpressive. Look at your application (and, if they gave any, feedback from the admissions committee) and determine whether any specific low points may have contributed to your waitlist status. If you have a low GMAT/GRE score, for example, retake the test. After about a month, send an update letter with your new score, any new promotions or work experience you’ve acquired, and anything else significant that has changed since you submitted your original application. 

Scheduling a campus visit, connecting with current students or alumni, and sending an update letter can all boost your chances of getting off the waitlist. Don’t contact the admissions office too frequently; you want them to remember you, but you don’t want to annoy them.