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Everything You Need to Know About the MBA Application Process  

Published on: June 8, 2022

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Few degrees command respect quite like the Master of Business Administration (MBA). This credential conveys an elite level of training, along with the readiness to take on the business world's greatest challenges.

While getting accepted into your MBA program of choice might feel like a dream come true, many potential applicants are deterred from applying by stereotypes about the rigorous admissions process.

In reality, however, the MBA is more accessible than most prospective students realize. It all comes down to presenting your unique strengths in their best light. Accomplish this, and you could secure a coveted spot in one of the best MBA programs.

Feeling worried about the MBA application process or uncertain about your ability to score an acceptance letter? A little insight can make a world of difference, and we're here to help. Keep reading to learn what a typical MBA application involves — and discover key steps you can take to increase your odds of success with competitive MBA admissions.

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Establish Your Timeline

A successful MBA application requires a good deal of planning — and depending on the MBA programs you apply for, a varied list of to-dos that can take months or even years to complete. Different programs have different timelines and steps within the process, so understanding those ahead of time and planning accordingly will help ensure a successful application.

When in doubt, start earlier than you think is necessary. After all, nearly every step of the application process could take longer than you think is reasonable. Whether you need another shot at the GMAT or a response from a reference for a letter of recommendation, you will be thankful to have a little cushion in your schedule.

Timelines vary, but most experts recommend dedicating at least eight weeks to studying for the GMAT. If you're short on time, you may need even longer to prepare. Set aside an additional several weeks to get in touch with trusted people who can write letters of recommendation. Updating your résumé and writing an excellent essay will take anywhere from a few days to several weeks.

Be Prepared for Application Fees and Other Expenses

Finances are also worth considering. Each program you apply for will likely require an application fee. These can add up quickly, so you should be genuinely interested in a particular program before you apply. Be prepared to pay at least $200 and up to $300 for every application.

Another financial factor to take into account? The cost and time required to visit potential schools. No, this may not be a big deal if your preferred MBA programs are online or located nearby. However, if you live hundreds of miles away, consider whether you are able to visit prior to applying.

We'll touch on campus visits in more detail below — but for now, you should plan to build at least a few journeys into your MBA application budget.

Prepare for the GMAT/GRE Test

The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) and the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) reveal your suitability for graduate-level academic programs. Think of these as the SATs of grad school.

Yes, it's possible to gain admission without a solid score — but it will be a lot more difficult. As mentioned previously, you'll want to spend at least eight weeks studying, ideally dedicating at least ten hours per week to exam prep.

Key strategies for acing the GMAT or GRE include:

  • Develop a study plan. Hit the books early and often to prevent cramming. Most aspiring MBA students can get sufficient preparation from studying one or two hours per day, but those hours need to be strictly scheduled. Better yet, set benchmarks for scoring: you might not be capable of hitting that 700 right away, but you can probably get to 600 following a month of concerted effort.
  • Invest in prep materials. From books to smartphone apps, a variety of preparatory methods promise to give you an edge on the GMAT or GRE. Not all are equally suitable, so weigh your options carefully before you select a study method. Whatever you choose should reflect your preferred learning style and study space.
  • Find a study group. You relied on study partners as an undergraduate student, but this form of accountability often takes a step back when preparing for grad school. At this point, however, support is arguably even more essential, as you may lack the structure of a class schedule or syllabus. Don't be afraid to ask fellow grad school applicants for help.
  • Don't spend too much time on individual questions. Time is of the essence when taking the GMAT, as uncompleted sections can make an otherwise promising score plummet. Don't waste valuable time scrutinizing a question if you don't feel confident. Give yourself two minutes to come up with the answer. Learn to identify "skipper" questions that are most likely to slow you down.
  • Finish the test. Again, we can't overstate the importance of answering every question — even if you need to guess. Practice time-efficient test-taking early on so you improve both speed and accuracy.

Visit MBA Schools

You're pleased with your GMAT or GRE score and ready to bring your MBA vision to life. The next step? Scouting potential MBA programs. This is worthwhile even if you plan on primarily attending classes online.

Campus visits can be time-consuming, but they're also enlightening. If possible, visit while class is in session, as this will provide a more accurate impression of student life. If you register for your visit in advance, you may participate in a campus tour, plus a Q&A session with the department head or other helpful faculty members.

Simply showing up isn't enough. Do your research in advance so you can make the most of every minute on campus. Arrive prepared with basic insight about the campus culture. This can be gained simply by browsing the college's blog or checking out relevant social media pages. Ask plenty of questions during the visit and don't hesitate to take notes. Later, these details will help you compare various MBA programs.

Campus visits are worthwhile even if you intend to complete the entirety of your MBA online. These help you discern networking opportunities and academic policies. Even if you never return to campus, you'll feel more closely connected if you visit at least once.

Network With MBA Graduates

Nothing quite compares to getting a firsthand account of what it's like to attend a particular MBA program. In all likelihood, you're already acquainted with several professionals who have obtained their graduate degrees from esteemed institutions. Those who are currently (or were previously) involved with your preferred program are ideal, but graduates from other colleges can still provide powerful insight.

If you lack relevant connections in your current professional network, don't forget the power of social media. Search for current or past MBA students on LinkedIn — and don't hesitate to send messages. Graduates remember exactly how nerve-wracking it is to research and apply for MBA programs, so many will be happy to provide in-depth feedback.

Once you get in touch with a few MBA graduates, ask targeted questions that get at the reality of being a student. What did they like about their program? What would they do differently?

The answers you receive may guide difficult decisions or provide reassurance when you need it most. This may even open the door to new networking relationships, which will serve you well down the road.

Create a Strong MBA Résumé

You've dedicated a great deal of thought and effort to your professional résumé. Why should your MBA résumé receive any less attention?

As with a standard professional résumé, this application essential should accurately and succinctly convey your background, your aspirations, and your philosophy.

Key categories to cover include:

  • Academic history. List where you attended and graduated from high school and college. Mention any relevant extracurricular activities or awards. Add your GPA if it's high enough to attract attention — anything less than 3.5 should be left out.
  • Professional background. Highlight your past few jobs and how they've prepared you for the challenges that lie ahead. Administrative and managerial positions are especially valuable, but don't despair if you've yet to acquire this type of work experience. Any professional job in which you take pride could potentially be viewed as a strength — it all depends on how your previous work is highlighted on your résumé. Explain your workplace responsibilities (especially if they involved any leadership roles), as well as any insights you gained on the job.
  • Leadership experience. Whether you've taken on leadership roles at school, work or for volunteer projects, they should be mentioned on your MBA application. This could take many forms, such as team captain, student mentor or project lead. This is your opportunity to show that you have a proven track record as a leader.

You don't necessarily need a long history of business success to give your résumé an edge — simply demonstrate what makes you unique as a candidate. There should never be any question as to whether you are a compelling choice for the graduate program in question.

If you're feeling lost, browse résumé examples to get a sense for typical formatting and tone. Concise is always better, but your résumé should also be detailed enough to convey the breadth of your experience and the depth of your passion.

Be Thoughtful When Making MBA Recommendation Letter Requests

MBA programs typically require applicants to submit multiple letters of recommendation. These provide yet another glimpse at your strengths and weaknesses as a professional. Seeking such letters can feel intimidating; not only do you need to find an authoritative figure with an impressive background, but you also need to ensure that this person knows you well enough to provide a compelling recommendation.

As you examine your options, think carefully about the professional and academic relationships you've cultivated over the years. Who has seen you at your best? Who understands your potential for growth? Who is an effective communicator? All three qualities are essential. After all, the person making the recommendation could think highly of you — but if writing is not their strong suit, the recommendation will seem weak, at best.

Once you've found the perfect source for your recommendation, it's time to get in touch. Be friendly, but to the point when making requests. Remember that the person you have in mind may constantly be sought after for recommendation letters.

After you receive letters of recommendation, be sure to thank those who went out of their way to help you. Genuine demonstrations of appreciation will increase your likelihood of getting additional favors once you've completed your MBA program and are on the hunt for your dream job.

Be Authentic With MBA Essays and Interviews

Your résumé, test scores and letters of recommendation highlight your potential for success as an MBA student, but nothing demonstrates your authentic self quite like the application essay or interview. No matter how confident you feel about your prospects, it's crucial you give these tasks the attention and care they deserve.

MBA essays and interviews provide insight on far more than written and verbal skills alone. They also offer a glimpse at your professional philosophies — and the personal code you strive to uphold daily. The most impactful essays and interviews blend these convictions with a clear understanding of the college's culture. When these essentials align, swift acceptance is far more likely.

Essay topics and interview questions vary dramatically. With the essay, you have the freedom to choose something you find compelling. Avoid any subject that garners only lukewarm feelings; it's impossible to fake genuine passion.

You'll have less control over the interview, but you can still exude authenticity by resisting the urge to rehearse your answers. Instead, stage mock interviews with current or former MBA students, who can provide insight into common queries.

Level Up Your MBA With Husson University

On the hunt for an MBA program that lives up to your loftiest expectations? Look no further than Husson University. Offering a flexible online MBA that takes the realities of the work world into account, Husson provides a wealth of experiential learning opportunities, as well as personalized support. Reach out today to learn more about our Master of Business Administration — or get started by applying online.

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