15 Excellent Tips for Getting Into an MBA Program

by Contributor on Apr 24, 2012

If you want to get into a top-notch MBA program, you may be tempted to start a small business, travel the world for essay fodder, or even drop a large sum on a prep course. These characteristics might define what the hottest MBA programs seek in their applicants. But, if your parents aren’t CEOs and MBA alumni, and if you can’t afford to travel, you still can make your MBA application look extraordinary. In fact, if you do ordinary things extraordinarily well, this ambition could be your ticket into a great MBA program.

  1. Business CollegeStart the process as far in advance as you can. Take the GMAT and retake it if you need higher scores. Research schools, look at their criteria, get the applications, line up recommendations, and write your essays. In fact, few MBA programs change their essay questions dramatically from year to year, so you can begin that process now. If you wait until the last minute, you’ll be rushed, stressed, and unlikely to put your best foot forward.
  2. Score High on the GMAT, because virtually every MBA program in the country requires their applicants to take the Graduate Management Admission Test. Great GMAT scores won’t necessarily get you into the school of your choice, but low scores will almost certainly keep you out. As a general rule, if your scores are more than 50 points below a school’s average, you are probably facing an uphill battle. If you’re in this situation, consider taking the GMAT again. Business schools generally focus on your most recent score.
  3. Stand out by being yourself, especially in your essays. Business schools aim to enroll a broad mix of different personalities and backgrounds, so they want to know you as you really are. Tell your story, including any trips abroad, or how you overcame a stressful situation.
  4. Have a clear career goal, and point out that you are on a the only thing that can propel you into the future successfully is an MBA. The admissions committee members may see each applicant as who they will be in 10 or 20 years. Therefore, you have to paint that picture of yourself for them as vividly as possible. Use your previous experiences and accomplishments to support your clear and specific trajectory into the future.
  5. Show management potential through leadership positions in both your jobs and in any extra-curricular activities. These positions should be explained and highlighted in your essays and your resume, and your leadership roles should appear in all of the letters of recommendation.
  6. Apply for the first round of applications, but hesitate until the last minute to make sure essay questions and other issues don’t change on you. If you apply to that first round, you are showing that you really want to attend that school. Submitting your application a couple days before the deadline gives you a chance to make sure everything goes through on time and that the school’s website isn’t malfunctioning.
  7. Business School ProjectBe ready to defend your weaknesses. Talk about how you bounced back from stressful situations in your job or in volunteer positions. If you have a low grade or two, be prepared to defend those situations, too, even if they occurred during your freshman year in your undergraduate degree.
  8. Start a business, if possible, as this effort will make you stand out. The standard for many years had been a minimum of two years of work experience before applying to business school. As competition for seats in MBA programs has increased over the past few years, some top programs have started looking for applicants with at least three years of experience. By starting a business, you could jump-start your potential. Make sure it’s a business that you can continue to run and grow if you go to business school. Mention in your essays that you can and will continue to grow it during your MBA career, and how you will accomplish that effort.
  9. Be prepared for an interview, but know that an unsolicited campus visit may not help you. The school already knows all about you and your accomplishments, and they want to know — without meeting you — that you are personable, energetic, professional, confident, and basically the kind of person they’d want to be with in class. If you are invited to an interview, show you’re a team player. Be friendly, natural, and hand out your resume and business card. The best way to have the best interview that you can is to be prepared.
  10. Gather stellar recommendations, and help coach the people who are writing recommendations for you on what you’d like them to say. Your recommendations may be the most important part of your application, so you want to make sure that they all talk about your team spirit and leadership attributes. You’re not asking them to lie and you don’t want to write those letters for them, but you want to help them highlight points you want them to make. Think about how they can highlight your management potential, your impact in their organization, and your ability to work with others.
  11. Make your resume impressive, especially your work history. Work experience provides tangible evidence of your performance in the business world and hints at your potential. Make sure you show growth in your experience. Follow the school’s recommendation on length, and do not include salaries on your resume. Chose your extra-curricular and service activities to complement your work experiences. Admissions will read every activity and work experience you put on your application, so you don’t need to write about them again in your essays. You may want to highlight one work experience or activity with a story about how you handled growth or hardships.
  12. If you end up on the “wait list,” make the most of it. Wait-listed applicants could be admitted, and this wait can provide you with the time you need to retake that GMAT or send another letter of recommendation if appropriate. Keep in touch with the admissions committee…don’t hound them, but it’s acceptable to send a letter if you get promoted or if you’re working on an assignment that broadens your skills. Don’t begin a business or volunteer for a soup kitchen during your wait time, however, as that activity can seem suspicious.
  13. Learning Business SoftwareHave a consistent story, or theme, throughout your application. If you have a rock-solid resume and stellar recommendations, flesh those two items out in your essays. The best essays probably have a mix of local transitions and an over-arching theme. The theme should propel you into your career goals and why you want to study or contribute to your choice of schools. Make a list of selling points about yourself. Make sure your resume and essays cover all of these points, regardless of what the essays explicitly ask for.
  14. Take advantage of your unique qualities, especially if you are an ethnic minority or female. Blacks and Hispanics, especially, are still underrepresented in business schools. While male-to-female ratios may be evening out, a female who can show compatibility with men in the workplace can have an advantage. Think about this opportunity carefully if you’re a woman, as the admissions office will note your gender on your application papers unless you have a generic given name (such as Chris). However, they’ll have a more difficult time deciphering your ethnic background unless you note this somewhere or include a photo of yourself as part of your resume.
  15. Admissions committees want applicants who work long hard days at a career, then come home to work on their own business at night. You need to volunteer one night a week, and be engaged in a few activities on the weekends. MBA programs can require 12-15 hours a day and they may want students to meet those schedules and more. Make sure your extra-curricular or volunteer activities reflect your interests, and make sure that you are up to the challenges.