MBA Admissions Guide
This is my collection of resources to help prospective MBA students apply to schools in the United States. The guide is based on my own experiences, as well as those that I asked for help during my own application process. Hopefully this will provide some insight and reduce the ambiguity around applying. Just click each topic below for details.
Two big reasons for going to business school. The network it will provide and the ability to career switch. If you don’t need either one, then business school may not be for you. Some people have achieved what they needed right out of undergrad or have a high potential career path that doesn’t require the title.
Some industries or companies don’t value an MBA, so it doesn’t get you any additional brownie points to earn one. It’s important to consider the opportunity cost of not working for two years, losing both income and professional experience.
2. Admissions Timelines
My first piece of advice is to take the GMAT as early as possible or at least six weeks before applications are due. See my GMAT section for more details. Once that hurdle is cleared, then you need to look at each schools admissions rounds (typically three).
Round One applications are typically due in the Fall around October. Round Two is due by the middle of January. Round Three is due by the end of March. Apply as early as possible as the second and third round get full and less spots are available as time goes on.
3. Where to Apply
I would apply to two or three “reach” schools, and three schools that you feel are at your level and maybe two that you are sure you can get into. Don’t apply to more than ten as you can spread yourself too thin and not give each application enough attention. I also highly recommend actually visiting the school and doing a campus tour. It would be hard to sell the school you are a good fit if you haven’t even stepped in a classroom or met with current students.
Make sure you speak with alumni of the school you are interested in to make sure there is a fit for both you and the program, much like networking within a company. A fancy school may not necessarily be the best place for you culturally. I know of one student who was accepted to a top three MBA program and on the first day felt the class size was way too big and went to a lower tier school for the more personal attention.
You should also highly prioritize the companies that hire from the schools you are looking into. The whole point of b-school is to get you a stellar job and it can be much easier if the program you are looking into happens to be a target school for your dream company.
4. Full-Time, Evening, Executive or Online
In today’s world of flexibility, there are several different options to take an MBA program. There of course if the traditional Full-Time option while you take work off for two years and focus completely on academics.
A close alternative is the Evening Program option, which I’m most familiar with since that is how I did b-school. I wasn’t accepted into the Full-Time program and wasn’t sure about taking up the offer for the Evening at first. But after connecting with an alum from the program I attended and seeing how, at least in my program, there weren’t a lot of limitations and and the differences between Full-Time and Evening were minimal, it became a viable option. The academic schedule is set around work hours so that you can remain gainfully employed. In my case it was twice a week from 6-10pm, with some all day Saturday courses. If you want more details, check out my ASU Guide Evening Program section.
The Executive Program option typically has all-day every other Friday and Saturday schedule. The class profile usually consists of more experienced professionals and executive level leaders. Be sure your employer is okay with taking that much time off!
The Online option is something I’m not as familiar with, but you can imagine the flexibility it provides. Personally, I prefer in person settings, but with the amount of virtual workers in corporate settings now, the online option is certainly reflecting the cultural norm in some cases.
5. Grades and Coursework
Each school is different, but typically higher GPAs are better. But don’t despair if your’s isn’t stellar, admissions offices really take into account your whole application and look at other parts of what make you up as a whole person.
In terms of coursework, MBA Programs like to take diverse majors, but the highest percentage come from those that have quantitative or business oriented courses.
Since each program is different, take a look at the most recent class profile of your target schools to get more detailed information on what the school is looking for and who you are competing against.
6. GMAT Score
The GMAT was the bane of my existence! The test is literally designed to adapt to and focus on your weaknesses and and keep asking questions that you are weak in. In other words, it likes to kick you when you are down.
The reality is that it’s a computer adaptive test that asks you about your quantitative and qualitative reasoning skills. While that sounds intimidating, you can prepare for it. There are several test prep courses you can take or you can simply use the official GMAT prep guide.
The rule of thumb is 100 hours of preparation. I broke it out by studying two hours a day five days a week. Whatever schedule works for you, as long as you can take the practice tests and feel comfortable with your score.
Plan on taking it at least twice, since most people don’t do that well on the first try. Some schools don’t care how many times you take it and only take your highest score, other average.
Be sure to go to the testing site before test day so you can know how long it takes to get there and what the facility will be like. It will be stressful enough to take the test, so knowing your environment will help reduce the anxiety.
Finally, I would register for a date to take the GMAT and work backwards from that to motivate you study schedule.
7. Letters of Recommendation
Having people who like you is critical to this step! Hopefully you have two or three that do and will speak volumes about you. Some people like to get big names to write Letters of Recommendation for them, not really knowing the person’s skills. It is way more important to have some one write a letter that can speak to your abilities and work ethic. The more details they can give about how you work, the better. An ideal person in this case would be a previous manager or co-worker. And if you want to take it to the next level, hopefully one of those people can be an alum from the school you are applying to. I was lucky enough to have both of those in two letters of recommendation and it helped a ton.
8. Professional Experience
I was jealous when pretty much every other graduate program allowed you to start right after undergrad. I wished I could start b-school right away! But there is wisdom in having experience, if only to learn you don’t want to do something.
If you think about it, schools are trying to sell you as their product when you graduate to employers. To be the complete package, it is a much easier sell when you have experience to back up your academics. Experience is king. The more you have, the more you can talk to potential employers about practical experience you have in executing projects instead of just the theoretical topics you learned in school. An added benefit is you can add a lot more value to classroom discussions. Three to four years of experience is a good average for some schools, but you should go when the time is right for you in your career.
Depending on the program, you will be called in for interviews. Most of the time this is done by the admissions office, but I do know of one school that had alumni perform the interviews. Interviewing timing will depend on the round you apply in. I did not personally have to do an interview, so I can’t speak to it too much.
10. Decision Making
Ultimately, you should go to the best school you can get into that is the right fit for you. Hopefully you’ve gotten offers from a few schools and you’ve done your research.
In the end, it comes down to this:
- Get a high GMAT score
- Have people you worked with write Letters of Recommendation
- Visit the schools you are applying to
- Fit can be more important than ranking