3 Components of a Strong MBA Application
With extended deadlines and test waivers, business schools experienced a surge in MBA applications amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
For many applicants, the degree offers exclusive access to an expansive alumni network and better salary and job prospects. However, the surge in MBA applications during COVID-19 also means a more competitive application year. Andrew Jack, of Financial Times, spoke to admissions experts and alumni at top B-schools such as London Business School and the University of Chicago Booth School of Business what a successful MBA application looks like.
Experts say fit is one of the key aspects that admissions officers look for in applicants. An application that appears templated often can do more harm than good.
“Don’t make the mistake of using the same application and trying to retrofit it. Different schools have very different cultures which will dictate your experience,” Tarini Sundar, a Kellogg MBA, tells FT.
In addition to online research, experts recommend that applicants reach out and connect with current MBA’s to better understand of a B-school’s culture and community.
“They are the ones who lived the program and will answer honestly how they navigated it . . . and areas for improvement,” Donna Swinford, associate dean for student recruitment and admissions at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, tells FT.
While admissions officers treat the GRE and the GMAT equally in their admissions decisions, some experts highlight the difficulty of the GMAT as a distinguishing factor. This is because the exam tests more quantitative knowledge and requires test takers to complete it without skipping steps or changing answers.
“The GMAT remains the ‘tried and true’ entrance exam for business schools—the admissions team will have no questions about why you chose it,” explains Stacy Blackman, founder of Stacy Blackman Consulting. “If you are a great test-taker and it’s all the same to you, I would stick with the GMAT.”
SIMPLE & AUTHENTIC
When it comes to MBA essays, simplicity and authenticity are key.
London Business School requires applicants to write a 500-word essay answering what their post-MBA goals are and how their prior experience and the LBS program will contribute towards those goals.
David Simpson, recruitment and admissions director at London Business School, tells FT that a strong admissions essay consists of the following: “simplicity, clarity, [and] honesty — let your personality shine through.”
How To Make The Most of Admitted Student Events
If you’ve been accepted to more than one B-school, the best way to make a decision is to attend an admitted student event.
Ilana Kowarski, a reporter at US News, recently spoke to experts on how admitted students can make the most of the now-virtual events.
ASK ABOUT EXTRACURRICULARS
When comparing between two programs, it can be helpful to ask questions to better understand what types of extracurricular opportunities each program offers.
“For example, if you are interested in the Investment Management club it may have limited spots that are only open to students that have prior experience,” Shefali Shah, an MBA grad from Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, tells US News. “These are the details that are important for a prospective student to understand before choosing a program.”
CONNECT WITH OTHER STUDENTS
Experts stress the importance of networking with other students and getting a feel for how well you connect – even if events are virtual.
“During an MBA admit weekend, gauge your comfort level with the current students,” Stacy Blackman, founder of Stacy Blackman Consulting, writes. “How do you feel about your potential future classmates? Did you develop a friendly rapport with any fellow attendees?”
You’ll want to come prepared to events with questions on everything from school culture to academic and social opportunities.
“The MBA admit weekend is your chance to find out answers to all the lingering doubts in your mind,” Blackman writes. “Ask tons of questions about clubs, classes, favorite professors, travel opportunities, and study abroad programs from current students who can fill in those remaining blanks.”
How to Explain An Employment Gap Or Low GPA
An MBA can be a worthwhile opportunity for a new career, better pay, and personal growth. But for applicants with a low GPA or past layoff, the barrier to those new opportunities may seem challenging.
While admissions officers seek out the best of the best for their business school, experts say there are ways to mitigate red flags in your MBA application. Stacy Blackman, founder of Stacy Blackman Consulting, recently discussed how applicants with red flags can still put their best foot forward towards an MBA and the opportunities it provides.
If you had a gap in employment at any point, the best course of action is to highlight the steps you took to better yourself after a layoff.
“Briefly explain the layoff, and then draw attention to how you bounced back from the experience,” Blackman writes. “We’ve had several clients in this situation, and we advised each to approach the challenge differently.”
Similarly, a low GPA is another red flag that applicants should explain how they actively worked to improve.
“Some clients have chosen to take pre-MBA courses to boost their quantitative profile and alleviate any concerns about their ability to handle MBA-level coursework,” Blackman writes. “We also typically advise such applicants to use the optional essay to address the matter directly.”
GIVE IT STRAIGHT
Most importantly, experts stress, applicants should be sincere and straightforward in explaining their employment gap rather than come up with an excuse.
“You want them to assess your candidacy from a place of understanding as they review your entire application,” Jessica Chung, of Fortuna Admissions, writes. “Express honesty and reflection, with an awareness that your reasoning may alleviate any concerns.”
FOCUS ON POTENTIAL
Nobody is perfect. And an employment gap or low GPA don’t have to be the end all points of your admission. Rather, applicants should view these setbacks as opportunities for growth and, in turn, potential for success.
“Showing who you are, your potential, and even how you have overcome blemishes to your otherwise perfect record gives the school insight into your potential as a student and as a future business leader,” Blackman writes. “Sometimes, we all fail, but the trick is to try to look at your failures through a fresh lens and figure out the good that came from them.”