Assembling Your School Application
As you assemble your applications, spend time on each major component and pay attention to the smallest details.
Your business school application is your chance to shine and put your best foot forward. Spend time on it to ensure it highlights your most impressive achievements and reflects who you genuinely are as a student and person.
As the global, non-profit council of business schools, the Graduate Management Admissions Council knows what admissions officers look for in their applications. In this guide, we’ll review the five key areas that you’ll focus on as you put each application together:
- GMAT® scores
- Work experience
- Application essays
- Letters of recommendation
Your GMAT® Scores
Your GMAT score is only one measure schools use as they evaluate you. Don’t get nervous if you are unhappy with your GMAT score! Instead, find out from individual schools how scores will be factored into the admissions decision.
Minimum score requirements. While we recommend against it, some schools require minimum scores. Most schools, however, publish a range of scores or an average score they generally accept. Know the requirements at a particular school to ensure your score qualifies.
Test section scores. Some schools emphasize certain sections of the GMAT exam more than others. Ask admissions staff about the typical Verbal, Quantitative, and Analytical Writing Assessment scores for admitted applicants to see whether the program values any sections more than others.
Multiple scores. Unhappy with your first-time GMAT score? Before you take the test again, ask how the schools you are considering treat multiple scores. Many, but not all, will consider the best score rather than the most recent.
Retaking the exam. Not everyone who retakes the GMAT exam does better; most only improve their scores by about 30 points. If you decide to retake the test, prepare more thoroughly or study in a different way (look for GMAT prep ideas here). You might also consider schools with students whose average GMAT scores more closely match your own.
Unlike most other graduate programs, business schools expect their applicants to have some work experience. Because companies increasingly want candidates with an MBA and work experience, applicants typically admitted to graduate business schools are older and have leadership experience, inside or outside a corporate setting.
Work experiences provide rich subject matter for an MBA program. Courses in many business schools rely heavily on class participation and group work. The more practical business knowledge you have, the more you will be able to contribute.
What Your Work Experience Says about You
Admissions professionals assess work achievements to predict future performance and career longevity. Always be prepared to discuss these accomplishments in admissions interviews and essays.
In measuring the value of experience, admissions professionals will look carefully for evidence of results and accomplishments. Make sure your résumé focuses on results rather than activities. Evidence of leadership, project management, and other management skills is also helpful.
Work Experience—Quality versus Quantity
Schools vary widely in the quantity of experience they require or encourage. If the quality of your work experience is good, the quantity may not be as important. The duration of your experience becomes less important if, for example, you have reached a plateau because you lack an advanced degree but can demonstrate significant leadership skills.
On the other hand, be prepared to explain if you have changed jobs frequently. Frequent job changes may have exposed you to a variety of experiences but may not have helped you to develop leadership skills.
Full-Time Work Matters Most
When admissions professionals consider applicants’ work experience, they primarily look at full-time work. Summer internships and part-time work may expose you to the work environment, but they do not provide the kind of experience, responsibility, and accountability schools want.
If You Lack Full-time Work Experience
Look for schools that don’t have absolute requirements for work experience. Those schools will still expect to see strong internship experience (more than one summer’s worth).
Most business programs draw from and build upon students’ work experiences. MBA job recruiters also expect experience for entry-level positions. To make the best choice about whether to apply and attend business school without significant full-time experience, you should inquire about placement statistics or profiles of graduates without experience.
To see whether your lack of experience will hurt your application, ask a school:
- What kinds of jobs are held by MBAs without work experience?
- What kinds of employers recruit MBAs without work experience?
- What was the placement rate (timing and average salaries) of MBAs without experience, compared with MBAs with experience?
- How does the average number of employment offers extended to MBAs without experience compare with the number offered to MBAs with experience?
Most schools require at least one essay with each application. Use the essay to present a clear and compelling picture of yourself, your motivations, and your abilities. The essay also offers an important example of your written communication skills. The best application essays answer the question asked in the applicant’s clear “voice.”
By explaining how your interests are a good fit with the focus or curriculum of the school, you’ll show that you have done your homework and a self-assessment. Also explain your interest in a particular course of study, as well as its relevance to your post-MBA career plans.
- Reflect your authorship and thinking
- Always answer the questions asked
- Be reasonably specific
- Be concise (stay within the word limit if one is given)
- Reinforce the other parts of your application
- Address the particular school and program in question
- Be proofread by another person for content, delivery, and grammar
- Clearly explain any references to your background
Letters of Recommendation
A solid letter of recommendation provides credible testimony by:
- Supporting your ability to excel in your MBA program and in a professional career
- Confirming or elaborating on your credentials, strengths, and aspirations
- Helping business schools develop a consistent overall impression of a candidate
Who Should Write Them
Choose a good cross-section of people who can vouch for your dependability and who know about your plans for MBA study, such as employers, colleagues, and peers. Schools may have different reference requirements. Check with each school you are applying to before you select your references.
Recommendations are valuable only if they reflect relevant professional skills. Avoid getting letters from people with important-sounding job titles who do not know you or your work.
Know School Policy
Each program requires a specific number of recommendation letters, usually two or three. Don’t exceed that number without prior agreement from the admissions staff.
Interview policies vary from school to school. Most programs require at least one. Some grant interviews by invitation only, while others do not offer interviews at all. Ask about interview requirements and how your interview will be used in the application process.
Even if it’s not required, an interview can be a great way to learn about the school’s environment, facilities, students, and faculty. That knowledge can help you make a better decision later on.
An interview also allows you to demonstrate your interpersonal skills. There is no substitute for presenting yourself in person and building rapport with a school representative.
You are responsible for making arrangements to interview. Make sure you schedule your appointment early enough to complete the application and meet schools’ deadlines.
Interview on Campus
If possible, schedule an on-campus interview. An applicant who takes the time and money to visit a campus is demonstrating a serious commitment to the program.
Some schools may offer off-campus interviews. These interviews may take place at a corporate office, a hotel, or some other venue and may be conducted by admissions staff, alumni, or other school representatives. An off-campus interview is better than none at all.