Assemble Your Application

Your business school application is your first opportunity to stand out.

In this guide, we’ll review six key areas in the application to ensure you highlight your most impressive achievements and develop an application that reflects who you genuinely are as a prospective student and person. 

1. GMAT Scores
Your GMAT score is only one measure schools use as they evaluate you, so be sure to ask individual schools how scores will be factored into the admissions decision. 

Minimum Score Requirements: 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, Analytical Writing Assessment, and Integrated Reasoning scores for admitted applicants to see whether the program values any sections more than others.

Multiple Scores: Unhappy with your first GMAT score? Before you take the test again, ask how the schools you are applying to consider multiple scores. Many, but not all, will consider the best score rather than the most recent. When appropriate, you might submit a short statement regarding your test score results and why you chose to retake the test. 

Retaking the Exam: 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 and overall application profile more closely matches your own.

2. Academic Record
Most schools gauge your academic skills by looking at both your GMAT score and your academic record, including grade point average (GPA). Know that schools generally rely on the GMAT score as the best predictor of academic success during your first year of a graduate management program. If you think your undergraduate record does not accurately reflect your academic ability, be ready to explain why.

3. Work Experience

Students with work experience provide rich subject matter for an MBA program. Courses in many business schools rely heavily on class participation and group work. Additionally, when you are going through your internship and first post-graduate business job search, your past experiences along with the knowledge you have gained from your studies will influence potential employers’ interest in you.

Your Accomplishments: 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 are also helpful.

Quality vs. 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.

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: Summer internships and part-time work may expose you to the work environment, but often they do not provide the kind of experience, responsibility, and accountability schools want. 

Lacking Full-time Work Experience: Look for programs 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).

To see whether your lack of experience will hurt your application, ask a school:

  • What kinds of jobs are held by your graduates without work experience?
  • What kinds of employers recruit your graduates without work experience?
  • What was the placement rate (timing and average salaries) of your graduates without experience, compared with the graduates with experience over the past few years?
  • How does the average number of employment offers extended to MBAs without experience compare with the number offered to MBAs with experience?

4. Application Essays

Use the essay to present a clear and compelling picture of yourself, your motivations, and your abilities in your own voice.

Essays should:

  • Explain how your interests are a good fit with the focus or curriculum of the school
  • Relate how a particular course of study is relevant to your post-MBA career
  • Reflect your thinking and writing style
  • Always answer the questions asked
  • Be reasonably specific
  • Be concise (stay within the word limit if one is given)
  • Highlight and reinforce the other parts of your application
  • Address the particular school and program to which you are applying
  • Be proofread by another person for content, delivery, and grammar
  • Clearly explain any references to your background

5. Recommendations

A solid recommendation provides credible testimony by:

  • Supporting your ability to excel in your graduate business program and in a professional career
  • Confirming or elaborating on your credentials, strengths, and aspirations
  • Helping business schools develop a consistent overall impression of you

Who Should Write Them: 
Choose a good cross-section of people who can vouch for your dependability and who know about your plans for graduate business 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 recommender.

Avoid asking for references from people with important-sounding job titles who do not know you or your work.

Follow School Policy: Each program requires a specific number of recommendations, usually two or three. Don’t exceed that number without prior agreement from the admissions staff.

6. Interviews

Interview policies vary from school to school. Ask about interview requirements and how your interview will be used in the application process.

Learn About the School: 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 about where to study later on.

Make a Solid Impression: An interview allows you to demonstrate your interpersonal skills and make a good impression. There is no substitute for presenting yourself in person and building rapport with a school representative. However, you should know that when you visit a campus, you are being informally interviewed by everyone from the receptionist to students you encounter in the hallway. It is important to be courteous and respectful to everyone. 

Interview on Campus vs. Off Campus: By spending time and money to visit a campus, you demonstrate a serious commitment to the program.

There may be legitimate reasons why you cannot visit the campus during the application process. Some schools may offer phone, teleconference, or off-campus interviews at a corporate office or hotel. They may be conducted by admissions staff, alumni, or other school representatives. When necessary, an off-campus interview can provide important additional information for your candidacy.

Setting up an interview: You are responsible for making arrangements to interview. If you are unable to visit the campus, check to see if an admissions representative will be in your area and available for interviews. Make sure you schedule your appointment early enough to complete the application and meet schools’ deadlines.