Seven Tips for Boosting Your Odds of MBA Admission

With most Round 2 MBA application deadlines not quite here yet, you still have (some) time to sharpen up your candidacy for business school. Here are seven ways you can boost your odds of admission to your target MBA program(s).

1. Master the GMAT, GRE, or EA—or Secure a Waiver

At this point, you might be done taking standardized tests, or you could still be struggling with this element of the application process. If you belong to this latter group, now is the time to determine your test-taking strategy and get this task done. If you have taken a GMAT course and gotten tutoring, but the GMAT is still not working out for you, consider switching to the GRE. (You can take a free diagnostic test to see whether you like the GRE or might perform better on it.) If the GRE is not a better fit for you, look into taking the Executive Assessment (EA) instead. However, only a handful of schools accept the EA, so be sure to check whether any of your target programs do. Your final option could be a test waiver. If your undergraduate transcript includes some strong quantitative coursework or you currently have an analytical job, you might just qualify for a waiver and be able to skip the test taking altogether.

2. Take an Online Course

We see very few transcripts that do not have at least one or two blemishes, but if your GPA is notably below your target school’s average, you would probably benefit from taking some specific actions to demonstrate your academic abilities (especially if you have not been able to master the GMAT or GRE). Taking an online course—and specifically, one that buttresses your quantitative knowledge—is a good idea. Consider, for example, “Math for Management” through Berkeley Extension or Harvard Business School’s “Credential of Readiness” (CORe) course, which is the gold standard for those wanting to prepare themselves for the rigors of the business school classroom.

3. Demonstrate That You Are a Good Citizen

Business schools are not just looking to fill classrooms, they want to create close-knit, supportive communities. To achieve this, they need to accept candidates who will be active participants, people who are more than their jobs. So, the question the admissions committees are always asking is “How will this applicant engage with and contribute to our community?” To judge this, they look to see what type of citizen you are today and have been in the past (especially in college). The schools of course understand that finding significant free time outside the office can be difficult for some applicants and are therefore somewhat forgiving on this point, but they nevertheless believe you can (and should) be doing something to give back. This “something” could encompass duties you take on at work that are separate from your job responsibilities, such as organizing the company-wide service day. Or perhaps you tutor a student online or participate in a service trip to an underserved region to build houses on your vacation. These kinds of activities can really boost your prospects.

4. Pursue Leadership Opportunities

Business schools love leaders of all kinds, not just formal ones. If at your job, you manage seven direct reports around the globe, that is fantastic for substantiating your leadership experience and capabilities. However, most applicants cannot claim this kind of straightforward “org chart” leadership. If this is you, look for other types of leadership positions you could pursue. For example, you might join a committee at your workplace, plan a brown bag lunch series, organize a fundraising event for a local charity, or informally mentor others. Anything that shines a spotlight on how you can bring people together in pursuit of a common goal is great.

5. Start Considering Your Recommenders

The first rule of choosing a recommender is finding someone who will really be your champion—someone who will talk about you in the most positive light and explain how you are a great professional, leader, and all-around person. Who your recommender is and what title they hold are of secondary importance. Therefore, the manager who knows you best is the person who should write your recommendation, rather than the high-powered partner or company CEO. Some applicants might need to choose two people from the same workplace (making sure they do not repeat anything the other one writes). And if letting anyone know that you are about to leave your company to pursue your MBA might damage your career, you will need to find someone outside the firm to be your recommender. To ensure that you make the smartest choices when deciding who will write your recommendations, start talking to your potential recommenders now.

6. Get to Know Your Target Business School

Although “demonstrated interest” is something of a tedious phrase, the idea has become increasingly important in the MBA admissions process. The admissions committees want to see evidence that you have put forth energy and effort to really get to know their school beyond what appears on its website. This includes visiting the campus, speaking to students and recent alumni, participating in admissions events, and maybe even reading a book or two written by faculty members. Developing a more profound understanding of the school allows you to not just answer the question “Why an MBA?” but also explain why you want an MBA from that particular program. Doing this effectively shows your commitment to that specific institution.

7. Craft Great MBA Application Essays

Which part of your candidacy do you still have the most control over? The essays. In what part of the application can you most distinguish yourself? The essays. And what part of the application do admissions committee members find the most valuable? The essays. So, where do you have the greatest opportunity to boost your odds of admission? The essays.

A winning essay is unique and authentic. It explains why attending business school makes sense for you, given who you are and what you have done in your past. Getting to this point has required you to take stock of what is meaningful to you and what your dreams and aspirations are. Now you must communicate these ideas and goals clearly and concisely, in a way that captivates the reader. Remember that the average admissions committee member reads hundreds of essays each year. How will your essay compare? Writing a great essay takes time and is hard work, but it is the most significant way to increase your chances of gaining a spot in the MBA program of your dreams.

Yes, the clock is indeed ticking, and Round 2 deadlines get closer every day, but you still have plenty of time to work on boosting your chances of admission. Whether all seven of our recommendations here apply to you or just one, anything you do to improve your candidacy helps. But you have to start now!

For additional perspective on the differences between MBA programs and an assessment of your MBA applicant profile, sign up for a free 30-minute consultation here with one of mbaMission’s experts.

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