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How to make your MBA application stand out


In this blog article, admissions directors offer practical tips on what to do – and what to avoid. The more research you do about a school, its ethos, and its students, the more likely you are to find the right fit.

Prepare your application well in advance

Plan your application with enough time buffer before the deadline. Applying early shows that you are a candidate who knows exactly what he or she wants and is determined to study at the school of his or her choice, according to Jordi Robert-Ribes, executive director of student review website EDUopinions. “You need to identify your preferred MBAs several months before the deadline,” he says.

Send requests for letters of recommendation as early as possible, says Brandon Kirby, senior director of marketing, sales and admissions at the Rotterdam School of Management. “They are one of the few parts of the process where the applicant can’t control the timing,” he notes. “There’s nothing worse than being ready to submit something but waiting for [letters] to arrive, so let your recommenders know ahead of time and communicate any deadlines.”

DO NOT use the same resume you would use for an application, advises Amy Duckworth, director of admissions at Imperial College Business School in London. “Focus on highlighting the impact and achievements in each role rather than a job description,” she says. “Be sure to highlight promotions and career advancements.”

Submit your application early, especially if you hope to secure a fellowship, Duckworth adds. “Securing your spot early will give you more time to prepare, network and meet your classmates early and take advantage of the school’s career services.”

Find out which colleges are included in the Financial Times (FT) ranking of MBA degrees. Learn how the table was compiled. Remember that applying for an MBA is about finding the best fit for you and the school, says Paula Amorim, MBA admissions director at IESE Business School in Barcelona. “Applying for an MBA is a process of getting to know you and the admissions committee,” she adds. “Do your research and take time to think deeply about your motivations and how the particular business school can help you achieve your goals.”

Choosing an MBA and a school

Consider criteria such as reputation, program of study, facilities, class size, location and career prospects, Robert-Ribes advises. For example, if you’re interested in entrepreneurship, make sure the school you’re applying to has incubator programs or professors who are active in the startup world and are able to offer applied courses and useful connections.

DO NOT rely on MBA student* testimonials offered by the school, adds Robert-Ribes. Find verified student reviews, read others’ experiences, compare programs and find the right MBA for you. Don’t be swayed by the appeal of a brand name; find schools and programs that fit your personal learning style and career motivations.

Follow the social media accounts of schools you’re applying to, Duckworth suggests – LinkedIn and Instagram are great for showcasing what students* and alumni are doing.

Network with current students*, explore MBA clubs and get a picture of the people who will be your classmates, friends and future network, urges Lisa Rios, associate dean for MBA admissions at NYU Stern School of Business.

Try visiting the campuses on your shortlist to get a feel for each school, its ethos and its facilities, Amorim says.

Pass the standardized test

Consider which standardized test is right for you, Rios says. NYU Stern takes an “applicant-centered” approach, offering students* the opportunity to take the GMAT, GRE, Executive Assessment, LSAT and MCAT entrance tests. “We prefer to offer test flexibility without compromising our ability to assess academic readiness,” Rios says.

Check the application deadline and book a spot to take the required tests, urges Kentia Boulay, MBA director at Essec in France. “Don’t forget to factor in the time it will take you to study for the tests.”

Practice with sample questions to identify your weaknesses and work on improving them, Robert-Ribes recommends.

DO NOT let yourself stress out during the exam, Robert-Ribes says. Take advantage of the optional eight-minute breaks, clear your head and move on to the next question. “Remember, you can take the test up to five times a year,” he says. “So don’t worry if you don’t get your preferred score the first time.”

Perform well in the interview

DON’T say what you think the admissions committee wants to hear, Rios advises. “We really want you to be yourself, be authentic, talk about your successes and what you want.”

Prepare. “The interviewer has already reviewed the application and wants the interview to go deeper than what’s on the resume and wants to get to know you,” Rios adds. Ask as many questions as possible and make sure you express why you want that particular MBA and your expectations, Robert-Ribes says. Remember that an interview is a two-way process and you’re also interviewing the school to decide if it’s a good fit.

DO NOT ask questions that are answered on the school’s website, Duckworth warns. “At Imperial, most of our MBA interviews are conducted by alumni – try to ask them insightful questions that will allow them to share their own experiences at the school.”

Write a successful essay

Spend more time thinking about the essay than actually writing it, Kirby recommends. “Start with a walk or something where you can get lost in your thoughts,” he says. “Go beyond the first thing that comes to mind. The MBA is a lot about self-reflection, and that starts in the application process.” Put your emotional intelligence on display in your essay writing, Rios says. “The best candidates* are those who have both intellectual and interpersonal strengths. Those who develop great ideas can put those ideas into action and inspire those around them.”

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