With the economy still slow to recover, applications to pursue an MBA have increased over the past few years.  Read on to find out what is involved in the application process and maybe find a few tips along the way. 

Most business schools will judge their applicants based on a number of criteria, including a résumé, GMAT scores, undergraduate GPA, professional recommendations, an interview, and a number of essay questions.  Each element of the application is important, but some components are more important than others.  When taken all together, business schools should receive a very good overall picture of each of their applicants. 

Your Resume

Most business schools want to see at least a few years of solid work experience before entering into an MBA program.  Employment in a “business” position is not necessary, but four to five years of work experience is average for most entering MBA students.   Schools especially like to see how elements of teamwork were manifest in your positions. 

To convey this work experience, as well as volunteer experiences and professional accolades, a complete resume is required for all business school applications.  Your résumé should be no different than that which you would submit to a potential employer.  Be sure to fill your résumé with powerful action words that convey a sense of responsibility and purpose at your previous jobs.  Before submitting a résumé, ask a few friends or family to look it over to correct any grammatical errors. 

Take the GMAT

Just like you took the SAT and ACT to get into college, taking the GMAT is required for admission to most MBA programs.  A good score will take you a long way into securing a spot for admission and will tremendously help your chances of receiving scholarships. 

The test is broken up into three parts that test your verbal, math, and writing skills.  To score well on this test, you do not need to have any foundation of knowledge from the business world, but you will definitely need to take a refresher course of high school English and math.  There are many books and study guides available to help you prepare for this exam.  The company that produces the GMAT has many practice tests available, and the Princeton Review has published a book with some of the best GMAT test taking tips and strategies. 

The verbal portion of the GMAT is very similar to other standardized tests that assess reading comprehension, sentence correction, and critical reasoning.   Read through a guide for specific skills that will be tested in this section of the GMAT. 

For the math section of the test, a calculator is not allowed, so be prepared.  All testing centers will provide scratch paper, but you must first remember how to solve complicated arithmetic, algebra, and geometry problems to score well.  Most questions are similar to other standardized tests except for problems that the GMAT creators have dubbed “Data Sufficiency.”  On these problems, you are given a set of information and then must determine if you were given enough material to answer the problem.  

It is worth noting that the written portion of the GMAT is most important for international students.  Certainly, it is not good to fail this portion of the test, but two essays are meant to test the English ability of non-native speakers.   

On the GMAT, it is VERY important to spend some extra time on the first few questions of both the verbal and math sections.  The GMAT is considered a computer-adaptive test (CAT), which means that each question is weighed.  If you answer your first few questions correctly, your test will become more difficult.  Conversely, if you answer your first few questions incorrectly, your test will become easier.  The more difficult your test is, the higher you total score will be.  So be very deliberate on your few problems to maximize your score!

You should receive your scores within a few weeks of taking the test.  Generally, a “good” GMAT score is at or above 700, but do not fret if your score is below this threshold.  Locate the average GMAT scores for your school and determine if you need to retake the test.  Remember, the schools you apply to will look at you as a whole.  The GMAT will not completely make or break your application. 

Professional Recommendations

Schools will use recommendations to get a better picture of who you are in a professional environment.  Usually, at least one of your recommendations must be from a current or former supervisor.  Business schools tend to discourage recommendations from former college professors.  It is very important that you ask someone who is very familiar with your abilities—especially with teamwork and attitude.  If you feel your current supervisors do not have a complete picture of who you are, give them your résumé before they write your recommendation.  This will give your supervisor a good idea of who you are outside of your work environment. 

Some schools may have a separate form for your recommenders to complete and send in. 

Essay Questions

Most business schools include a couple of essays to round out your application.  This is a very important part of the process since you get a chance to elaborate on elements of your resume that only receive the attention of a few words.  Essays are a great opportunity to show off your writing skills and organization. 

Your Interview

If you are lucky enough to make it through the first round of application cuts, you will be asked to interview with an admissions officer.  These interviews will generally take place on campus, but phone or Skype interviews will suffice for those who live out-of-state.

You should treat your interview as if you are applying for a job.  Wear business attire—even if you are interviewing online.  In your interview, you will undoubtedly be asked a series of questions that you do not normally think about in the course of any given day.  You might be asked about obstacles at your work or how you have shown leadership skills outside of your office.  They might ask you about your personal failures or success.  Whatever the questions are, you must be prepared, act confident, and be you. 

A Final Thought

You can find another article documenting why an MBA was right for me.  It delves deep into my decision as to why I left my current career to receive a business degree.  Having been through the process myself, I recommend that you take your time on this application, savor getting into the school of your choice, and look forward to the busy days ahead back in school!