Prodigy Finance - March 23, 2020
Anyone considering an MBA knows just how much work goes into it. That’s just as true for applications as for the post-MBA career search.
Despite the effort required, there’s a very clear and orderly process to your MBA application. Once you know what’s expected, you’ll be able to submit the best possible application to each of your top choice schools.
From essays and interviews to the first days on campus, you’ll be asked why MBA, so it’s critical that you know the answer to this question long before you begin the application process. It’ll also help you choose the right schools and write meaningful essays.
So why do you want an MBA?
MBA applicants all have their own reasons for pursuing this degree, but there are a few obvious motivators.
According to research reported by Forbes, most full-time MBA graduates from the Top 50 business schools can expect an average salary increase of 50% post-MBA. On top of this, many of these graduates have their salary doubled in the next 5 years.
These high expectations are most likely fueled by the mystique that surrounds an MBA, and the idea is reinforced by the generally positive changes that occur when a person receives the degree.
Salaries do increase because of receiving an MBA, but not at large multiples of pre-MBA wages as so many expect. Counselors at MBA schools work to impress on students that more than just an MBA is needed to get above average salary increases. That aside, for many, a salary increase is not the main purpose of doing the degree.
The MBA is a recognised degree anywhere in the world. Having those letters behind your name can open plenty of doors. If you’re hoping to switch careers, the MBA makes it less likely that you’ll need to claw your way up from the bottom again.
Stats from a Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) survey of prospective MBA students demonstrate that 72% of full-time MBA respondents are looking for a change in job function after graduation and 61% want to change industries.
Of course, not all MBAs are after corporate jobs. If you’re hoping to launch your own startup, you’ll have a better chance of success after business school.
The business fail rate for MBA-founded enterprises is significantly lower than those without the fancy degree. There are several reasons behind the success rate, beginning with practical skills and certainly continuing through the contacts you can call on after graduation.
According to a previous GMAC survey, the top motivation was the ability to put MBA 'on your resume' (56%). MBA skills are recognised just about everywhere in the world. In addition to management skills, you’ll develop practical leadership and all the soft skills needed to succeed.
Indeed, it’s much faster to gain these skills in a one or two-year intensive setting than the years you’d need on the job.
And then there’s the network. Whatever business school you attend, you can count on alumni past and future. The network of contacts and the internships experienced generate far greater value than an immediate salary increase upon graduation - and last a lifetime.
Alumni networks are where you turn when you need a job, a mentor or a connection across the globe. They’re the people that will meet you personally at the airport when it’s time to do business in Shanghai, Dubai or Des Moines. Alumni make recommendations and serve as references when you need them.
Still, if it all boils down to the financials, it’s important to keep the Cost of Attendance (CoA) in mind while calculating the expected ROI for your top schools.
Applying to a number of schools randomly will not only waste your financial resources but also will weaken your confidence. You’ll need to create a shortlist of schools that match your priorities and expectations.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing it’s a top-tier MBA programme or nothing at all. Elite programmes report amazing salaries and their networks open doors all over the world. But, it’s not a realistic goal for every applicant.
The good news is that return on investment tends to be higher in second-tier schools. If you’re looking for value for money, a shot at an amazing job, a solid network, and all sorts of new skills, you’ll find the best value for money in schools ranked between 21 and 45 on top programme lists.
But, school selection requires a deeper dive. Among internship opportunities and club activities, you’ll need to consider these aspects when researching schools:
Some programmes accept less than 10% of applicants in a given year. And, many of the best business schools aren’t far behind that. There are just a lot of qualified people that want seats and a lot of myths surrounding MBA admissions.
There may be no right way to complete you business school applications, but there are definitely wrong ways. The biggest mistake is leaving it to the last minute; the process is simply too big for a fast deadline. And, MBA admissions committees are looking for a level of clarity that you can’t get in a rush.
If you’re serious about applying to business school, you already know that you should apply as early as possible. But, can you apply to top business schools during the 4th round and still be accepted?
Truthfully, it all boils down to the school’s policies and your application.
A few business schools don’t have application rounds at all. That’s not to say these schools don’t have deadlines, only that there is one final date you can’t afford to miss.
Then there are the schools with set application rounds. Many European schools operate with 4 rounds; the 3rd round operates similarly to the 2nd round in the United States.
Cranfield also offers 4 rounds, but they also provide advice: if you need to live on campus, then apply early.
It suggests that the only difference between round 1 and round 4 MBA applications is the amount of housing available not your chance of acceptance.
You may be hitting your top choice schools in round 1 (with high hopes, of course) while you have shortlisted additional schools in the US for round 3 applications. Remember, your chances of securing a visa in time is slim if you wait until round 3 to apply.
Some schools, such as Harvard Business School specifically state that you should apply before the round 2 deadline as an international student requiring a visa to study in the US.
Always apply to your top schools as soon as you possibly can. This tells a school that you want to be admitted, and that:
Applying during round 1 means you’ll need to have all the aspects of your submission in order roughly a year before you hope to be on campus. You’ll need to get started on your application a year before that.
If standard study or the traditional academic calendar doesn’t fit your life, you may want to check out alternative MBA admissions.
Part-time MBA study
If your top choice business school is around the corner from your home (or your employer is willing to relocate you for a few years), part-time MBA study is a strong option. It will allow you to engage in campus activities while maintaining an income even if it’s reduced. Many businesses are willing to reimburse their employees for study as long as they remain in the company.
However, international students will find it very difficult to pursue part-time education. In the United States, for example, part-time study is not enough to secure a visa on educational grounds.
Not every university offers the option of enrolling mid-year. But, for those that do, this is often the best option for international students. While it may put you out of step with your fellow MBA candidates, it will put you on campus. You can take advantage of all the benefits of MBA campus study while arguably facing reduced competition for your seat.
If you’ve been waitlisted for the main incoming term at your top choice university, you could consider investigating whether you could defer your admission. A waitlist option means the university feels very strongly about you, not the reverse.
The answer is simple: the best score you can achieve.
There are a few schools that provide minimum GMAT scores, but most don’t; schools don’t want to turn away top talent based on one aspect of an MBA application, be it your GMAT or your GPA.
That said, most business schools clearly state the average GMAT score for the latest MBA class - and they’re hoping that most applicants will fall within a range close to this number, if not higher.
If you’re looking at top international business schools, you should work towards a 700+ GMAT score, but you shouldn’t hold back if you don’t reach it.
Even when you don’t see minimum GMAT scores or a school’s application page downplays the need for a 700+ score, you shouldn’t discount the importance of this test.
And, remember, business schools offering Master’s in Management or Master’s in Finance degrees often have different expectations for these programmes than they do for their MBA offerings.
You may also need to submit proof of English proficiency in the form of TOEFL or IELTS scores. While you’re more likely to find minimum TOEFL test scores than you are GMAT minimums, there are also a number of exceptions and schools that doesn’t require any proof of English proficiency… until you get to the interview round.
After the GMAT, MBA admissions essays are likely to be the biggest hurdle for most MBA applicants.
Over the years, the number of required essays has risen and fallen; you’ll find some schools still require five or more essays while others only ask for two. While word counts are usually quite low (around 500 words), it’s still critical to spend plenty of time crafting each one individually for each school.
In addition to very specific prompts, which vary from year to year and school to school, you’ll also be asked for a personal statement. This is very different from a Statement of Purpose essay - and it’s important not to confuse the two.
You’ll spend plenty of time crafting essays that tell your story and speak to the school you wish to attend. And, you may want to keep these tips in mind as you work:
There’s a strong chance that you’ve got a CV or resume that’s fairly up to date and ready to go.
But, the CV you would submit to a potential employer is not the same one that will get you accepted into a top MBA programme.
MBA admissions committees want to see a CV that focuses on leadership rather than technical specs.
Above all, focus on leadership opportunities you’ve seized or created for yourself and avoid making crucial mistakes that even ad comms warn against.
You may think referrals are the one area of your application where you can take a breather, but it’s simply not true.
Not only do you need to spend time finding the right references for your MBA application, but you’ll need to actively guide them through the process.
No, you can’t write your own reference letters and there’s a chance you won’t see what’s been written about you. But, it’s still your responsibility to inform your references on:
You’ll also need to make the deadlines clear and check in with them if they’re taking too long. And, at the end of it - whether you’re admitted or not - don’t forget to thank them for their time and effort.
Some MBA applicants choose to work with admissions consultants because they want their best shot at acceptance to their top choices.
Consultants are professionals – they don’t imagine facts, stretch the truth, or craft your essays for you. They work with you to ensure that your grad school application is packaged in the best possible way. They will guide you - and possibly push you in a new direction - but they work with the material they are given.
Services (and pricing) varies between MBA admissions consultants, but most typically offer:
Remember, most reputable admissions consultants only take on a limited number of applicants; arrive too late, and you may be turned away. And, take the time to understand the costs beforehand; pricing structures vary widely between consultants.
Unbelievably, the work you do now could be the most important in the application process. Here are just a few crucial points you shouldn’t miss.
Rather than rehashing the information submitted in essays and application forms, MBA admissions interviews provide candidates with an opportunity to truly demonstrate their skills.
Sometimes, interviews are conducted by alumni in a city near you, while other schools offer Skype or telephone interviews. But, if at all possible, it’s a good idea to travel to campus for your interview. If shows them that you’re serious - and gives you an opportunity to look closer at the school community beforehand.
You might also face a group interview with several candidates vying for the same seat as you. Working with other potential students reveals to admissions officers whether an applicant can “play well with others” – and more importantly, that they can do it when their own personal success is on the line.
Either way, the interview is a two-way street; you should be reassessing your fit with the school as much as your interviewers are looking at how you’ll add to their classrooms and campus. One way to achieve both is through the questions you ask at an MBA interview.
While, it’s unlikely that your interview will be exactly like another’s experience, the more tips you get from people that went through it at your preferred school, the better. These are the killer tips you need once you get that critical interview request.
Tips for group MBA interviews:
Be prepared to make tough decisions. A compromise that everyone can live with isn’t always good for business. Demonstrate your decisiveness, rather than watering down a solution.
Recognise the bright idea that wasn’t yours. Business is about promoting the winning concepts. If you can spot an idea that’s better, your ability to forecast, learn and adapt will surely be noticed.
Play a leader. In the group MBA interview, everyone is trying to be the leader. Try to be a leader instead. Imagine that everyone is the head of their own business and you’re all on par with each other.
No matter where in the world you’re sitting at the moment, if you got into (at least) one of your top-choice business schools, you’ve really achieved something.
If you were accepted to two or more schools, you’ll need to make a decision. Choosing between MBA offers is tricky. While you won’t have much time, it’s a big decision and you’ll want to consider your options seriously.
Admits Weekend isn’t just for those wavering between schools. If you’ve only been admitted to one school, or the financial aid package at one is enough to convince you to decline other offers, Admits Weekend is the first time you’ll be part of the campus experience.
It’s a chance to:
True, not everyone can make it to Admits Weekends. But, if you can, you should; it’s your last chance to make the right decision about your educational future.
Everything you need to know about the world's best business schools
A spot on the waitlist means that a school likes what they see, and they need a bit more time to consider your application.
If you’ve been waitlisted at one school but accepted at another and you plan to take the firm offer, notify your waitlisted school immediately.
If you’re planning to stay on that waitlist until you’ve been accepted or not, you can only do what your waitlist letter says to do. If you’ve been told not to submit anything additional, then don’t. If you can update your application through improved GMAT results, a promotion at work or additional references, remember not to bombard the team.
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Prodigy Finance provides loans to international masters students pursuing their business degrees at top schools.
Prodigy Finance Ltd is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.
Post updated for accuracy and freshness on March 23, 2020. Originally published on December 9, 2016.
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