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Expert tips on applying for an MBA

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Expert tips on applying for an MBA

Subramanian Venkat, Associate Dean at NUGSB, and business school admissions directors, consultants, and academics share their advice.

Choosing the right MBA and school

Ask yourself: ‘Where am I now and where do I want to be?’

Answers to those questions help you tackle the “how” — what knowledge and skills do you lack and which MBA can help you the most. “All MBA formats, whether full-time, blended, part-time or online, can give you a strong experience,” says Yolanda Habets, head of MBA programmes at Vlerick Business School in Belgium. “So clarify what you are [able] and willing to invest in terms of money and time, and what experience you are looking for in order to determine the programme format that best suits you.”

Dig deep into the detail

Rankings offer important guidance, but they should not be the only factor in your decision. “Some schools are stronger in certain areas, such as finance, marketing or start-ups, but they may not be the top school in the rankings,” cautions Subramanian Venkat, associate dean for research at Nazarbayev University’s Graduate School of Business in Kazakhstan. “You should align your choice with the goals of why you want to do the MBA.” FT MBA ranking 2021 — top 100 Find out which schools are in our ranking of MBA degrees. Learn how the table was compiled.

Compare value for money

Tuition fees are, of course, vital to consider, not only in terms of how much you will pay, but also your potential post-MBA earnings and therefore value for money. Many rankings consider this in their methodologies. “From the candidate’s perspective, this will form a proxy for the return on their investment,” says Amir Michael, director of the full-time MBA at Durham University Business School in the UK.

Talk to staff, faculty and alumni

This is your future network, so do you feel like you could belong? “Once you’ve narrowed down your search, the ultimate deciding factor is, where do you fit?” says Habets. “Choosing an MBA is not just a professional decision, it is also a personal one.”

Impress those alumni

Remember that those chats with a school’s MBA graduates may also be fed back to the admissions team. That is certainly the case at HEC Paris, says Benoît Banchereau, executive director of admissions for MBA programmes. “We believe that our alumni know best who will succeed on our MBA. That’s the reason we put our ultimate trust in our past students.”

Making your application

Don’t rush

If rushing to complete a round-one application would mean a poor Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) score, brief recommendations and rushed essays, you are better off waiting for round two. (Schools commonly have more than one deadline.) “There are advantages to applying in round one, such as a slightly smaller applicant pool,” says Jamie Wright of Accepted Consulting. “But if rushing means you won’t be putting your best foot forward, wait for round two.”

Show your EQ as well as IQ

Your application, CV and standardised tests demonstrate your IQ, so the essays, endorsements from recommenders and interview are the chance to showcase your interpersonal strengths, says Lisa Rios, executive director of MBA admissions at NYU Stern School of Business in the US. “I encourage you to use the application as your storyboard. Show us your authentic self.”

Testing times

Take a practice test early

Practise using official Graduate Management Admission Council materials — particularly mock exams — to familiarise yourself with the GMAT and identify strengths and gaps, says Léon Laulusa, dean for academic affairs at ESCP Business School in France. He recommends at least three months of revision and six mock tests before the exam.

Book your GMAT early during the pandemic

Pandemic precautions mean that many GMAT test centres are operating at lower capacity, so if you want an in-person test, book one fast. “Aside from securing a test date, having that booking will serve as a taskmaster and keep you hitting your application milestones,” says Wright.

Show the real you in essays

Be authentic, rather than writing what you think an admissions committee wants to hear, says Dawna Clarke, executive director of admissions at University of Virginia Darden School of Business in the US. She recommends asking a friend, family member or co-worker who knows you well whether your responses sound like you. “The best essays are the ones in which we walk away and feel that we got to know you a bit better,” she adds.

Prioritise your interview talking points

Prepare by asking yourself, “What is it about my background I most want to convey? What am I most proud of conveying?” Distil what you most want the interviewer to remember about you, advises Clarke, who recommends thinking of anecdotes and stories to help you make your points.

Get the right Zoom look

If your interview is online, create an environment that helps you stay focused on the interview, advises Dalibor Babic, head of graduate programmes at Vienna University of Economics and Business in Austria. Are your internet connection and meeting software working? Is your mobile phone muted? “Choose a businesslike background,” he advises, “and even if you are at home, dress as if you were coming for a personal interview at the business school.”

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