Depending on the university’s particular demands, the postgraduate and MBA program application process can be intense.
When an MBA applicant is taking the various steps required to be admitted to such a well-respected program – collecting official transcripts, writing motivation essays, preparing for interviews and polishing up their resumes – it can seem like a full-time job. For a small while it is.
It’s a test of sorts, to ensure the applicant has the right stuff, including suitable career goals, motivations, work experience, English language mastery, bachelor’s degree, etc.
It’s a process created to ensure each student within the Master of Business Administration program is surrounded by the very best business management and entrepreneurial talent.
The application process also helps to ensure a good outcome for the MBA provider. Remember, many Master of Business Administration programs are judged on the quality of the graduates they produce, as discussed HERE in our story about MBA rankings.
So, MBA providers must ensure they’re starting off with high-quality candidates who will stay the course and succeed after graduation.
Actually, requirements vary depending on the business school, its location, focus, reputation and whether it is online or face-to-face.
Here, we break down the components and discuss how each might be approached for the most positive effect on the admissions committee.
Before beginning an MBA application, it’s useful to develop a clear picture of why you’d like to earn the degree. Can you summarise your motivation simply, in a sentence or two?
What exactly are your career goals?
What type of business would you like to work in? What industry are you targeting? Are you interested in climbing the corporate ladder or are you driven by entrepreneurship towards the world of startups?
Such clarity of purpose doesn’t just help ensure you’re applying for the right course with the right provider. It also guides the development of all of your course-entry collateral, including application forms, letters of recommendation, essays, interview responses and more.
Next, make sure you have a deep and thorough understanding of all of the various elements of the course for which you’re applying.
This will offer value on numerous levels.
An intimate knowledge of the offerings of the specific MBA program creates greater certainty that it’s the right one for you. This, in turn, develops a stronger motivation to do all it takes to convince the admissions committee you’re made of the right stuff.
Speaking of the admissions committee, your deeper understanding of the course details will also be obvious to committee members as they work through your application form.
Letters from recommenders can be shaped to match the offerings and promised outcomes from the specific course.
Essays can be themed to match the desired outcomes of course units. And future career choices can be explained and expressed in a way that creates a clear match between your aspirations and those of the course administrators.
That alignment of anticipated outcomes creates a perfect match. On the flipside, making an application without a clear idea of the business school’s specialisations can come across as ignorant.
One of the most important messages for anybody going through the MBA application process is that you should not do it on your own. Your first point of call should be the admissions officers, or enrolment advisors, who can help to advise on numerous points.
They will discuss the course itself and its offerings, helping to confirm whether you’re making the right choice.
They will let you know about application fees, if applicable, and how many entry rounds take place each year into the MBA program, and when various application deadlines are set.
Importantly, admissions officers will help clarify the program’s application process, as this will vary between institutions, between face-to-face and online MBA courses, and between full-time MBA, part-time MBA and own-pace MBA programs.
Often, a university will offer two or three different periods, or ‘rounds’, for online applications or physical applications to be made. This is to spread out the load for the admissions committees. If this is the case, a valuable tip is to make sure your MBA application is entered during round one.
Because people naturally give themselves more time by waiting for rounds two or three. Round one likely has less applicants, meaning you’ll have greater chance of standing out.
Almost every master’s degree requires an accredited undergraduate degree to be completed before entry, and the Master of Business Administration is no exception. So, if you’ve moved house since graduating and you’re not sure where your graduate record might be, or if your filing is not up to date, now is the time to hunt down a fresh, official transcript from your university.
Timing is particularly important for international applicants or if your degree was completed overseas or even interstate – with postal and courier services running slower than usual as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Many universities will be interested in evidence of the grade point average (GPA) score achieved during your undergraduate degree – the average result of all grades.
This is calculated on a seven-point scale.
But remember, if your test scores are low, perhaps there is another way you can convince the admissions committee of your suitability for the course, such as years of work experience since the undergraduate degree. Speak with the university’s admissions consultants about this.
Note that the undergraduate degree need not have a business focus.
On top of official transcripts, other necessary paperwork will include proof-of-identity documents, such as passports or licenses, and evidence of professional memberships.
Then, it’s on to the resume.
Seek guidance from admissions officers around what, to them, constitutes a perfect CV.
How should it be laid out?
What is the perfect length?
In what order should topics appear so the resume tells a cohesive story in the most efficient way?
Often universities will offer content on their websites, and within their FAQs, giving guidance around such matters. An excellent example from a leading international university is Harvard Business School’s application process web pages. These pages offer advice around various topics.
The Harvard Business School advice, for example, says resumes should read like a road map, giving an “at-a-glance overview of your educational background, work experience and key activities or interests beyond work”.
The resume is used as a guide to follow an applicant’s path as the admissions committee goes through the rest of the application documents
A resume, it says, should be kept simple, easy to read and clearly labeled with dates and places. It shouldn’t be longer than a page or two and should never have the font shrunk to cram more in. Fancy fonts, unusual formats, extra images and photos and other design distractions are a no-no.
Once again, seek the feedback and advice of trusted others as you develop and shape your resume.
Some universities ask for essays to accompany the application, and some do not. Even if your chosen institution does not ask for a motivation essay shaped around your long-term goals and why you’d like to earn an executive MBA, it’s a very good idea to spend time writing one.
Because it shapes and focuses your thoughts. It helps to distil ideas and to solidify in your mind, and on paper, the purest reasoning behind your decision to invest time, money and effort in your own education.
Perhaps most importantly, it creates clarity of thought that will assist enormously if the admissions process also includes interviews.
If an essay is required by the university, share your draft with trusted advisors and seek critical feedback. What was clear and what was not? What needs to move higher up in the piece and what can be dropped to create greater effect?
Include in the essay not just what is expected – career so far, career goals, past education, etc. – but also personal and extracurricular information that gives a good idea of who you are. This might include family details, foreign languages you speak, failures from which you have learned, life goals and other additional information.
Who might be able to offer you letters of recommendation?
This needn’t just include those you have worked with. It might also involve those you have volunteered with, parents of children you have coached, people who have witnessed you solving problems inside or outside the business realm, and more.
Consider what it is that makes you different, unique and valuable. Who has been a part of that journey? Who appreciates you for your unique value?
The emphasis on uniqueness can’t be overstated in a Master of Business Administration application.
Those with good experience in banking, for example, are a dime a dozen when it comes to MBA applications. So outside of work experience, what is it that makes you stand out? What do you have to offer the other participants in the MBA program? What value will you bring?
Ensure these identifiers of your unique value are scattered throughout all of the ingredients of your MBA application, especially in letters from recommenders. Also, ensure each letter of recommendation is themed toward the specific university and offerings of the MBA degree.
Think about who there is in your own network, and outside your sphere, who is able to help.
Who do you know that has an MBA and what advice can they share? Is there anybody you know who has an MBA from the university at which you’re applying?
Can the admissions team help connect you with recent graduates, or current MBA students, who can offer timely advice? Are you able to speak with any of the academics, to develop a better idea of how and why you might be a good match for this particular MBA?
Finally, why not ask if you can sit in on a few classes, face-to-face or online, to check your cultural and/or technological compatibility? Familiarity can be a powerful confirmation of commitment.
Perhaps the most important message whilst seeking MBA admission is to realise you’re not alone.
Surround yourself with supporters, seek as much help and advice as you can, and make the application a result of the knowledge and inspiration of many. That way, once it’s complete, you’ll already have learnt important business lessons about teamwork, diversity and collaboration.