Applying for an MBA program is a unique process for each individual candidate. Starting from the choice of specialization, format, and geographic location all the way through test prep, it can be a different experience for everyone.
Still, there are several challenges that are usually faced by almost all applicants at some stage of the process. We gathered five of the most common questions by B-school applicants received in our mailbox from around the world and we are ready to answer all of them!
How soon before starting my MBA should I prepare my application?
The answer to this question depends on the admissions deadlines of the business schools on your shortlist, as well as on your level of preparation so far. If you have prior experience with aptitude tests such as GMAT or GRE and you are confident in your academic and professional level of English, you may be a few steps ahead of other applicants. Even if you are certain in your abilities to score high on these exams, it is best to factor in a couple of months just for test preparation and testing arrangements.
In this case, start planning your application submission at least 10-12 months before your chosen MBA programs’ application deadline. An early start will enable you to take care of the necessary documents such as reference letters and essays without worrying about missing the deadline. Business schools open the actual application process several months before the application deadline, and although this might seem like plenty of time, crafting a strong application package requires a lot of work, edits, and discipline. In case submitting test certificates is not a formal requirement or if you have already taken them, you could also start planning your application a few months later than usual.
What is more important when trying to get admitted to business school – experience or studies?
More than anything else, business schools are looking for applicants with a relevant and interesting background. Peer learning and reference to your professional successes and challenges is a primary focus in the MBA classroom. The value of your experience and your leadership potential is an essential part of what business school admissions officers evaluate in your application for admission. Perhaps you have worked or volunteered for a non-profit organization or you have knowledge of an unusual industry – be sure to share any information that will help you stand out from the crowd in a positive way.
Top business schools are also interested in applicants’ international exposure. So, even if you are not that confident in your experience as a leader, see whether your targeted schools place more value on the relevance of your degrees and on your international experience. International exposure does not mean just having worked in another country. Study and travel abroad and working in a multicultural setting in your home country count as well. However, keep in mind that if the Master’s or MBA program clearly points out that three years of professional experience is their minimum requirement, you will probably need to meet this condition.
Academic performance also has a role to play when applying for a business school. Your GPA (grades from university studies) will be taken into consideration when you apply for a Master’s degree program. Even though the MBA is focused more on work experience, skills to succeed in a graduate program are also evaluated. Quantitative and analytical skills are a must and admissions committees will be looking for evidence of your proficiency, both in your academic transcripts and your aptitude test scores (GMAT, GRE, etc.).
Does the GMAT give me a competitive advantage over the tests offered by some schools?
Not necessarily. The good thing about GMAT is that it is universally known – most international business programs can tell a good GMAT score from a mediocre one. Moreover, the GMAT allows them to compare applicants across the same criteria and see what the overall performance of their applicant pool is. From your perspective, taking the GMAT opens up the opportunity to apply to any business school, while a school test is only valid for the particular school and program.
That being said, the GMAT is not an all-mighty metric that all universities worship. If you already took this test and your score was very high, submitting your score report will certainly not hurt. However, when business schools develop their own school-specific admission tests, it is usually because they know exactly what they are looking for among applicants. Your application will never be disregarded just because you opted to complete the school test instead of sit for the GMAT.
Are there any additional scholarship options outside universities?
Absolutely! Next to university scholarships, you could explore corporate sponsorship, scholarships awarded by different educational associations, and government funding and education loans. Corporate sponsorship is handled fully or partially by your employer and can be negotiated directly with the company you are working for. To secure this type of funding, you need to be convincing as to how your business degree will ultimately bring value and profit to your company.
Then, there are opportunities such as the Forté Fellows Program which work in partnership with business schools and award different fellowships to applicants who meet their criteria. The Forté Fellows Program in particular offers financial aid to female MBA applicants in an effort to increase “the number of women applying to and enrolling in MBA programs.”
Finally, you could explore funding possibilities offered by the local governments of your home country or your desired educational destination. Just an example, in the UK, postgraduate loans are available to students who are UK nationals or live in England, are under the age of 60, and do not have another Master’s degree or higher qualification.
I already took an English proficiency test but my score is a bit lower than the minimum accepted at the university. Do I still have a chance to get admitted?
As Iliana Bobova, International Education and Career Development Consultant, explains:
There is a reason for requiring a particular test score as a minimum prerequisite for admission. Test scores reflect the level of your skills and your skills are essential for success in the program.
In other words, if your targeted school has clearly indicated its English score requirement, this means you will need to cover it. Still, the best piece of advice when you are in doubt about such matters is to always contact the school admissions office directly and ask. If the university program is willing to waive the IELTS or TOEFL score requirement for you, and put more weight on the rest of your application package, the admissions representatives will let you know. However, this can usually be done if you have completed your first degree university studies entirely in English.
Otherwise, consider investing a bit more time to prepare and improve your English test results. If the application deadline is not looming ahead just yet and your score needs just a little boost, you could book a new suitable test date. Take into account what you got wrong the last time and what the most challenging tasks were. Then, focus more heavily on those during your preparation and it will be entirely possible to improve your score and even go above the minimum requirement.