In this interview, Joel McConnell, who is Director for Europe and Central Asia at IE Business School (Spain), discusses some of the most important aspects to remember when applying to a top MBA programme.
[1:45] Q: How can MBA applicants best demonstrate their suitability for your programme?
[1:53] A: Choose your essays right! Today we have about 12 different options in the application to help candidates choose those three questions that will help them best present their profile. I think it’s wise when you are answering the essays that you choose examples from your professional life that allow you to showcase an alignment with this institution’s values. So, for us, showing a clever approach to align your value of entrepreneurship is something we look out for. Then, with regards to innovation, for us that means trying to find a different way to deliver top quality content on an ongoing basis. It’s about technology, the right types of partnerships, developing the right types of complementary training programmes. And finally, in terms of valuing diversity, I think we do a lot of work to find at least the right balance between male and female candidates, students who come from the private and public sectors, students who have worked in various different industries and have different professional outcomes in mind. It makes for a much richer learning environment in class.
[3:52] Q: The interview is another very important aspect of the MBA application package. What questions should applicants ask during the interview to present themselves in a good light?
[3:58] A: I often tell candidates: “Your GMAT, your GRE, your language test, your application which includes the essays – all of that is very important. But they are as important as the interview.” All students who eventually join our programme must have completed an interview but I think many people don’t prepare well for it. So, my tip would be to approach it as a job interview. When you go to a school and you graduate, it’s a long-term relationship, so we take it very seriously. You will always be an alumnus of that institution. Be sure that you know it well and that you understand the programme. Don’t be afraid to come up with good questions that you weren’t able to find the answer to on the website. Finally, being able to discuss your profile in different ways, through concrete examples of your involvement, the outcome of the situation, and what you’ve learned can be very useful for interviews at top schools.
[5:12] Q: What about the admissions tests – do you accept GMAT and GRE and do you have a school-specific test?
[5:18] A: We certainly accept the GMAT. We have published the competitive ranges we accept for our programme and we also accept an equivalent score range on the GRE. I think a lot of top business schools are fine with accepting either. IE Business School is unique in the sense that we are one of the few top schools that also have their own admissions test. It’s called the IE Global Admissions Test, which we administer on a regular basis around the world. The important thing for us is that the score the candidate obtains on any one of those three exams is similar. Overall, GMAT is probably the safest option you can go with because you can use it for several different schools.
[6:13] Q: What are the GMAT score ranges that you accept?
[5:16] A: Typically, in top programmes such as ours, you want to be sure that you are in the upper 600s. I would say that 85% of our students are probably in the 690-720 range.
[6:32] Q: When it comes to the different sections of the GMAT, do you pay particular attention to some over others?
[6:40] A: When the GMAT started offering the Integrated Reasoning section, there was a lot of concern on the part of applicants. But I think that we’re looking at the overall score because that’s what matters from an admissions perspective. It’s the way we compare candidates across profiles. We certainly look at the different components. And then, depending on the programme candidates are applying to, and this is certainly true for the Masters of Finance programmes, the Quantitative aspect is very important. I would say that overall, for the MBA programme, we want to have a strong score at the end. However, GMAT is just one part of your application and although you must have a competitive score, we look at the entire application package.
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[7:27] Q: How does the admissions test score, as well as the other elements of the application, affect the possibility for a scholarship at IE Business School?
[7:34] A: Having a strong admissions test score along with a generally good applicant profile, as well as being able to demonstrate a financial need, makes you more competitive for a scholarship or fellowship. An important piece of advice, especially with schools that have a rolling admissions process, is: don’t think that just because there are no deadlines that you shouldn’t apply early. That is relevant particularly if you plan to apply for scholarships. The sooner you apply – the better. And if you are offered a spot in the programme, apply for financial assistance without delay. Typically, top schools will reward applicants who are organised and apply well in advance.
[8:17] Q: What are some common mistakes that can be easily avoided by applicants?
[8:23] A: With regards to the application, I would say you need to make sure that you read the questions properly when you are writing your essays. Write original essays for each application. At IE Business School, in particular, we have a good set of essay options so instead of “cut and paste”, choose essay topics that are going to allow you to put forward the match between your profile and what the school is looking for.
With regards to references, make sure that you prepare your referees ahead of time. Take them out for coffee and make sure that they know everything you have been up to since you left a particular position where the person was your supervisor. Even though referees will support you throughout your application, they don’t always know everything you have been doing.
Then, when the application comes together and if the school offers you an interview – take it seriously. Sometime people don’t realise how important the interview is. However, you can’t get to the interview without a great application form. Those would be my tips for applicants.