Getting into a top MBA program is an achievement in itself. The MBA application journey involves multiple steps, such as researching schools, GMAT preparation, writing essays, gathering recommendations, interviews and so on. The process requires a lot of dedication, perseverance, research and hard work. So, how to get into the top MBA programs. There is no set formula or recipe, to be honest. However, you can increase your admission chances for top MBA programs if you follow the following 25 Best-Curated Pro Tips for Getting into Top MBA Programs.
25 Best-Curated Pro Tips for Getting into Top MBA Programs
Here are some of the best-curated tips from various sources that include from Poets & Quants, Forbes, Business Insider, Fortuna Admissions, Stacy Blackman, MBA Crystal Ball, Huffington Post, Admissionado, Accepted etc.
1. Assess Yourself and ask Why an MBA?
Look at your current situation, and ask yourself why do you want to do an MBA. It could be salary hike, promotion, international exposure, starting your own venture, or career change.
Know your strengths and weakness in your academic (grades, awards etc.), professional (number of years of work experience, achievements etc.) and personal attributes.
Be honest with yourself. Don’t think about a top MBA program if your reason for pursuing an MBA is any one of the followings –
– I have got money, so I want to do it
– My Father wants me to do an MBA
– I don’t know what to do further in my career, so thinking about an MBA
This is the phase when you need to work towards creating your unique story.
2. Timing Matters
Don’t wait till you start getting bored at work, and looking for an escape. Adcoms (admission committees) look for applicants on an upward trajectory. The average age of full-time MBA applicants is around 27. Experts suggest applying in your mid-20s. However, it’s also not a bad idea to apply in your late 20s or early 30s. You need to figure out the right time.
3. Do Lot of Research on the Business Schools Before Shortlisting
Have a look at various ranking tables, university websites (especially the current class profiles). Do networking, speak to experts and Adcoms. Speak to Make a preliminary shortlisting by selecting schools from different categories: Top 5, Top 15, Top 25 & Top 40. Ideally, your list should have a mix of ambitious, moderate and safe schools.
You literally need to act like Sherlock while research on the business schools.
4. GMAT Preparation Tips
Once you have done your research on the business schools, you will develop a fair idea about the target GMAT score. Ideally, the higher the better. But, don’t get too cynical with 750 or 770. For Indian applicants, anything above 700 should be good enough. You just need to work on the other parameters.
Start using the latest editions of Official Guide for GMAT, Manhattan Prep, Princeton Review, Magoosh GMAT are good starting points. Solve as many as mock tests as possible. You need to follow the mantra: Practice, Practice, and Practice.
Coaching classes and online GMAT coaching are good options. But, they come at good prices as well. Personally, I feel that if you are really made for the Top MBA programs, self-study will be the best option.
But, sometimes we tend to get undisciplined, laid back and too busy with our daily schedule. Signing up for a classroom program or online prep means you have paid a significant amount of money. That will work as an extra motivation for you to be disciplined with your GMAT preparation. More importantly, you can have access to some of the best-curated test prep material and guidance.
5. Take the GMAT in the Summer
Most experts recommend taking the GMAT in May. The rationale being that you can have some time to retake the test if you need to. Most of the first-round deadlines are around October. If you are targeting the top MBA programs and end up with 640 in your first GMAT attempt, then you better re-take the exam, try to score close to 700, and submit the applications.
6. Your GMAT score is just an Entry Pass
It’s the Step 1. You have just got started. But, there is a long way to go. People with 760 in GMAT do get rejected from top schools. While applicants with lower GMAT score do get admitted into their schools of choice.
7. Don’t Apply to Too Many Schools
Ideally, the number should be between 3 – 6 At the end of the day, the key is to find the Best School for yourself. You need to identify the right school, where you can be a good fit. If you are thinking of applying to 10 – 15 schools, it is quite likely that you might end up at getting rejected by all of them.
8. Do NOT follow the MBA Rankings Blindly
The rankings tables are certainly good starting points. But, they may not fit your personal and professional goals. Invest a lot of time on doing your own research. That would not only help you to differentiate the MBA programs, but the in-depth research will also help you with crafting your essays.
9. Start Early with the MBA Essays
If you are thinking to apply to 4 – 5 schools, get prepared to write 12 – 20 essays (3-4 essays per school). Normally you need to write about your motivation for applying to specific B-School, your strengths, and weaknesses, your career goals etc. So start very early.
10. Be Specific with the B-School Essays
The Adcoms need to know why you are applying to the specific b-school. Generic reasons like “world-class faculty”, “huge alumni network”, “excellent rankings” etc could lead to rejections. You need to align your professional goals with the strength and culture of the b-school that you’re are applying to.
11. Show your Uniqueness in your Essays
If you have spent some time in a remote place in order to learn martial arts, then do tell that story as learning martial arts needs enough perseverance and stamina, and can also make you a strong and disciplined leader. Get rid of the temptation to just highlight your GPA in under graduation, or writing the cookie-cutter essay about willingness to work in the Finance or Consulting industry.
12. Don’t be afraid to talk about failures
We all have faults and our own weaknesses. Everyone has gone through failures as well. The trick is to frame that in the right way. It’s absolutely okay to write about your failure. You need to discuss what you learned from it and how you became stronger afterward.
13. Self-Discovery or Self-Reflection is the Key to Crack the MBA Essays
Let’s have a look what the Business Schools are asking in their essays.
Berkeley-Haas, for example, asks you to choose a song that expresses who you are. Chicago Booth directs applicants to a collection of photos – “shared Booth moments” – and to choose the one that best resonates with them. Cornell Johnson requests a Table of Contents annotating a candidate’s life story. The Wharton School asks ‘What do you hope to gain professionally from the Wharton MBA?’. London Business School asks candidates to detail post-MBA goals, explaining how their prior experience and the LBS MBA will contribute. Stanford’s second essay asks simply, ‘Why Stanford?’.
This is something that can really improve your acceptance chances. So, spend significant time on self-discovery and self-reflection. It is the best starting point to crack the MBA essays. Look back and think about your professional and personal journey till date. While doing that, you’ll gain a better understanding of yourself, both as a person and as an MBA candidate. This will again help you to narrow down the targeted B-Schools. After all, it’s all about what’s right for you.
At the end, you just need to connect the dots and create a compelling story out of that.
14. Stress more on “Why” while writing the Essays
What led you to take up a side-project at work, or go to a remote place for learning martial arts. Don’t bombard the essays with all of your achievements. The CV is already there for that purpose. You should write what excites you in life, or at work.
15. Stand Out with a Big Spike
If you are from the IT background, there is a very high probability that you have been recognized for your excellent coding skills. Similarly, if you are from Finance background, working on mathematical models will do very little to help you stand out in the crowd. Instead focus on demonstrating some interesting experience (e.g. Managing a critical client), or about your passion (guitar or video games).
Again, you need to self-reflect, link your past experiences with future goals, understand the b-school’s culture and vision, tap the school’s values, and then show your passion and motivation.
16. Consider your Post-MBA goals, But “Carefully”
This is also a crucial factor. Having a crystal clear vision with the post-MBA goals can help you with both selecting the right schools, and with MBA essays. However, don’t get too much fussy while aligning your goals with the school selection. Of course, you should not ignore the “Fit” factor completely. But, at the same time, do not give too much weight than it deserves, like your GMAT score.
Don’t think too much about the following: Tepper and Stern are great places to be for the tech guys and/or product managers, Kellogg is best for marketing, Stern is known for banking, Wharton is best for finance, Stanford is best for entrepreneurship, Harvard prepares excellent general managers and leaders and bla bla bla.
Once you have identified your post-MBA career path, choosing the right business school will provide you the right platform to facilitate the career progression. But, don’t get too stereotype with a particular B-School just because that B-School is “known” for something. At the end of the day, any top business school will help you to achieve your post-MBA career goals.
If you’re unclear or struggling with the post-MBA career goals in your essays, it might be the time to see a counselor, mentor or MBA admission consultant.
17. MBA Admission Consulting & Essay Editing/Review Services
MBA admission consulting services and MBA essay editing services are expensive. If you are sure that you have understood the entry requirements well, have a compelling story to tell with good narrating style, then you can manage it on your own. However, a good admission consultant can help you to make a good application into a successful application. Just make sure that you’re working with a good mentor, and not just hiring a professional. Do your research on their profiles – their educational background, professional experience etc.
18. Volunteer for a “Genuine & Impactful” Cause
Applicants do get carried away with pleasing the Adcom. Like the GMAT scores, they over-emphasize too much on what the Adcom “wants to hear”. It’s not a hidden secret anymore that the Adcoms do want to see community engagement. But, you need to realize what the Adcoms are actually looking for through your volunteer activities. They are more interested in your leadership activities rather than your concern for the poor and under-privileged ones. There is no point of talking about mere participation in a fundraising or blood donation camps. Rather you should mention if you had taken the initiative, and scaled them up.
No Need to Show to the Adcoms that You Want To Save The Whole Planet
19. Invest Time to Reach Out
Speak to the admission officers, current MBA students, and alumni. Speaking to current students and recent alumni will provide you invaluable insights. Speak to the MBA alumni from your own background at the school where you are planning to apply. Moreover, one conversation with the right person can be better than reading a hundred articles.
20. Be Careful with Late (Round 3 & Round 4) Deadlines
First of all, a late application will raise few eyebrows. It might be better to apply next year. But, then you will have to wait one whole year to start your MBA program. Statistically, the acceptance rates of Round 1 & Round 2 are higher than those of Round 3 & Round 4. Whether you got dinged at Round 1 & Round 2, or you started late, be very careful while applying late. No school wants to be the backup option. The Adcom can quickly distinguish a sincere and strategic applicant from someone making an eleventh-hour effort after being rejected in earlier rounds, or someone who is not enjoying the current job and need a career boost. For late round deadlines, you have to be over cautious with your applications. Make sure to present a strong conviction that your application is at its best in this particular round.
21. Think Out of the Box if it’s Late
During the Round 3/Round 4 rounds, business schools are specifically looking for particular profiles to balance and round off their incoming class for the remaining few seats. For the top MBA programs (say Ivy League Schools), it’s only wise to present your application in the strongest possible way. You simply need to differentiate yourself through your passions, interests, extracurriculars, background, experiences, career goals and personality. A conventional background like IT, Finance or Consulting might not help at all. You must think outside the box.
It might be better to look outside the US. INSEAD and LBS have four rounds; other of the European schools have up to five or six rounds; HEC has rounds pretty much every month.
22. Recommendation Strategy
Usually, you need to provide at least two references. Ask someone who can talk about you. You can get a LoR from your CEO, MD or HR Manager. But, your immediate manager might tell a lot more about you. In fact, a superficial reference from a CXO might jeopardize your admission chances. Ideally, your referee needs to write about your personality, leadership skills, vision, and commitment.
23. Don’t drive your Referees/Recommenders Crazy
It’s your job to manage your recommendations. When you ask people to write recommendations, do it over a coffee. Try to refresh their memories about your achievements while working with them. Give them plenty of time, and send one or two gentle reminders. Do respect their time. That is why it so important to choose schools carefully, and apply to a decent number of schools. Your referee might get pissed off if they need to write 10 recommendations for you. That might again hamper your application.
24. MBA Admission Interviews
Normally the top schools with large classes and huge alumni network ask their alumni to take the interviews. Others normally ask someone from the admission committee to conduct the interview. The best preparation would be to review your own application – your CV, essays etc. A mock MBA admission interview can also help in this aspect – just to get a feel of the real deal.
25. Post-application Analysis
If you get through, Congrats! If you don’t make it, it’s not the end of the world. The post-application analysis is a valuable process in itself. It can offer you new insights and perspectives. Quite often re-applicants do better in the next attempts.
Thinking about attending a Top MBA program? Get your profile Evaluated for Free today! You might also like to know How Ajay (Stoodnt Founder & CEO) made it to the Harvard Business School for his MBA.