What are the different components of an MBA application? These include general information, academic background (test scores included), employment history (resume included), extracurricular activities/community service, awards, essay questions other questions, the application fee, and recommendations. Schools might not ask for all of the information covered here or ask for the information as broken down in these sections.
At the beginning of the online application the school gathers general information about your application, personal and family background.
Application information could consist of desire to apply for merit fellowships, academic focus, intention to pursue a dual degree, future experience (industry and functional area of summer internship and post-MBA employment), whether you have previously applied to the program, contact with the school (admissions representatives, faculty, alumni, or students) and miscellaneous questions about disciplinary action from prior academic institutions and prior criminal convictions.
When filling out this section you wish to have your academic focus, intention to pursue a dual degree and future experience align with your goals essay questions (and the rest of the application). If you have applied previously to the school make sure you follow the reapplicant instructions. Having specific names in the contact with the school section is viewed positively because of the demonstrated effort in learning about the school and the higher perceived likelihood of the applicant attending the program if accepted. This is one of the reasons I encourage candidates to visit the school, attend information sessions and perform outreach to faculty, alumni and students.
Personal data includes information about how to contact you (name, address, email, telephone), biographical (gender, ethnicity, date of birth, country of origin and native language), citizenship (primary and dual), legal state residency (if applying to a public state school), social security number (if a domestic applicant), where you grew up, language fluency (languages other than your native language and fluency per language), and international experience (work, study, and travel).
Your gender and ethnicity determine if you are in any underrepresented minority groups. If you are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, legal state residency is factored into admissions (schools prefer not to have an overwhelming number of applicants from any one region) and if you are eligible for in-state tuition (if the school is a public state school). If you are not a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, then your country of origin determines your applicant group (and its competitiveness). Language fluency and international experience are part of your global profile used by MBA Admissions Committees in evaluating your candidacy.
Family background encompasses the name, occupation, degrees obtained, location and deceased status of each parent as well as whether you are married, have children and whether any of your relatives are alumni of the university.
Per the MBA Evaluation Criteria, MBA Admissions Committees gauge your academic capability from your educational background and test scores.
The Education section asks the applicant to list every undergraduate and graduate institution attended, location (city, state, country), dates attended, level of study (Bachelor’s, Master’s, Doctorate), GPA, major, degree and date degree was awarded.
There is also a place to upload academic transcripts for each of these institutions. Schools not only factor your GPA (or % for certain foreign students), but also the difficulty of school, degree, major, and classes as well.
All applicants are required to submit a valid GMAT or GRE score that was taken within the past five years. Schools ask for the date taken (or will be taken), total score and percentage as well as score and percentage for the quantitative, verbal, AWA sections. If given a choice between the two exams, I advise candidates to test for the GMAT because schools have a track record with the exam. Candidates with GRE scores fall into one of several buckets: (1) have an advanced degree and took the GRE as part of the application process for that advanced degree, (2) are applying for a dual degree and need the GRE as part of the application process for the other program or (3) are applying from a developing nation where the exam is cheaper.
Almost all schools only look at your highest score so you should not worry about the number of times you take the test even if a school asks; some schools like Tuck look at two scores taking the highest quantitative and verbal score from each test. Most schools desire an 80% or higher quantitative score to prove you can handle the quantitative rigors of the coursework.
International candidates must take the TOEFL exam unless they have graduated from an undergraduate or graduate program in which English was the only language of instruction. Schools ask for the date taken (or will be taken), total score as well as your score for each section. MBA Admissions Committees use the TOEFL along with your essays and interviews, to assess your English proficiency.
Schools ask overall employment questions, such as how many months of post-college full-time work experience you will have upon enrolling and to explain any employment history gaps.
Schools also ask for information about each employer: organization name, location, description, position title(s) (as well as promotions), dates employed, direct/indirect reports, compensation (beginning and ending), bonuses, responsibilities, industry, job function, hours worked per week, supervisor name and reason for change. Some schools ask additional questions, such as greatest achievement and/or challenge. One workaround for severe word or character limitations for the responsibilities section is to list multiple positions (or roles) as separate items (unless otherwise instructed in the application).
Almost all schools provide a place for you to upload your resume or CV, usually allowing up to 2 pages. A rule of thumb is that executives use two pages and younger full-time applicants use one page, but this rough rule of thumb depends upon the applicant’s depth and breadth of experience and the word or character limitations throughout the online application.
Resumes comprise professional, education, and additional components, but other sections can be added or substituted dependent upon the candidate and whether the resume is one or two pages. For instance, if a candidate has written articles in multiple publications, then a publications section would highlight the applicant’s thought leadership. Your resume provides MBA Admissions Committees with a quick way to glean your promotions, accomplishments, leadership, and global impact in professional and community dimensions; your academic background and personal characteristics – all important MBA Evaluation Criteria.
For advice on creating a powerful resume and answers to common questions, read MBA Resumes.
Extracurricular Activities/Community Service
This section is labeled different things but comprises your collegiate extracurricular and post-collegiate community service activities. Often you are instructed to list these in order of importance.
Schools will ask for the organization name, description, and location; your dates and frequency of participation; and your role, description of role and whether that role was elected or appointed. When filling out this section remember the MBA Evaluation Criteria and seek to demonstrate promotions, impact, leadership, teamwork, a global element and other characteristics valued by MBA Admissions Committees.
List your awards in order of importance if the schools do not otherwise instruct you. Indicate the date, describe the selection criteria, and the selectivity of the award (if this positions you favorably). Include publications and certifications as well. The awards section shows impact – one of the criteria MBA Admissions Committees use to evaluate your candidacy.
If there is not a separate section for awards make sure to list all of your academic, professional and community service awards in the appropriate sections within the online application (Academic Background, Employment History, and Extracurricular Activities/Community Service).
Schools ask a variety of essay questions pertaining to career goals, school fit (or contribution), personal background, leadership, failure, optional information and more creative types that involve video or PowerPoints.
When addressing these questions remember that your essays complement the rest of your application. So, do not provide redundant information found elsewhere in the application. Also, contextualize your essay answers to your overall positioning with respect to the MBA Evaluation Criteria. Finally, given the essay word limits, MBA Admissions Committees are implicitly testing you on your ability to effectively and concisely communicate your ideas
In a future blog post, I will write in a separate blog post about how to best approach the essays, write effective Business English and tackle common question types.
Schools can ask a range of other questions, such as how you will finance your MBA (included in this is whether your company will be sponsoring your MBA studies) or to describe a personal hobby. You will also often be asked to sign an Honor Code as well.
Schools charge application fees ranging from $75 to $250 that must be paid with a valid credit card. Applicants can request waivers for a variety of reasons ranging from active duty U.S military or U.S. veteran status to current employment by the Peace Corps or Teach for America. If you wish an exemption, make sure to check the specific policies for each school.
Schools generally ask for two recommendations from individuals who can speak directly about your managerial ability and professional promise. MBA Admissions Committees prefer that one recommendation comes from your direct supervisor and usually requests a statement of explanation if you are not able to do so. The other recommendation should be from another former supervisor, someone senior to you, or at least a person who has a direct stake in the quality of your work, such as a client or board member of a non-profit you run. The recommender’s title or position is unimportant relative to that person’s ability to remark insightfully about you substantiated by specific examples. If you are in college or a recent college graduate you may include an academic recommendation, but recommendations from the workplace or community service are usually superior except for in certain circumstances. Stanford GSB asks for a third recommendation from a peer. This recommendation can come from someone on a project or team in your community service, professional, extracurricular or other activities. Just like you did when selecting your other recommenders, choose a person who can remark insightfully about you substantiated by specific examples.
In a future blog post, I will discuss MBA Recommendation Strategy which includes how to optimally select and approach recommenders.
The MBA interview is an opportunity for you to showcase your communication skills, career focus, school fit, gravitas, likeability and more. If you are an international applicant, MBA Admissions Committees will assess your English-language capabilities. For most top schools, the MBA interview is invite only. However, at some programs like Kellogg, candidates schedule interviews off-campus or on-campus. Some schools like Wharton combine team-based discussion with several other applicants and a brief one-on-one interview.
In a future blog post, I will discuss how to best prepare for your MBA Interview.
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