The MBA admissions process can feel daunting. If you want to increase your MBA admissions odds at top programs, we’re here to help.
An MBA can help you advance your career, access C-suite positions at competitive companies, and learn valuable leadership skills. For many ambitious college graduates and early-career professionals, the MBA admissions process represents an important step in their burgeoning careers. In this guide, we’ll break down how to master the MBA admissions process and craft an impressive application.
Reviewing various MBA admissions statistics can help applicants understand how to prepare for the process. According to MBA admissions statistics, the MBA admissions rates for some top schools are lower than 10%. This means that students should do all they can to enhance every aspect of their applications.
In this article, we’ll demystify the MBA admissions process. We’ll discuss:
- The MBA meaning and types of MBAs
- How to find the right MBA programs
- MBA admissions requirements
- The top MBA programs in the world
- The GMAT test and other standardized tests for MBA applicants
- MBA admissions statistics
- Writing an MBA essay
- And more tips on MBA admissions!
We’ll also include tips on how to find the best MBA admissions consultants and take advantage of MBA admissions consulting.
Is MBA a professional degree?
Yes, an MBA is a professional degree designed to prepare students for careers in management and business. Before we dive into a discussion of MBA admissions, let’s break down the MBA meaning.
The exact MBA meaning is in the acronym: a Master’s in Business Administration. It’s a degree often abbreviated as MBA, just like a Ph.D. or an M.D. Sometimes, business school is referred to as “b-school,” a shorthand used by b-school graduates and professors.
An MBA can be a useful way to advance your career, especially in competitive, high-income fields like finance and tech.
What do MBA admissions look for?
The MBA admissions process is an intense one, with multiple rounds of deadlines and specific MBA admissions requirements. Moreover, in the MBA admissions process, your resume can make a huge impact. This means that applicants can’t prepare for the MBA admissions process overnight.
Top MBA programs look for qualities in their applicants that speak to their potential as future leaders. Of course, strong grades and test scores are one piece of the MBA admissions puzzle. However, competitive programs like Harvard MBA admissions and Stanford MBA admissions want to admit the next generation of business leaders.
The MBA admissions process also favors students with a proven track record of contributing to their communities. As such, they’re interested in students with the following qualities:
Five qualities desired by MBA Admissions
- Problem-solving skills
Standardized testing and MBA admissions requirements
Test scores can also play a key role in the MBA admissions process. Many programs look to test scores to provide a quantitative comparison between applicants. To an extent, standardized testing allows for MBA admissions teams to view applicants through a more objective lens. In general, students will submit scores for either the GRE or the GMAT.
Some MBA admissions requirements around standardized testing have become more flexible in the wake of COVID-19. These policies allow students to request a test waiver and demonstrate academic readiness in other ways. However, these policies vary by school, so we advise that students take the GMAT or GRE if possible.
Overall, the MBA admissions process accounts for applicants’ readiness for advanced coursework in topics related to business and finance. Most top MBA programs expect students to demonstrate mathematical proficiency. So, test scores will matter more if your grades or resume don’t speak to your ability in these areas. This means that applicants who majored in the humanities should aim for high math and quantitative reasoning scores.
What matters most in MBA admissions?
MBA admissions programs look for students with a track record of excellence. This means that they seek applicants who have continuously shown leadership skills: led teams, taken on major projects, or progressed faster than their peers in their professional lives. The more your resume can highlight your unique ability to excel, the better.
The top MBA programs—such as Harvard MBA admissions or UCLA MBA admissions—also look for strong grades and test scores. So, if you’re hoping to stand out in the Georgetown MBA admissions process or the Columbia MBA admissions process, make sure your grades and scores reflect your skills. This means that your GPA—as well as your resume—should be as strong as possible.
Is GPA important for MBA?
For anyone pursuing a postgraduate education, your GPA will likely affect your chances of admission. In MBA admissions, your grades are important, but they’re not the whole picture.
For MBA admissions, experience and personal qualities are a critical factor in the review process. Within the MBA admissions requirements, the Why MBA essay and MBA interview each give you the chance to demonstrate your non-academic qualities.
Conversely, this also means that unfortunately strong grades won’t be enough to carry you through the MBA admissions process. Many candidates, especially for the top MBA programs in the world, will have strong grades and test scores. So, look for other ways to set yourself apart.
Do you need work experience for MBA?
Given the MBA admissions statistics on MBA admissions rates, competitive programs accept anywhere from 30% to less than 10% of applicants. A strong resume can make a big difference in the MBA admissions process.
However, a strong resume isn’t necessarily a long one. You don’t need to be the workforce for ten years to develop the qualities that MBA admissions teams look for. Rather, MBA admissions officers look for students with a high potential for success, regardless of how extensive their resume is.
Tailoring your resume in the MBA admissions process
Moreover, don’t be discouraged if your resume doesn’t showcase any particularly impressive employers. Working at Goldman Sachs doesn’t grant anyone an automatic acceptance to the top MBA programs. Try to tailor your resume to highlight how much you did in a given work environment. Highlight how you made an impact, not just where you worked.
In general, the strongest MBA admissions applicants will have a few years of work experience. Experience in data analysis or related work can also be attractive to MBA admissions teams.
MBA Admissions Requirements: Standardized Testing
At many programs, MBA admissions requirements include standardized testing—either the GMAT test or the GRE. Experts suggest that students take the GMAT test or GRE at least three months before the first round of MBA admissions deadlines. This gives you time to retake the exam if your score doesn’t align with your goals.
Though every school has different MBA admissions requirements, most programs will accept either the GMAT test or the GRE. The GMAT test is an MBA-specific test, whereas the GRE is for all graduate schools and is accepted by most postgraduate education institutions.
Let’s break down the GMAT test and the GRE.
Which is easier, GMAT or GRE?
The GMAT stands for Graduate Management Admission Test. GRE stands for Graduate Record Examination. In general, the GMAT is specific to business school admissions, while the GRE is used for graduate admissions on a broader level.
The GMAT has four sections. You’ll have three hours and seven minutes to complete the whole exam, which includes 80 questions in total.
- Analytical Writing
- Integrated Reasoning
The GRE has three sections:
- Analytical Writing
- Verbal Reasoning
- Quantitative Reasoning
Between the GMAT and the GRE, no one test is universally “easier” than the other. In general, many students find the quantitative section of the GRE to be easier than its counterpart on the GMAT. The GRE also allows students to use a calculator. By contrast, the verbal section of the GRE is sometimes seen to be harder than the verbal on the GMAT.
If you’re wondering which test to take, you can always try taking a practice exam for both and deciding based on your performance. It’s also important to consider that MBA admissions directors generally believe that the GMAT is a “strong indicator” of someone’s aptitude for an MBA and their potential to succeed in business in the future. The GMAT website boasts that it is the “most trusted, proven and well-understood predictor of academic success.” So if you’re set on MBA admissions as your path, err on the side of the GMAT test.
How long does it take to prepare for the GMAT?
According to U.S. News, experts suggest that students should spend at least 100 hours preparing for whichever entrance exam they decide to take—either the GMAT or the GRE.
A “good” GMAT score is generally one that meets or exceeds the median score at the school where you’re applying. According to MBA admissions statistics, the average total GMAT score is 565. However, the average will be higher for applicants for top programs like Harvard MBA admissions or Stanford MBA admissions. So, if you’re applying to UCLA MBA admissions, Georgetown MBA admissions, Columbia MBA admissions, or similar programs, you should ensure your scores are as high as possible.
If MBA admissions statistics seem daunting or you’re not sure how to approach the GMAT, MBA admissions consulting can make a huge difference. The best MBA admissions consultants will help you ace the GMAT and give you personalized coaching and MBA essay tips.
Like in the undergraduate admissions process, your essays give you the chance to set yourself apart in MBA admissions. In this section, we’ll share some MBA essay tips to help you distinguish yourself from the pack.
Most MBA admissions requirements will include one or more essays. Many programs will ask you to describe why you’re interested in pursuing an MBA. Since these prompts are so common, we’ll call this a Why MBA essay. For a Why MBA essay, our MBA essay tips resemble our guidance on writing a “why school” essay in an undergraduate application.
Highlight your unique strengths
One of our most important MBA essay tips is to make sure that your Why MBA essay emphasizes your unique perspective and intellectual curiosity. Many Why MBA essays will highlight things like earning potential, so steer clear of that topic. Instead, focus on why you hope to enter the business world and what makes that field exciting to you.
Every program will have different MBA admissions requirements and different essay prompts. Stanford MBA admissions asks that you write one essay about “what matters most to you, and why.” They also ask for one “why school” essay about Stanford. At NYU, there are different essays for full-time and part-time applicants. But the same MBA essay tips apply: tell a story, write in a voice that feels authentic to you, and focus on specifics that make you a unique candidate.
Discussing your resume
For many Why MBA essays, you’ll be asked to discuss your experiences and qualifications in more detail, like the Yale essay in this U.S. News guide. Make sure you highlight your strengths and explain what makes you unique as an MBA candidate. In that Yale essay, the applicant discusses their founding and involvement in an initiative to support the LGBTQ community. In this case, the student didn’t talk about why they wanted to pursue an MBA. Rather, they answered the question that was asked about their impact on an organization. They also provided impressive details about their unique involvement.
Overall, our most important MBA essay tips are: focus on what makes you stand out, tell a story, and highlight your strengths.
Now that you’ve read our MBA essay tips and are prepared to write the best possible Why MBA essays, let’s talk about how to ace your MBA interview.
Most programs include the MBA interview as part of their MBA admissions requirements. Unlike the alumni interviews that undergraduate applicants often complete, MBA interviews are usually conducted by individuals directly associated with the admissions office. This means that MBA interview preparation is a crucial step in the MBA admissions process.
For example, for Harvard MBA admissions, Harvard chooses applicants to invite for an interview at the discretion of the admissions team after their initial review of all written application materials. These interviews are conducted by a member of the admissions team who has reviewed your application, and questions are tailored to each individual applicant. After the interview, Harvard MBA applicants submit a brief post-interview reflection.
Within your MBA interview preparation, you will study different types of common MBA interview questions and answers. You should also practice how to answer the Why MBA interview question—that is, you should have a solid sense of why you’ve chosen to pursue an MBA. Let’s take a closer look at what you can expect in your MBA interview.
What should I expect in an MBA interview?
Not all applicants receive a request to interview for any given MBA program. So, if you’ve been invited to interview, it means the program believes in your potential. Your MBA interview questions and answers are your chance to convince the admissions team one-on-one that you have potential as a business leader.
For example, Stanford states online that they interview 2-3 applicants for each place in the MBA class. Candidates are matched with either a member of the admissions team or an alumnus for their interview.
U.S. News advises that applicants should research the school beforehand, prepare multiple tight stories of their workplace successes, and develop a pitch for their candidacy as part of their MBA interview preparation.
What do they ask in an MBA interview?
Depending on your interviewer and resume, the MBA interview questions and answers will undoubtedly vary. Some MBA interview questions and answers may address how you would handle hypothetical situations as a means of assessing your critical thinking skills. However, not all MBA interview questions and answers revolve around this type of thought experiment.
Some MBA interview questions and answers will focus on your past experiences and contributions to your community. So, review your resume and select a few key anecdotes that highlight your strengths as a leader and/or collaborator. Be prepared to discuss in honest terms your strengths and weaknesses and offer specific examples of your real-world achievements. Additionally, you should be able to walk your interviewer through your resume in detail and highlight what you achieved through each of your listed accomplishments and experiences.
You should certainly be prepared to discuss why you want to pursue an MBA, just like in your Why MBA essay. You should have a clear pitch that explains why exactly you want to pursue an MBA, why you want to do so at this specific program, how the program will be invaluable to your career, and what you’ll bring to the program itself.
Questions to ask MBA admissions
For the MBA interview questions and answers, you’ll need to brainstorm some questions to ask MBA admissions as part of your MBA interview preparation. You’ll also have the opportunity at the end of the interview to ask your interview some questions. This is a great time to learn more about the program and make sure that it’s the right fit for you.
Here are some examples of MBA Interview Questions:
- What internship and career development opportunities are available at your program?
- How does your program support students as they prepare to re-enter the workforce?
- What makes your program unique?
- What does the academic environment look like in your program?
You could also take this opportunity to show off your research on the program. Then, focus your MBA questions and answers on specific program offerings. This might include a professor you want to study under or a unique concentration that’s offered.
Even with MBA interview preparation and MBA essay tips, you may still feel unsure about the MBA admissions requirements. In our next section, we’ll talk about overcoming these challenges.
Overcoming common challenges in MBA admissions
With daunting MBA admissions statistics and MBA admissions rates, students can feel overwhelmed by the process. Here are some tips for overcoming challenges in your pursuit of an MBA.
If you’re interested in pursuing an MBA for your postgraduate education, start thinking about the MBA application process as early as you can. This includes studying for and taking standardized tests like the GMAT or the GRE. As an undergraduate, pay close attention to your grades in business and mathematics-related courses. For any graduate school, your undergraduate grades will have an impact on your admissions chances, so this is useful advice if you’re considering any type of postgraduate education.
Crafting your resume
As you build your resume, keep the MBA admissions requirements in mind. Focus on impact as you find opportunities. An impressive employer won’t get you too far if you can’t prove that you made a real impact while working for them.
Additionally, take the time to think about why you want to pursue an MBA. Make sure you’re in it for the right reasons. If you focus your MBA applications on the chance to expand your power or your salary, it won’t impress MBA admissions teams.
Evaluating your profile for MBA admissions
If you’re nervous about your chances of beating the MBA admissions statistics and the MBA admissions rates, try an MBA admissions calculator. An MBA admissions calculator will take your scores and work experience into account to help you get a rough estimate of your chances.
If you’re looking for more personalized advice, MBA admissions consulting could be the right path for you. Unlike an MBA admissions calculator, MBA admissions consulting will take all of your experience into account and help you build the best profile. The best MBA admissions consultants can guide you through every step of your application and will help you pick test dates and deadlines that will optimize your chances.
How to impress MBA admissions committees
So how do you impress MBA admissions teams, if not with a desire for a greater salary or a higher-ranking position in your field?
Focus on what makes you unique. Your application should tell a story of who you are, what your future looks like, and how an MBA will help get you there. If you’re having trouble tying your different experiences into a cohesive story, consider MBA admissions consulting. Having an outside eye look at your experiences can help you compose an application that feels persuasive and purposeful. An MBA admissions calculator can be useful, but it won’t help as much as MBA admissions consulting—especially with the best MBA admissions consultants.
Bolstering your profile
Keep your grades up, especially in quantitative reasoning and related areas. If you need to, you can take supplemental coursework to fill in the gaps in your undergraduate education. The earlier you start preparing, or looking into MBA admissions consulting, the quicker you can figure out whether additional coursework would be necessary to overcome the MBA admissions statistics.
Another tip to overcome the low MBA admissions rates is to highlight your impact. Your resume should show that you can be both a leader and a team player—and know which role to play in different situations. If these types of conclusions are hard to draw from your resume, make sure that you emphasize your impact in your other materials. This includes your MBA interview questions and answers, your Why MBA interview question, and your Why MBA essay.
Highlight what makes you unique
Most importantly, you need to convey that you will make a real difference in any company or organization that employs you. You can do this through emphasizing your impact and experiences. However, you also need to communicate your future goals and potential.
MBA admissions rates are quite low, especially at the top MBA programs. For any graduate school or postgraduate education, including MBA programs, you need to convince the admissions committee that by admitting you, you have the potential to make a difference in your community.
Is getting an MBA worth it?
Getting accepted to an MBA can feel like a huge task, especially with low MBA admissions rates and daunting MBA admissions statistics. So is getting an MBA really worth it?
If you’re getting an MBA for the right reasons, then yes, an MBA is worth it. You should be looking to get an MBA to expand your career prospects, improve your skill set, or accelerate your career prospects. An MBA can also be a great opportunity for a career pivot.
Types of MBA
There are also different types of MBA. The most common types of MBA are two-year, full-time programs. Some of the types of MBA programs include a part-time option, which can be useful if you need to work during the program. There are also one-year, full-time MBAs: these types of MBA are often offered outside the U.S. and provide an accelerated, intensive education.
There are also some types of MBA that are specialized MBA programs. With specialized MBA programs, you can concentrate in one specific area in which you want to develop an expertise. For example, at the Northwestern Kellogg School of Management, there’s a renowned Marketing program. If you’re a professional looking to make a career pivot and aren’t sure if a generalized MBA is right for you, you should consider looking into specialized MBA programs. Above you can see some of the top MBA specializations you may want to explore.
In addition, you can read more about different types of MBA programs and MBA specializations and possible career paths in our article below:
Considering your goals
However, pursuing an MBA is a lot of work and a major financial investment. So, if you’re only pursuing an MBA because you feel like you should or you want a salary increase, it might be worth thinking more deeply about your goals. If you’re set on going to graduate school but aren’t sure if an MBA is the right decision, you might also find another graduate school or program that’s a better fit for your postgraduate education. There are many options for advancing your education and your career that aren’t an MBA.
If you’re trying to work out whether an MBA is right for you, MBA admissions consulting could be helpful in making your decision. The best MBA admissions consultants will help you go over your materials, think through different options, and develop your profile.
MBA Admissions – Final Thoughts
If you’re a young professional looking to learn more about business and increase your impact, an MBA might be the right choice for you. The MBA admissions rates can feel discouraging. However, with the right preparation, you can ace the application for top programs like UCLA MBA admissions, Georgetown MBA admissions, and Columbia MBA admissions.
In this guide, we covered the basics of MBAs, including the MBA meaning: Masters in Business Administration. An MBA is a professional degree meant for people who want to reach the next level as business executives, learn about a specific area of business or management, or are thinking of making a career shift. You should be passionate about making an impact, and have a reason why you want to attend b-school other than simply an elevated salary or position.
What we’ve covered
We also went over the MBA admissions requirements, like the GMAT or GRE. Most top MBA programs require a standardized test. Once you have your test score, you can use an MBA admissions calculator to estimate your chances of admission.
We also provided tips for writing MBA admissions essays, including the Why MBA essay. You should take this opportunity to explain in more detail what makes you unique, why you want to attend this specific business school, and explain the impact you’ve made in your past professional endeavors.
Another common admissions requirement is your recommendation letter for graduate school. Your recommendation letter for graduate school should be from a person who managed you professionally and can speak to your strengths. Unlike a recommendation letter for graduate school at a non-MBA program, at least one of your letters for your MBA program should come from someone who knows you in a professional context.
Next steps in the MBA admissions process
If your written materials impress the admissions committee, you will be asked to interview. You should come prepared to answer the Why MBA interview question. This Why MBA interview question can cover similar topics as your essay, but you’ll have the opportunity to plead your case face-to-face. Make sure in your answer to this Why MBA interview question and to others that you’ve prepared concise responses. This includes clear anecdotes about your strengths and weaknesses.
As you navigate the MBA admissions process, know that you’re not alone. If you’re struggling to put together your application, or just thinking about pursuing an MBA and don’t know where to start, consider MBA admissions consulting. MBA admissions consulting can help you conceptualize the whole process, build a compelling profile, stick to deadlines, and give you advice on your essays and interview preparation.
CollegeAdvisor is here to support you at any time throughout the MBA admissions process. If you found this guide helpful, please reach out to connect with a member of our team.
This article was written by advisor Rachel Kahn. Looking for more admissions support? Click here to schedule a free meeting with one of our Admissions Specialists. During your meeting, our team will discuss your profile and help you find targeted ways to increase your admissions odds at top schools. We’ll also answer any questions and discuss how CollegeAdvisor.com can support you in the college application process.