MBA Application Strategy – Do you need one?

Deciding whether or not to pursue an MBA is a tough decision. Picking the right MBA program to apply to is an even tougher one. There are over 6,000 business schools in the world – how do you select the one with the best “fit” for your career?

We talked a lot about how AdComs make admissions decisions (check out our earlier blog here), however the process of MBA application is a two-way street: you’re looking for the best MBA program, and business schools are looking for the best candidates.

If you know who the schools are looking for, you’ll have an upper hand in creating the best possible application and proving that you will be a really good fit with their MBA program(s).

How do you stand out?

Take a look at the common admissions criteria and understand how your candidacy stacks up against these criteria – this will help you come up with the winning application strategy:

  • Work experience
  • GMAT
  • GPA
  • Essays
  • References
  • Admissions Interview


As a candidate, your number one job is to realistically assess your profile! You want to apply to the best possible school; however, if your target school is very competitive, there may be thousands of other applicants vying for a limited number of spots in the program.

To stand out, you need a solid application strategy. Remember that MBA admissions is a holistic process; business schools look at many factors when determining your candidacy. Meeting all required admissions criteria doesn’t necessarily mean you will get in. Make sure you’re thinking through what schools you’re going to apply to (and when), and don’t put all your eggs into one basket. Moreover, getting an MBA degree at a particular school is such an important decision that working with a coach or a consultant will be a smart investment.

Let’s look at some admissions myths to get a reality check:

Myth: Having a 760 on the GMAT will make me an attractive candidate for almost any elite business school in the world.

Fact: For many business schools, a 700+ score on the GMAT is simply a necessary requirement to be considered for an application, and certainly doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get in! Once you get a competitive GMAT score, you need to prove that the rest of your application is equally competitive.

Myth: Business schools prefer candidates with investment banking or consulting experience.

Fact: This may have been the case in the past, but now many business schools are looking for diversity. If you have relevant work experience in any industry, have demonstrated good leadership skills, and have proven to be a well-rounded individual, you’ll have a good chance to stand out on your application. If your work experience is not that impressive, you can look for volunteer work or take a sabbatical and do something extraordinary that will stretch you out of your comfort zone and will impress the Admission Committees.

Myth: Being from an underrepresented part of the world will get you admitted because business schools need diversity.

Fact: Believe it or not, top tier MBA programs have seen it all! It may be to your advantage to rep-resent a unique background, but please don’t forget that you still need to prove that you are “good enough” for their programs.

Simply meeting admissions criteria “on paper” is not enough

A competitive application is all about being well-rounded as a person and having a balanced application. Most business schools have realized, by now, that soft skills are as important as technical skills. How well a candidate presents himself or herself goes a long way in the application process. You may have a great job and a fantastic GMAT score, but can you “sell yourself” to the business school?

Knowing your strengths and weaknesses and devising your application strategy will save you a lot of time, money and energy in the admissions process.

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: to come up with the best application strategy, you should evaluate your candidacy objectively. We meet with candidates every day who believe their 700+ GMAT scores will get them into the best MBA programs in the world… As you’ve already seen for yourself, a lot more is needed to get into the most competitive business schools.

Do a self-assessment or hire a career coach to help you (or sign up for a Free 1-on-1 consultation and one of our coaches can do a free assessment for you). Then come up with your list of dream business schools and compare yourself with their candidate profiles. Do you see yourself fitting in? If yes, go ahead and start your application. If not, move on to another business school.

It’s good to pick 1 or 2 schools in your “stretch zone”, however you need to think of a backup strategy in case you don’t get into your top choices. There is a big opportunity cost of delaying your MBA. If you wait another year, not only will you delay a potential $30,000 – $50,000+ salary increase, but also you could end up being overqualified for a full-time program and will need to look for alternative programs that could be less helpful for your career growth.

During such an important process of selecting and applying for MBA programs, don’t hesitate to ask for help and feedback. Both admissions teams at business schools and professional admissions consultants are there to help you. Draft a list of compelling questions and start knocking on doors!

Request a free profile evaluation, or schedule a consultation to get your questions answered.

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