How Does One Get into Business School?

Schools review various documents to gather information about you. In particular, you’d be asked to submit:

  • A completed application form
  • Completed application essays – Each school has its own set of essay questions. Some schools also provide the opportunity to submit multimedia responses
  • Your latest résumé/CV
  • 2 letters (3 at some schools, only 1 at a handful) of reference submitted directly by your recommenders – most schools prefer that these be submitted in these schools’ specified formats
  • Official transcripts of your Bachelors’ degree and beyond
  • GMAT score card sent directly by the test administrator
  • TOEFL/IELTS score card, if applicable, sent directly by test administrator
  • While different schools have different processes and emphases, most evaluate applications on 5 criteria: academic ability, career potential, leadership, teamwork and personal background.
  • Application fee

The GMAT is helpful in terms of understanding how someone can perform in the first year, but that’s one small piece of the overall M.B.A. We look at candidates holistically [academic, professional, personal].Derrick Bolton, Director of M.B.A. admissions at Stanford GSB
Schools need to be comfortable that you will thrive in and contribute to the academic environment. E.g. economics and finance classes require a degree of quantitative expertise. GMAT and GPAs objective indicators and thus taken into account. The difficulty of your school and major are considered when reviewing your GPA. If you graduated from a school that does not release GPAs, or graduated from a school or region that the Admissions Committee doesn’t know a lot about, or graduated several years ago, then your GMAT score becomes that much more important.

Higher post-MBA salaries and % job placement are key metrics for business schools. Hence, when reviewing your application, schools look for “marketability”. Strong work-experience is therefore an important consideration. Work-experience is also valued as schools want you to contribute positively to class discussions, etc. Average experience at most top schools is 4-5 years. The minimum threshold is generally 2 years, though some schools such as Stanford do not have a minimum requirement. However, it’s not merely about the numbers. Schools look for logical career progression. Blue chip employers such as Google, Goldman Sachs, McKinsey, etc. are valued since these companies have rigorous selection processes, and hence provide a level of “pre selection” to the schools. Finally, schools want to ensure that your career goals align with the program. This can, to a large extent, be addressed in the application essays.

We usually never reject someone based only on the GMAT scoreItziar de Ros, admissions director at IESE Business School
Schools want to know whether you have demonstrated leadership. Irrespective of whether or not you have held a position of leadership, schools are interested in your leadership actions at work or in your extra-curricular activities.
Being a leader is not enough. You should also be a good follower and team-mate. Schools want you to get along with your classmates, and other people at the school. Demonstrate that you have experience working in teams, and managing team-dynamics.

The essays, letters of reference and résumé are consulted to understand your leadership and teamwork background.

Finally, schools look for interesting personal backgrounds. If you have overcome significant difficulties to get to where you are, that is an important consideration. Similarly, if you have done something completely off-beat and unique, schools are interested in that. Essentially, anything that makes you interesting and memorable will have an impact on your application. The essays, and to a lesser extent, the letters of reference, are the primary tool for communicating this information.

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