- Elements of the Application
- Admission Tests (GMAT, GRE)
- Academic Record (not just GPA)
- Essays and Personal Statements
- Letters of Recommendation
Elements of the Application
Business school admissions committees place great emphasis on getting to know you as a person and engage in a holistic review of all of your materials. Your candidacy will be evaluated based on your GMAT score (or GRE at some schools), academic record, résumé, application essays, letters of recommendation, and interviews. The first four are generally the most heavily weighted. Your admission essays are of special importance because they allow you to emphasize your strengths and create a strong case for your admission.
Admission Tests (GMAT, GRE)
The great majority of MBA programs require applicants to take the GMAT although a significant number of schools accept the new GRE general exam. Great GMAT or GRE scores won't necessarily get you into the school of your choice (there are too many other factors), but low scores will almost certainly keep you out. If your GMAT scores are more than 50 points below a school's admission average, you are facing an uphill battle. If you're in this situation, consider retaking the exam after carefully evaluating the areas that you can improve. Business schools generally focus on your most recent score. To decide which test is better suited to your background and goals, make a list of schools, find out which of them accept the GMAT and GRE and what the schools' respective score expectations are. Consider taking both a GMAT and a GRE practice test. Take the exam that is best suited to your abilities and school list. It would be best to do so in the summer before you apply.
The Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) and its mba.com sites are important resources about the GMAT and the admission process. ETS, who administer the GRE offer a List of MBA Programs that Accept the GRE Revised General Test and a Comparison Tool that could help you cross examine likely scores on both exams. GMAT and GRE preparation is offered by a number of commercial organizations, if you find that structured support for your exam preparation is better suited to your needs than self-preparation. Choose study materials or methods that work well for your learning style.
Academic Record (not just GPA)
Admission committees examine transcripts to determine whether or not applicants have the drive and the learning skills to succeed. They will look at the breadth and depth of your course of study, taking into consideration the difficulty of your curriculum and the reputation of your college. A transcript with many courses such as "Ballroom Dance" and "The Child in You" isn't valued as highly as one with more substantive courses. Your grades are important, but some business schools look more closely at junior and senior year grades than at the overall GPA. If your extracurricular and work experiences demonstrate your deliberate integration of academics and practice, this will be appreciated.
Many schools will look especially closely at your performance in quantitative courses such as calculus, statistics, and economics. Given the quantitative nature of many MBA courses, admission officers feel that such classes are good indicators of your performance. If you didn't take any quantitative courses as an undergraduate (or did not do well in them), consider taking a few before you apply.
Typical MBA applicants have four or more years of solid professional experience. Your experience will be evaluated in reference to this benchmark. You begin to amass a record in college through internships, leadership and other relevant activities. Continue to expand on your experience after graduation and seek employment that gives you a rising set of responsibilities and depth of experience. Your resume should specify your accomplishments in every major activity or experience that is relevant to business and your chosen career path. Point out the quantifiable results of your work, such as money and work-hours saved, percent increased, and revenue earned. Highlight team experiences, leadership roles, and effective communication experience. Remember to include any community service or other notable activities. Brown's CareerLAB offers essential suggestions for effective résumé development.
Essays and Personal Statements
Effective communication is pivotal for success in all aspects of business education and practice. Admission committees will read your application essays accordingly. You should invest the time it takes to write thoughtful essays and personal statements that reflect your abilities to articulate your points clearly and convincingly, think deeply and broadly, and to produce compelling and polished narrative.
Admission essay topics can run the gamut. You may be asked to describe a personal failure or explain how you will bring diversity to the class. You will certainly need to write about your reasons for pursuing an MBA at this particular school. As you address questions, think of the ways in which you can focus on themes that best represent you and your choice to earn an MBA. You may make a particularly meaningful experience the focal point of your essay, or you may choose to describe a series of activities that demonstrate your leadership, collaborative, or other accomplishments. The professional, educational and extracurricular activities you have participated in will shape your "brand". Be authentic. Do not recite your résumé, but focus on building meaningful connections between your motivations and activities. Tone matters- aim to come across as confident and accomplished rather than arrogant and aloof.
Your personal statement provides you with an important opportunity to shape an admission committee's interpretation of your application. This is especially important if your record has any obvious blemishes or gaps. For example, if a family or personal emergency interfered with your academics at a certain point during your time at Brown it would be best to provide appropriate context in your application. Focus on the ways in which you overcame the situation and indicate how this has strengthened your ability to deal with challenges.
Do not let grammar, vocabulary or punctuation derail your efforts. Revise your essays as much as necessary (check for zpeling, stile and Gramarr carefully!) Brown's Writing Center assists current students with such writing tasks. Revise your esssays more than once, show multiple drafts to trusted readers, and be sure to proofread your writing continually.
Letters of Recommendation
Most schools require a minimum of two letters of recommendation: these should be professional references, although some schools may accept an academic reference as well. Check each program's application requirements to make sure you submit the appropriate number and type of letters.
Although you should look for recommenders high up the value chain, asking for letters strictly on the basis of rank will not strengthen your business school application. A personal and specific letter from a middle manager is better than an impersonal one from the CEO. The best letters come from professionals who know you well, write effectively, and speak to particular traits or accomplishments that stand out about you as a person and professional. Find someone who has seen you in a role as a team player or leader- combining leadership, collaboration, strategic planning and effective execution experience.
Do NOT wait until late in the process to take care of this part of your application. Remember you are asking for a favor. Don't impose even further by asking for a recommendation with a very tight deadline. Interfolio.com is a convenient web service that enables you to store letters of recommendation and distribute them to schools or employers. Use this service early on, particularly if you can't maintain close contact with your recommenders prior to the application process.
Schools differ in their approach to interviewing candidates. Some require all applicants to interview, others do it on a selective basis, some involve alumni through a national network, and others do it on their campuses. Schools use the interview to find out who you are, beyond the scores and grades. Not all schools attach equal value to the interview.
Act quickly to schedule your interview. Admissions departments often lack the time and staff to interview every candidate. You don't want your application decision delayed by several months (and placed in a more competitive round or pool) because your interview was scheduled late in the filing period. Preparation and practice are essential. CareerLAB's practice interview program is a helpful online resource available to students and alumni.