How do I Apply for an MBA?

Check to see if you have all your application materials you'll need to apply for an MBA

So you've decided it's time to further your higher education and pursue an MBA. Maybe you want to network, maybe you want to acquire new business skills, maybe you want to redirect your already flourishing career towards start-ups, entrepreneurship, or some other area of business. Maybe you want to make more money once you graduate.

Now, it's time to start the application process. You'll need to spend a lot of time putting together your MBA applications and making sure you're the best candidate you can be. But the good news is that many MBA programs, even programs that are located all over the world, are usually looking for similar application materials and have similar requirements. Read on to find out what those are.

What do I need to be a viable MBA candidate?

Business schools are looking for a certain set of baseline requirements from their MBA candidates. First of all, it's essential that you have an undergraduate degree from an accredited university.

Second of all, you'll need standardized test scores, either the GRE (Graduate Record Examinations, the standard test for a wide range of graduate school programs) or the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test, the test specifically geared towards business school applicants).

Most schools accept either the GRE or GMAT, but most require that you took the test within the last five years. Schools generally don't require that you achieve a minimum GMAT or GRE score, but many schools publish the range of scores for their accepted classes.

Applicants who are not from an English-majority country usually must also complete a standardized test proving English proficiency, such as the TOEFL (Test of English as Foreign Language) or the IELTS (International English Language Testing System). Even schools outside of the English-speaking world, such as the University of Mannheim's Mannheim Business School in Germany and China Europe International Business School in Shanghai, require English proficiency.

Finally, you'll need work experience. Some MBA programs require two years of relevant work experience; other MBA programs, such as Stanford’s, don't have any minimum work requirement, but even for these programs most accepted applicants still have at least two years of work experience. For college seniors who want to apply for an MBA, some schools will issue acceptances contingent on the applicant completing at least two years of work experience before matriculating at the MBA program.

Which materials do I need for my MBA application?

If you want to apply for an MBA program, you'll need to gather a fair number of application materials. Many MBA programs require that you submit these materials online; you can find the place to do that at the various schools' websites.

For your applications, you'll usually need official test results from the GRE or GMAT, an official transcript, two to three letters of recommendations, a resume, answers to the school's essay questions, and an application fee.

The application fee depends on the school.

The essay questions depend on the school. A recent Harvard MBA application essay prompt asked students to imagine that they are introducing themselves to their classmates on the first day of the MBA program. Oxford University's Saïd Business School has asked students how they fit with Oxford's mission, and whether there is anything not covered in the admission form that Oxford should know.

Other business schools want something more than just a written essay. Boston University's Questrom School of Business, for instance, currently requires students to make three video essays when applying to the school’s MBA program.

Some business schools also ask shortlisted applicants to attend an application interview as part of the MBA application process. Many schools, however, now give the option for students to do the interview online, either through Skype or another platform.

When do I need to apply to an MBA?

Many business schools use the rounds system for application deadlines. That is, some schools have four or five application deadlines. For business schools in the US, these rounds generally start in October or November and continue through April or May (for fall intake). Students can apply for any of the four or five deadlines, and the school will accept students during each application round.

But other schools don't use the rounds system, and instead require students to apply by one hard deadline. Make sure to check the deadlines for the schools on your list.

If you're hoping to win a scholarship, keep in mind that some schools have special scholarship deadlines as well.

How do I choose which schools to apply to?

Choosing your schools is an integral part of the application process. Experts and officials often remind prospective students to avoid applying only to top-ranked programs. Every student has different needs, and it's important to consider a variety of factors when you're applying to schools, including cost, specializations, contacts and geographical location.

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