The Ins and Outs of the MBA Application Process

Make sure you are prepared for the MBA application process, which can be quite strenuous and goes beyond the GMAT, essays, and interviews.

The Ins and Outs of the MBA Application Process

Many people want an MBA. Few people get it. The first step to success is proper planning and school selection during the application process. The whole admission procedure is a tough job and a valuable experience which will at least help you see yourself in the context of your priorities and goals. Once you are sure you are 100% committed to begin an MBA, you must prepare yourself for a long and sometimes arduous application process.

Application strategy

There is no doubt that you should have an application strategy. The very first question MBA candidates should ask themselves is whether the MBA is worth pursuing. As an MBA applicant, you should be sure that going for an MBA will contribute to achieving your goal. If you are not convinced of the benefits yourself, how will you convince the admission committee?

The milestones in each application strategy are the short-term and long-term goals of the candidate, the reasons why he or she has selected a particular business school and how it will help the candidate further cultivate his or her knowledge and experience, i.e. clear goals and solid reasons why the candidate wants to start an MBA programme. The key is to understand why you want to take an MBA and what you expect it to do for you.

Time management plan

Knowing exactly when you plan to start the MBA helps you move on to the next steps. For this purpose you need a time management plan.


Traditionally, the GMAT has been the best measure of success for business schools. It is a standardised test to assess the overall skills of MBA candidates who want to pursue an MBA degree. The GMAT test was created so that business schools had a common yardstick to evaluate the abilities of applicants who wished to enrol in MBA courses.

The GMAT is just one of the many factors we evaluate in rendering a decision on an application. However, applicants should strive to score 70-75 percent or more on both the verbal and quantitative sections of the test, noting that although there is no minimum score, the average GMAT for the most recent intake was 703,” says Kara Keenan, Associate Director of Admissions, Marketing & Financial Aid at INSEAD.

It is therefore very important to prepare for your GMAT test beforehand so as to ensure a high GMAT score in your application form.

Application file

Once you have decided on some schools, you should take a deep breath and get ready for the challenging application process. Your application is the most important factor in determining whether or not you will be admitted to an MBA programme. Many consider the interview as the toughest part, but if your application fails to present you as a good candidate, you may never get as far as an interview.

So make sure your application file really is complete. Do not leave any part of it blank or incomplete. Of course, it should be solid and for that purpose you should list all your qualifications, skills and relevant work experience.


Selecting good referees is a test for your managerial skills. A very important tip is to prepare your referees and manage them closely. They should submit their letters of recommendation on time and follow the instructions for drafting the references.

Try your best to secure professional references rather than academic references, as schools look for an insight into your professional performance. It is better to use references from your current and most recent jobs, as the admission officers who will review your file will look for an insight into you as you are at the moment, not what you were 10 years ago.

It is not a good idea to ask for a letter of recommendation from a big boss who hardly knows you. You would benefit more from choosing someone lower in the managerial hierarchy, but who has a close view on your work. Make sure your referee can comment on you in a meaningful way and provide a serious and an in-depth reference.


Essays are of major importance. You do not need to write a brilliant essay deserving a literary award. It is enough to write an essay that will convince the admitting committee you are an outstanding candidate for their MBA programme.

Here are some basic tips for writing a good essay:

  • Start preparing as soon as you know that you are going to apply to business school. Buy a small notebook and start writing down anything interesting that comes to your mind and that has impressed and inspired you. It could be anything: a lecture, a film, a conversation with a friend, a travel experience, a sports record, a book. All these can be great material for your essays.
  • Once you have the essay questions in hand, there may still be a few bottlenecks to finding the right answer. Thinking too much is not a good strategy in this case. Very often, the first thing that comes to mind is the right answer.
  • Before you actually write the essays, take the final step of mapping out the general topics you will cover in each essay.
  • It is essential that you find out as much as you can about your target schools and understand how to appeal to each of them. Despite the differences, each school will look for certain qualities in an applicant: leadership, team skills, ethics, communication skills, etc.
  • Essays require time to be polished. Don’t leave writing them until the last moment. Give yourself enough time to write, edit, re-edit or even rewrite them.
  • Beware of perfectionism. Real perfectionists can sit at the computer for hours looking for the “perfect” word and end up with nothing on the page.
  • Nobody is perfect and all business schools know this. Don’t be afraid to write about your weaknesses. A story about how you learned from a failure, improved upon a weakness or faced a challenge can be compelling.
  • Don’t hesitate to get help. Even the most meticulous writers benefit from a second or third set of eyes. Ask someone to review your essays, look for typos and tell you if you are addressing all of the points in the right way.
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