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MBA Admission: What Schools Really Look For

By Peterson's Staff updated on Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Getting into business school is a competitive process. So competitive, in fact, that you may find yourself spending more time focused on making sure you put together all the right paperwork than you do concentrating on what the MBA admission committee is likely to look at much more closely — YOU!

Applying to business school in and of itself is your first opportunity to demonstrate just how honed your business skills already are, and in particular, just how talented you are at marketing the spectacular product that is you.

Business leadership traits important
Business schools will be looking at you in an entirely different light than colleges. They aren't particularly interested in how you categorize yourself. While your academic profile is certainly important, it's your leadership traits the MBA schools will look at — as well as your professional work experience, your character traits, your career goals, and your overall presentation.

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If you're an older student, you have the added bonus of practical experience, emotional maturity, and a seasoned perspective. The admission committee expects that at this stage of the game, your reasons for pursuing an MBA, as well as your professional goals, will be clear and well-defined — and they will definitely be interested in hearing about them.

Academic profile in MBA admission

Business schools want to know if you can survive the stress of a rigorous and demanding program. The best way to prove this is by demonstrating your intellectual strength through strong classroom achievement. Most schools will look closely at your quantitative skills as well as your ability to effectively juggle multiple courses and group projects. MBA schools believe that your ability to excel as an undergraduate is directly correlated to your ability to succeed as a graduate student.

Your undergraduate major really has little effect on your acceptance to business school. You don't need to take coursework in business administration because most MBA programs offer or require a core curriculum of basic business courses as part of their degree program. However, you'll be better prepared for business schools if you have developed basic skills in economics, calculus, and statistics — and it will be duly noted by the admission committee.

MBA schools often require GMAT scores

It would be very unusual if the business school you apply to didn't require test results from the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT). The importance of your GMAT scores, however, varies depending on the school; in fact, some MBA schools don't even have minimum score requirements! While your scores are certainly not the sole criteria for admission, all reputable business schools and the best MBA programs use them as part of their admission process to some degree.

If you're still in college, you should consider taking your GMAT while you're still pursuing your undergraduate degree, or very soon after you graduate. You can get the test out of the way while your math skills are still fresh. Your scores are valid for five years, so if you plan to head off to business school soon after college, you won't need to worry about taking your test again.

Work history in the MBA admission process

Some students go straight into business school after graduating with their bachelor's degree. However, there are some schools, particularly international business programs, which require you to have full-time, professional work experience prior to enrollment. This gives you a context for interpreting and using classroom material, and enables you to contribute to class discussions and group projects in meaningful ways. Demonstrated career success is the most effective way to prove your potential for leadership in a managerial capacity.

MBA application should highlight personal attributes

The best MBA programs want students who can lead people and be responsible for the management of entire organizations. Because leadership is one of the main ingredients for success, your communication skills, initiative, and motivation can become the most important aspects of the admission process. Personal qualities set the tone for the entire review of your MBA application because it is the one part of your application that can distinguish you in a compelling way. The MBA essay, if the school requires one, can be a good opportunity to highlight your personal attributes.

Interview can help you exhibit strengths
The interview process for business schools is widely varied. Some schools require everyone to interview prior to admission. Others don't interview anyone. However, most schools leave the decision to interview up to you. Since it's one part of the MBA admission process that you can control, we recommend you take advantage of the opportunity; it can be an invaluable chance for you to exhibit your strengths and leadership qualities. Don't focus solely on your application or resume — that's just plain redundant (and boring!) You and your interviewer should create an exchange that allows you to share useful information that will help them understand the context of the choices that you've made throughout your life.

MBA admission requires preparation and communication

Learning to market yourself effectively to business schools is an important piece of the admission process. As part of your preparation, make sure you research the admission procedures at schools to which you're applying so you can interact accordingly with the various admission committees. Your careful research and skilled communication will have the greatest impact on the success of your MBA application.

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About the Author

Peterson's has more than 40 years of experience in higher education, and the expert staff members here are all ready to leverage their considerable knowledge and experience to help you succeed on your educational journey. We have the information, the know-how, and the tools -- now all we need is you!

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