Applying To Business School
||Why You Need Work Experience||
||Choosing A School||
||Timetable of Key Events|
Also see Test Prep Resources
You need not major in business as an undergraduate to find success in graduate business school. Top business schools regularly report that a high percentage of their students come from liberal arts backgrounds, with English and history among the most common undergraduate majors.
If you are still an undergraduate, consider classes that will allow you to explore a wide range of disciplines. Coursework in English is often cited for honing verbal and written communications skills. Coursework in more technical fields such as economics, statistics, and math can help you build a good foundation for material you will see again in an MBA program.
The most important consideration is to do well in whatever program of studies you choose. Business schools give grade point average (GPA) siginificant weight when evaluating MBA applicants.
Why You Need Work Experience
Because work experience, as reflected in personal essays and recommendations, is used to evaluate MBA applicants, excellent work experience can increase your admissions chances. MBA programs rarely accept students directly from college. Occasionally, however, graduating seniors may receive deferred admission from business schools if they have accepted a position with a prestigious consulting firm or investment bank where they plan to work for 2 to 3 years after graduation.
Business schools emphasize the importance of work experience because this experience develops problem solving, interpersonal, leadership, and teamwork skills in a way that undergraduate classes cannot. Work experience offers exposure to everyday business problems--problems considered in MBA coursework. Also, business schools expect students to contribute to class discussions by calling upon personal experiences from their careers.
Choosing A School
There are several factors to consider when deciding where to apply. Information on these factors can be found in magazine rankings of business schools, books that profile business schools, prospectus materials from the schools themselves, and Internet web sites.
Overall Reputation: Rankings like those produced each year in Business Week and US News and World Report can give some idea of a school's reputation relative to other schools. Reputation can be important for placement success, because companies will sometimes only recruit at certain schools.
Grad School Catalogs Online:
NOTE: you must be on the BC campus or logged onto the Internet through BC to use this system.
Business Week's MBA Rankings:
Includes articles on the top programs in Canada and Europe, trends in ethics education, whether curricula are becoming too specialized, and whether schools are hiring too many adjunct faculty members.
The Net Impact Student Guide to Graduate Business Schools:
Focuses on how well students think their graduate program addresses social and environmental concerns. The Guide contains 40 school profiles and results of a survey answered by over 1,000 students.
Instructional Method: Two predominant methods are theory based and case method. Theory based coursework emphasizes learning theory in lecture formats. Case method emphasizes discussions about real-life business situations and how to resolve them. Some schools, like Harvard, are case method only, but most schools offer a blend of both. Instructional method is usually discussed in a school's prospectus.
Curriculum: If you are interested in a particular concentration, find out which schools are noted for that field of study. Northwestern's Kellogg School, for example, is considered to have one of the best Marketing departments in the country. Consult any one of several books that profile business schools and highlight noteworthy departments for more information. You may find information using the MBA websites to which BC has links.
Placement Success: This is often a measure in determining published rankings of business schools. Check the business school's prospectus to see what companies recruit on campus, what percentages of graduates are employed within three months of graduation, and what the average starting salary is for graduates with different concentrations and different backgrounds (prior industry experience, length of experience).
Additional Considerations: If possible, attend one of the regional MBA Forums that are held in major cities throughout the US. Representatives from many MBA programs are in attendance, and can answer any questions you have about their MBA programs. More information on MBA Forums is available through the MBA Explorer.
Depending on your career interests, you may want to consider a joint degree program such as a JD/MBA. Other joint programs pair the MBA with a Masters in Public Health or Social Work. If you are considering a business specialization, many schools offer dual MBA/MSF (Finance) or MBA/MSA (Accounting) degrees. Talk to people working in your field of interest and visit the Career Center to determine if you need a joint degree to pursue your career interest. Ask representatives from the schools what, if any, joint degree programs they offer if you are interested.
Information Resources: The MBA Page is an excellent starting point for MBA information on the Internet. Peterson's Education Center also contains information on MBA programs and other topics, including Postgraduate Executive Education, Distance Learning Opportunities, Careers and Jobs, Financial Aid, and Testing.
For general information about applying to graduate schools, check out Getting In: An Applicant's Guide to Graduate School Admissions by David Burrell. It is a helpful guide written by a former Kaplan tutor who successfully completed the graduate school application process.
There is no "right" age or length of work experience necessary for applying to an MBA program. Incoming students range in age from 23 to 43. The average age for most full-time students entering MBA programs is between 25 and 27.
Business school admissions are based on three basic criteria:
- Undergraduate GPA
- GMAT scores
Experience is not limited to work history, but also includes personal life experiences, travels, volunteer work, and hobbies. These experiences should be reflected in application essays and recommendations.
GPA and GMAT scores are important, but experiences outside the classroom can count just as much. Remember that you must convince an admissions committee that your abilities and experiences will make you a valuable addition to that program.
Many schools now emphasize diversity in their admissions. The concept of diversity extends beyond ethnicity to include life experiences. Individuals who can show something unique about themselves, individuals who can enhance the learning experiences of their classmates, are actively sought by admissions committees. Not everyone has to be a fighter pilot or a rock star, however, to be a successful applicant.
For more information on admissions, visit Business Week, which features Q&A with admissions directors from many of the top graduate business schools in the US.
The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is required by most business schools. It is a standardized test, similar to the SAT. The test includes a variety of multiple choice questions to test verbal and math problem-solving abilities. It also includes a writing sample.
The GMAT is now administered on computer terminals at test centers throughout North America. The test can be taken by appointment on any one of several days each month. More information on the GMAT is available from the MBA Explorer, the official website of the Graduate Management Admission Council.
Test scores are calculated and reported on a scale of 200-800. Boston College's MBA program reported an average GMAT score of 651 among incoming students, and other MBA programs in the Boston area reported GMATs between 540 and 580. Top business schools usually report average GMATs in the 640-680 range. Conventional wisdom suggests that, to be a competitive applicant at a top program, your GMAT score should be at least 600.
Several test-preparation resources are available. Many different books are published annually with GMAT practice questions and test-taking strategies, and are available at any bookstore. It is recommended that you use one of these books to aid you in your preparation. If you find yourself needing further GMAT preparation, you may elect to enroll in a course offered by one of several test prep companies. These courses can often cost several hundred dollars, so gauge your progress and preparation needs carefully before choosing a prep course. Schools typically consider only your highest GMAT score when applying, but others will take into account lower scores when evaluating your application. If you are considering taking the GMAT "cold", you may want to decline sending your scores to any prospective schools. You can always have the scores sent later for a small fee if you perform well.
While Boston College does not endorse any particular GMAT prep course, two well-known test prep companies with content-rich websites are The Princeton Review (which offers sample GMATs online with its Tester page) and Kaplan.
Almost every business school requests at least two recommendations. Ask people who know you and your abilities well. People who have supervised you directly, or colleagues with whom you have worked closely, are often in an excellent position to complete recommendations. If you did outstanding work for a professor whom you know well, he/she may also be a good source. Generally, business schools are looking for recommendations from people who can describe your abilities in a job situation, and can support their comments with specific examples.
Ask people only if you are reasonably certain they are willing to provide strongly favorable recommendations. When asking, be sure to allow them several weeks, but stipulate a firm deadline. Check to see if the recommendations must be completed on a special form, or if attaching a letter of recommendation will suffice. Find out if the recommendations should be returned to you for inclusion with the application or mailed directly to the school. Be sure to waive your right to see the recommendations; business schools prefer to see "blind" recommendations because they feel that blind recommendations can offer a more honest assessment of a person's abilities.
Provide the recommendation writers with some background materials, such as a resume and application essays. These materials can help the writers tailor the recommendations to complement the rest of your application package. For example, if you discuss in an essay a work project of which you are particularly proud, you will want to be sure your supervisor or colleague includes a reference to that project in a recommendation. This background material, including your reasons for applying and your career goals, helps recommendation writers focus on your specific strengths, accomplishments, and interests. Managers are pressed for time to complete recommendations along with their regular workload, and would welcome your help.
For more information on recommendations, visit the Career Resource Library and ask for Graduate Admissions Essays: What Works, What Doesn't, and Why.
Most business school applications have three required essay questions, but some have as many as eight. Some applications suggest essay lengths for each question, ranging from one paragraph to 2-3 pages. Stay within the suggested lengths. If no suggested length is given for an essay, aim for one page, double spaced.
Some common types of questions are:
"Discuss the evolution of your long- and short-term professional goals."
"Describe your greatest managerial accomplishment. How did it contribute to your development?"
"Describe your hobbies, activities, interests, and any significant related accomplishments."
Many applications, in addition to the required essays, offer one optional essay question something like:
"Is there anything else not covered elsewhere in the application that you would like the Admissions Committee to know about you?"
Do not pass up this opportunity. Use this essay to talk about some experience, work related or not, that reveals something about you that makes you a compelling candidate for admission.
When writing the essays, be yourself. Show, rather than tell, what you can offer and why you are a compelling candidate for admission. Find your "voice" and write honestly without forcing a particular style or tone. If a question leads you to discuss a subject with an element of humor, for example, let the humor show, but don't turn the essay into a comedy routine. The most compelling essays have a ring of authenticity to them, whether they are serious, funny, sad, or some combination of the three. Write from personal experience, and write honestly. Write carefully and proofread the essays for proper syntax, grammar, and spelling.
Linda Abraham's page Accepted.com contains helpful suggestions for writing MBA application essays. Also, books with examples of successful essays are in publication.
For more information on graduate school essays, visit the Career Resource Library and ask for Graduate Admissions Essays: What Works, What Doesn't, and Why.
Timetable of Key Events
When to Request/Begin Applications: Try to get them as soon as they are available, usually late summer/early fall. Many applications are now submitted electronically through the school's website. So check back regularly to find out when applications are available.
When to Take The GMAT: Since the GMAT is now offered on computer terminals at testing centers every month, there is more flexibility for taking the test. Try scheduling the GMAT sometime in the spring or the summer. If you think you did not do well, you can cancel the scoring immediately after the test and take it again the following month. Since official reports arrive at the schools two to three weeks after the test, October and November are generally the last opportunities to take the GMAT and still be sure the schools receive the scores before the first application deadline. Schedule the GMAT early because popular days and times book quickly. It is best to take the GMAT only after you have had a chance to prepare for it thoroughly.
When To Solicit Recommendations: Basically, as soon as you know you will be applying. If you are asking someone for recommendations to more than one school, try to give them all to the writer at the same time and set a deadline. Aim to collect the recommendations 1-2 weeks before you submit the applications.
When to Write the Essays: Start thinking about the essay questions as soon as you have them in hand. Even though you may be able to rework some essays to fit other schools' similarly worded questions, the number of essays you will have to produce can multiply quickly. Give yourself plenty of time to think about the questions, brainstorm for ideas, and polish the essays. Try to finish the essays by mid-November, if possible.
When to Submit the Application: Many schools have rolling admissions, which means your application will be reviewed as soon as it is received. Other schools have several staggered deadlines (for example, December 1, January 15, and March 1).
If the schools are using rolling admissions or staggered deadlines, it is to your advantage to apply early because fewer acceptances will have been made. If you apply just before the last deadline, a school may only have a handful of spaces available and a large number of candidates, reducing your chances.
Applying early can also work in your favor because, in the first few weeks, admissions committees have relatively fresh minds and have read fewer applications, making it easier for your application to stand out. In the later stages, after they have read through several thousand applications, admissions committees can get fatigued, and may be less likely to re-review a borderline application. Try to put most applications in the mail before Thanksgiving or Christmas, depending on the deadlines.
Submit the application at least one week before the deadline to make sure it arrives on time. Consider sending the applications using certified mail, which gives you a written receipt confirming that the applications arrived at the schools.
- Consider what kinds of careers MBAs pursue and what your career interests are.
- Visit the Boston College Career Center. You can speak with a Career Counselor about business school and gather more information from the Career Center Library.
- Ask colleagues and managers at work about their MBA experiences and career paths.
- Visit the schools that interest you, if possible.
- Develop an appropriate mix of schools to which you will apply. Select one or two "reach" schools, two or three schools at which your admissions chances are competitive, and one or two schools at which your admissions chances are likely. (Be aware that business school applications often require substantial amounts of time to complete.)
- Paying for Your MBA - NOTE: Scroll down the page once it's loaded.
- Visit the Career Center's Financial Aid page of links for more information about financing your graduate education.