Ten Steps to a Top MBA

Do you dream of an MBA at Harvard, Wharton, Columbia or INSEAD? Here is a list of the top ten steps for preparing a successful MBA Application to your dream school.

1. Start Early!

Begin the application as soon as possible. Ideally, you need 1.5 years to prepare, however some very hard-working applicants can complete the process in six months.

2. Why an MBA?

An MBA application is a very self-reflective process. Start thinking over your career, your experiences, your strengths and weaknesses, your goals and dreams. How does an MBA fit into those? Are your goals reachable? How? If you understand these questions from the beginning, it will be much easier to write your essays later.

3. GMAT or GRE.

A good GMAT (www.mba.com) is required for all top MBA programs. Though there are no minimum GMATs, 660 is the lowest most top MBA programs will accept. You can only take the exam once every 16 days, so schedule your first GMAT early enough to give yourself time to retake it if necessary (most applicants take it 2-3 times). For more about the GMAT, check out “All about the GMAT”. Most business schools will also accept the GRE (https://www.ets.org/gre/), the Graduate Record Exam which is the standard exam choice for masters’ degrees that are not business-related.

4. English Exam

If you did not go to an English-speaking university, you must take either the TOEFL (http://www.ets.org/toefl) or the IELTS (https://www.ielts.org/). Do not assume that your English is high enough for a good score. You should prepare, especially for the Speaking sections. 100 is the standard minimum for most US schools but Harvard asks for 109. Most European schools ask for 105.

5. Transcripts

As early as you can, request your official transcripts from all universities that you attended. If they are not in English, you will have to translate them using a sworn translator from your home country. Review the transcript policies for each school, while most request a scanned copy, some may want actual paper documents. If you attended university outside of the US, some smaller American business schools also request an external evaluation of your transcripts from a service such as WES (http://www.wes.org/).

6. Letters of Recommendation (LORs)

Choose professional recommenders that know you well such as your direct supervisor. Do not choose the CEO of some famous company just because your father golfs with him…that is a sure way to get dinged. Schools want recommenders who really know you and your professional abilities and potential. And since your recommenders are busy people, the sooner you ask them, the better.

7. Research Schools & Find your Fit

Don’t just rely on rankings and reputation, learn as much about the top programs as you can. Attend seminars, MBA fairs, talk to students and alumni, and visit the school if possible. Review the teaching methods, specialties, publications, and faculty. Will this program help you reach your goals? What does it offer that other schools don’t? What is the school culture like? And the surrounding community? Ask yourself, how will I fit in here?

8. Choose Schools

Select 4 to 6 first choice schools and 2 to 3 second choice schools. The past few years has seen an increase in MBA applications and an increase in the quality of applicants. That does not seem to be slowing down. To ensure your acceptance at a top school, expand your odds by applying to several. Then, when you have your final list, order them according to which one you will apply to first, second, and so on. This may be influenced by deadline dates and difficulty of the questions.

9. Essays

Gather the essays questions from your 1st school and brainstorm answers. Don’t worry about word limits, just find the best stories and examples from your life to answer the questions and also give insight into what makes you stand out from all the other applicants. From this rough draft, you can create the first version of your essays. Expect between six and ten versions until you arrive at a perfect essay.

10. Application

Do not leave the online application, the “data-form” until the last minute. Many data-forms are filled with additional “mini-essays” asking for details about your career, extra-curricular activities, and more. Also, keep in mind that when the deadlines arrive, the servers even at the biggest business school can start to run very slow; try to submit your application at least a few days before the deadline to avoid this.

Candy Lee LaBalle

Candy Lee LaBalle is the founder of LaBalle Admissions & an MBA admissions expert. Since 2008, she has helped hundreds of MBA applicants get into the world’s leading business schools.

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