How to Get Into Business School

Tips for MBA Applicants

student in classroom

Getting Into Business School

Not everyone gets accepted into their business school of choice. This is especially true of individuals who apply to top business schools. A top business school, sometimes known as a first tier business school, is a school that is highly ranked among other business schools by multiple organizations.

On average, fewer than 12 out of every 100 people who apply to a top business school will receive an acceptance letter.

The higher ranked a school is, the more selective they tend to be. For example, Harvard Business School, one of the best-ranked schools in the world, rejects thousands of MBA applicants each year.

These facts are not meant to discourage you from applying to business school - you can't be accepted if you don't apply - but they are meant to help you understand that getting into business school is a challenge. You will have to work hard at it and take the time to prepare your MBA application and improve your candidacy if you want to increase your chances of getting accepted to your school of choice.  

In this article, we're going to explore two things that you should be doing right now to prepare for the MBA application process as well as common mistakes that you should avoid in order to increase your chances of success.

Find a Business School That Fits You

There are many components that go into a business school application, but one of the most important things to focus on right from the start is targeting the right schools.

Fit is essential if you want to get accepted into an MBA program. You can have outstanding test scores, glowing recommendation letters, and fantastic essays, but if you aren't a good fit for the school you are applying to, you will most likely get turned away in favor of a candidate who is a good fit.

Many MBA candidates start their search for the right school by looking at business school rankings. Although rankings are important - they give you a great picture of the school's reputation - they are not the only thing that matters. To find a school that is a fit for your academic ability and career goals, you need to look beyond rankings and into the school's culture, people, and location.

  • Culture: Business school culture is an important factor because it dictates the environment. Some schools have a close-knit, collaborative culture; others have a more competitive culture that encourages self-sufficiency. You need to ask yourself what kind of student you are and what type of environment you are most likely to thrive in.
  • People: You will be spending a lot of time with the people in your incoming class. Would you prefer a large class or small intimate classes? And what about the professors? Do you want to be taught by people who value research or do you want professors who focus on application?
  • Location: Cost of living, weather, proximity to family, networking opportunities, and internship availability are all affected by the location of your business school. A big city will likely come with more opportunities, but it may also be more expensive to study in this type of environment. A small college town or a rural setting could be more affordable, but may provide fewer opportunities for networking and culture.

    Find Out What the School Is Looking For

    Every business school will tell you that they work hard to build a diverse class and that they don't have a typical student. While that may be true on some level, every business school has an archetypical student. This student is almost always professional, business-minded, passionate, and willing to work hard to achieve their goals. Beyond that, every school is different, so you need to understand what the school is looking for to ensure that 1.) the school is a good fit for you 2.) you can deliver an application that fits their needs.

    You can get to know the school by visiting the campus, speaking to current students, reaching out to the alumni network, attending MBA fairs, and conducting good old-fashioned research. Seek out interviews that have been conducted with the school's admission officers, peruse the school's blog and other publications, and read everything you can about the school.

    Eventually, a picture will begin to form that shows you what the school is looking for. For example, the school may be looking for students who have leadership potential, strong technical abilities, the desire to collaborate, and an interest in social responsibility and global business. When you find that the school is looking for something you have, you need to let that piece of you shine in your resume, essays, and recommendations.

    Avoid Common Mistakes

    Nobody is perfect. Mistakes happen. But you don’t want to make a silly mistake that makes you look bad to an admissions committee. There are a few common mistakes that applicants make time and time again. You might scoff at some of these and think that you would never be careless enough to make that mistake, but keep in mind that the applicants who made these mistakes probably thought the same thing at one time.

    • Recycling essays. If you are applying to multiple schools (and you should), it is important to write an original essay for each application. Don't recycle your MBA application essays. Admissions committees can spot this trick from a mile away. And if you do disregard this advice and decide to recycle the essay, remember to change the name of the school in the essay. Believe it or not, applicants make this mistake every year! If you submit an essay to Columbia explaining why you want to go to Harvard, the admissions committee will peg you as someone who doesn’t pay attention to detail - and they'll be right to do so.
    • Not Sharing. Admissions committees look through a lot of essays every year. This can be extremely boring - especially when the essays are generic. The point of the essay is to help admissions committees get to know you, so let your personality shine. Demonstrate who you are. It will help your application.
    • Skipping Optional Opportunities. Some business schools have optional essays or optional interviews. Don't make the mistake of skipping these optional opportunities. Show the school that you want to get in. Do the essay. Do the interview. And take advantage of every other opportunity that comes your way.
    • Not Retaking the GMAT. GMAT scores are important to your application. If your scores aren't falling in the range for the previous year's entering class, you should retake the GMAT to get a better score. The Graduate Management Admission Council reports that approximately one-third of the people who take the GMAT take it at least twice, if not more. Most of these people increase their score the second time around. Be one of those people.