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10 Tips for Getting Accepted to a Top MBA Program

by Student Loan Daddy

There’s a lot of blood, sweat, and tears that goes into trying get into a top-ranked business school. The most prestigious MBA programs, like HarvardWharton, and Stanford, for example, only accept, on average, about 10 percent of their applicants. But before you chuck your MBA dreams and start planning your backup barista career as you think about that intimidating 90 percent who don’t make it, read on because we’ve got 10 tips to help you become one of those 10 percent who do.

    1. Ace the GMAT
      Scores for the Graduate Management Admission Test can range from 200 to 800. Although the national average is around 500, the GMAT average at top schools can be over 700.
    1. Research the schools you apply to
      Never choose a school off a list or just because it’s in the top 10 whatever. Find out which MBA program is right for you. Visit campuses, talk with professors and graduates, even sit in on a class if you can. This kind of firsthand experience can also be of enormous value in an interview or an essay when you’re asked why you want to go to a particular school or why you’d be a good fit — you’ll actually have an honest, convincing answer to give.
    1. Give yourself a head start
      Start the entire application process — testing, researching schools, requesting recommendations, writing essays — as far in advance as possible. This stuff takes a lot of time, far more than you might expect, especially if you’re dealing with a crazy senior-year schedule, work hours, or family obligations at the same time. Try implementing some time management tools and strategies to help make sure you’re able to get everything done.
    1. There’s no hurry
      Although business schools each operate on their own schedule, the general rule of thumb is that they accept one round of applications in October and another in early January. Stacy Blackman, a nationally recognized MBA admissions consultant, claims there’s no advantage to rushing your application package for October. As long as you don’t blow a deadline, quality will always count more than speed.
    1. Be yourself
      It’s important, especially in essays and interviews, to be completely true to yourself, instead of trying to be what you think MBA programs are looking for. It might seem counterintuitive, but trying to convince a top business school that you’re the typical, safe, sure-thing student they can feel comfortable with can backfire on you. Selective admissions committees are looking for standouts — MBA candidates who display originality, inventiveness, and a greater variety of backgrounds and personalities.
    1. Address chinks in your armor
      Don’t avoid the areas of your application that reveal you’re human. Admissions committees want explanations for everything, and they won’t expect you — or, for that matter, believe you — to be perfect, so don’t try to hide behind a mask of perfection. If you play your cards right, you can turn your potential liabilities into strengths. Maybe you’ve been laid off or fired before. So talk about how you bounced back with your next employer. If you have a few bad grades as an undergrad, explain the difficulties you encountered with those classes, and then talk about what you learned from those challenges.
    1. Be mindful of recommendations …
      Letters of recommendation are crucial to your attractiveness as a business school candidate. Too often, MBA applicants will get caught up in the essay portion of their application and not focus on getting their recommendations until the last minute. In the end, this can be a critical flaw if your recommendations come off as rushed by professors or employers trying to get them in for you on time — not to mention that the most recent impression your recommenders will have of you as they’re writing about you is that you waited until the eleventh hour to ask for a recommendation. Avoid looking disorganized and unprofessional by asking for references early and staying on top of things to make sure they get submitted on time.
    1. … and get them from the right people
      Surprisingly, the prestige or prominence of your letter writer has far less to do with the power of the recommendation than you might think. CEOs are often not good choices — unless you worked with them on a daily basis, all they can really say about you will be generic and canned. Admissions committees are looking for relevancy in letters of recommendation. They want specific examples of your behavior, competence, ethics, teamwork, leadership — some personal insight into who you are. A CEO you see once a week can’t provide these things. Go to professors, managers, close colleagues, and clients instead.
    1. Put your application in front of another pair of eyes
      Have one or two people look over your application before you send it in. They can help you spot typos, things you missed, and things you can improve on, like essay do’s and don’ts. But don’t invite too many chefs into the kitchen, or your application will end up sounding like it was written by committee — either patchwork and all over the place, or whitewashed of any singular point of view or personality — and that’s never a good idea when you’re trying to leave a lasting impression.
  1. Don’t wait around on the wait list
    You might think that getting wait-listed is as good as a rejection. But that’s not necessarily the case: Of the 559 students Wharton put on its wait list in 2004, for example, 173 — over 30 percent — were eventually admitted, according to MBA Map. It can be just a matter of time before an admissions committee gets around to reconsidering you, and you shouldn’t spend a moment wasting any. If you didn’t score as high as you would’ve liked on the GMAT the first time around, take it again, and submit your new scores if they’re better. Send another letter of recommendation. You can also write your own follow-up letter to detail anything new that happens while you’re on the wait list, like a promotion or award. And prepare yourself for the possibility of being called by the admissions committee for an interview.

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