Applying to business school is a mixture of applying to university and applying for a job, and like either of these processes, it’s about plenty of research, careful preparation, and thinking about what you want.
The application process for business school courses open to recent graduates usually consists of four key components: the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test), a standardised quantitative and qualitative test taken by most business school applicants; CV and essay questions; references, usually from your university tutors and any employers or internship supervisors you've had; and interviews with recruiters and faculty members.
Business school application stage 1: the GMAT
The GMAT can be the most time-consuming aspect of the process, because it takes most students some time to get used to the structure of the test – the types of quantitative and qualitative questions found on the GMAT are not something commonly encountered at undergraduate level.
Most business schools require scores in the range of 600-800 (out of 800), which might take some practice to achieve so it’s best to take an organised approach and start preparing early.
Take the diagnostic test featured on GMAT’s website, identify your areas of weaknesses, and practice questions within those areas. Some companies offer GMAT courses, including online-only ones – consider taking one if you’re really struggling.
Business school application stage 2: CV and essays
As with a university or job application, applying to business school will require you to produce a CV that represents a comprehensive yet clear summary of your educational and professional experience and skills.
The essays are often considered to be the most difficult part of the application process because they take a significant amount of self-reflection and structuring. Some business schools ask you to write multiple shorter essays, while others will be satisfied with one.
When you have to write multiple essays, it’s important to view them as a whole and to use the range of topics to illuminate different dimensions of your identity – for example, personal qualities, interests, skills, and so on. If you have to write just one, make sure you get all of these aspects in.
Many programmes are very international, so highlight any languages, travel, or international experience that you have.
Business school application stage 3: references
If you have make a choice, choose less senior referees who will give you a very enthusiastic, positive reference over ones in higher-powered positions who are less likely to. Similarly, it’s better to get a reference from someone who’s worked with you closely and can provide memorable anecdotes rather than someone who knows you less well.
For example, if a partner at a consulting firm where you interned over the summer offers to give you a reference but will only be able to write generic, bland statements about your performance, instead ask the more junior project leader who can bring your positive qualities to life through detailed examples.
In addition, make sure you choose referees that reflect different aspects of your life – for example, one referee could be a university tutor and the other an internship employer.
Business school application stage 4: interviews
Prepare for business school interviews as you would for a job interview. Remember that the admissions committee is looking for people who will excel not only academically on the programme, but also as part of the business school community and post-graduation.
Think careful about your educational, professional and personal achievements so far and how to present them. Make sure you can outline your short, mid and long-term career goals and how a master’s degree at business school would help you to achieve them.
In addition, make sure you're well read on the business world and current affairs in general.