Applying to business school

The key information about the application process and some tips for success

Applying to business school for one of the courses open to recent graduates is daunting: there are seemingly endless forms to fill in, essays to write, packs of documents to compile, and tests to take. Here's our guide to the process, plus some top tips to help you get into your school of choice.

The application process for business school courses open to recent graduates usually consists of five key components (outlined below): the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test), essay questions, CV, references, and interviews.

The process takes a lot of work and requires self-reflection, detailed research, and proactivity. But remember that the effort you put in now could pay off in the form of an acceptance letter from your first choice business school.

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.

Essays

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.

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.

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. Outline your short, mid and long-term career goals. How would a master's degree at business school help you to achieve them?

In addition, make sure you're well read on the business world and current affairs in general.

Application tips

Be specific

Business schools want to know why you're applying to their programme in particular, rather than competing ones. Do careful research into the content of the course you're applying for and express an interest when you're applying in the elements that are particularly attractive to you.

In addition, look up what additional opportunities are on offer - for example, internships or time spent studying abroad. Mentioning your interest in these on your application or in an interview shows the admissions committee that you're really interested in the course and the professional value it could bring you.

Link your application to your career path

Make sure your application looks forward to your potential career options when you graduate and explains where the business school fits in. That can be hard if you're not sure what you want to go into yet, but it's important to give the admissions committee a sense as to why you want to go to business school.

Is there something you're particularly interested in - energy, the luxury market, innovation? Does the university have courses, opportunities or professors specifically linked to these? Research these and mention them on your application form and in interviews.

Network!

Try to engage with alumni from the course you're applying to or similar courses. You can ask them about specifics of the course or get advice on your application.

You can find alumni through a search on LinkedIn or Facebook, or through business schools themselves - some have even built up banks of alumni volunteers who have said they're happy to advise and help applicants.

Image: André Mouraux (https://www.flickr.com/photos/spigoo/)

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