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Applying to Business School

Business school applications typically evaluate applicants on the same criteria:

  • Essays
  • Educational background
  • GMAT score(s)
  • TOEFL score(s) - International students only
  • Work experience/résumé (including salaries)
  • Extracurricular activities (current and during college)
  • Recommendations
  • Transcripts

We view the application process in two steps:

Step 1: Preparation work which includes obtaining transcripts and recommendations, updating your résumé, and scheduling interviews

Step 2: Writing Essays and completing application forms

Do not underestimate the amount of time that it will take you to complete each application form, write Essays, and proofread. It is possible to complete an application in a few hours, but it is likely that your hastiness will show, particularly in your Essays. A good application takes a significant amount of time and requires multiple proofreadings from multiple people over a number of weeks. The most time-consuming part of the application is the Essays, which we discuss in detail below.

Go4BSchool Hint:   DO NOT wait until just before the deadline to submit your online application. It is possible that you will miss the deadline because the school's server will be jammed with other last-minute applicants trying to upload their information. Ideally, aim to submit your application at least a few days before the actual deadline. That way, if you experience a technical glitch, you have time to contact the admissions office to sort it out. You also avoid some of the stress of counting down the minutes or hours until the deadline, and your application is likely to have fewer mistakes as a result.


Essays provide the best opportunity for you to present the aspects of yourself and your experiences on which you want the admissions committee to focus. Keep in mind that you should not provide your life's story. Instead, you should use specific stories/examples to portray particular points about who you are. Before you start writing you Essays, you should think about the picture of yourself that you want to paint and make sure that your Essays and the rest of your application fit this persona. Think of yourself as a product that needs to marketed. What attributes do you have? What makes you unique? Why did you switch jobs? What are your goals? Why should the admissions staff offer you a place in next year's class? You must define an image of yourself in order to present yourself and your goals in a clear, consistent way. Even if you are not planning to apply until the second or third application round, it is wise to obtain a list of each school's essay questions when they are made available in the late summer/early fall. This will allow you to start thinking about your self-marketing approach.

Things to do before you start writing:

  1. Define your overall "marketing" strategy
    How do you want to position yourself? The way you position yourself in your Essays should be consistent with the way you come across in your recommendations and interviews.

    For example, are you an advertising account exec with entrepreneurial dreams? Then, you will need to be able to explain exactly what you plan to do, why you want to leave your current industry, and how you plan to get from point A to point B. You may frame yourself as a personable, team-player oozing with creativity who wants to work for a fast-paced start-up. But, you will also need to show that you are capable of handling analytical work - highlight any quantitative professional responsibilities you have had, classes you took in college or more recently, etc.

    Of course, if you are a CPA or an analyst, the opposite is true. You should make sure that the admissions staff gets the sense that you are personable and can work well with other people. The top business schools accept a great variety of people, but (for the most part) they all have something in common: well-roundedness.

  2. Make a list of attributes and experiences
    Jot down examples of stories that illustrate your unique qualities and experiences. You want to use stories to show the admissions committee who you are and why you are unique and qualified to be a student at the school.

    Go4BSchool Hint:   Balance the professional and personal elements that you discuss in your Essays (75/25 is a good balance for most applicants)

  3. Develop a message track
    Most business schools ask the same questions in different ways. Using (1) and (2) above, develop answers to each of the Essays questions that most schools ask:
    • What are your long and short-term career goals?
    • Why do you want an MBA?
    • Why do you want to get your MBA now?
    • Why is our MBA program a good fit for you?

  4. Start preparing for Unusual Questions
    While many business schools ask similar questions, a number of the top schools ask questions that require a little more creativity. Some of our favorites from the last few years include:
    • If you could be present at any event in time, what would it be and why? (Chicago)
    • You have been selected as a member of the Kellogg Admissions Committee. Please provide a brief evaluative assessment of your file? (Kellogg)
    • What matters most to you and why? (Stanford)
    • Identify someone you regard as a hero, a leader or role model whom you admire. Describe how this person has influenced your life. (Harvard)
    • Describe an idea you have had for a new business or product or a new service line of an existing entity. (Michigan)

By following the steps above, you should feel more prepared when you sit down to write your Essays. Your preparation should help you to write stronger and more focused Essays. Also, when it comes time to interview, you should be able to answer the interviewer's questions clearly and concisely, since you will have already organized your thoughts.

Educational Background

You will likely be asked to list all of the schools you have attended. Some business schools will ask you to go back as far as high school. If you have taken any courses since graduating from college, be sure to include them. If you lack a strong quantitative background, you may considering taking an accounting, statistics,and/or calculus course before applying to show that you are knowledgeable in the subject area(s) and capable of doing well in quantitative courses. These courses will also be useful for handling the business school curriculum once you are admitted.

GMAT Score(s)

You may be asked to provide your GMAT scores in one of a variety of forms: highest score, top three highest scores, highest combination of math/verbal, etc. You will usually be asked to provide the overall score and percentile, individual math and verbal scores and percentiles, and the AWA score. Filing all of your GMAT paperwork when you receive it will prevent you from having to scramble when it comes time to locate this information.

TOEFL Score(s)

International students for whom English is a second language are required to take the TOEFL. Click here to learn more about the TOFEL and applying as an international student.

Work Experience/Résumé

Typically, a business school's online application form will allow you to upload or cut and paste your résumé. Some applications will ask you to list your jobs and provide a brief summary of your responsibilities or what you learned from being in the position. This can be harder than it sounds because the schools limit your brief summary of responsibilities to 150 or 200 words, which can seem pretty limiting when you are trying to describe everything that you do. Pay careful attention to the instructions that each business school provides; it is likely that you will have to provide your salaries for each position.

Updating your résumé for business school applications and interviews is similar to preparing your résumé for potential employers. Just as some people tailor their résumé to the job they are applying for, you should tailor you application résumé to business school. It should be fashioned in such a way to be consistent with the way you are marketing yourself and to show that you have the experience and personal qualities that the school is seeking. We recommend saving a different version of your résumé for each application depending on the specific instructions that each business school provides.

When updating your résumé for business school applications, you should:

  1. Focus on your accomplishments, not your responsibilities;
  2. Use action verbs to describe your accomplishments;
  3. Tailor each résumé to accentuate the skills and experience each school is interested in;
  4. Include your involvement in community service, volunteer work, and/or other activities;
  5. Spell check your résumé and have at least one other person read it for grammar, clarity, and spelling errors.

Your résumé should not exceed two pages and many schools require it to be one page. Again, carefully read the instructions for applying to see what each business school requires.

Click here to find out how our experts can make your résumé stand out from the other applicants.

Extracurricular Activities (current and during college)

Admissions officers want to see a pattern of involvement and increasing responsibility in at least one extracurricular activity. Make a list of activities and dates that you were involved in them to make your life easier when it comes time to apply. You may also be asked to provide the number of hours per week or month that you participated in each activity.


Most schools require two or three recommendations from supervisors, teachers, guidance counselors, advisors, coaches, or even peers. Business schools usually provide recommendation forms that can be emailed or mailed back to the school. When selecting your recommenders, choose people who know you well and can articulate your strengths and contributions using specific examples.

Also, since your recommenders will be doing you a favor and often have busy schedules, make sure that you give them plenty of time to complete your recommendations before the deadlines. You should ask for recommendations at least two months before the recommendation letters are due, so they have ample time to complete the task. If the letters have to be mailed, do not forget to provide them with stamped envelopes addressed to the business schools. If you are having them write multiple recommendations it is helpful to provide them with a list of the schools, deadlines, and means of submission (e.g. via mail, online, etc.). Make sure that you write a thank you notes to your recommenders after they submit your recommendations.

Business schools will give you the option of waiving your right to see each recommendation. Choosing this option makes the recommendation appear less biased, since the person writing it knows that only the admissions officers will be able to read it. While you may be curious about what was written about you, we suggest waiving your right to view the recommendation.

By the time you start filling out applications, your recommenders should already be working on your recommendations. We suggest keeping a list of deadlines and recommenders and checking in with them every few weeks to see if they have any questions and subtly remind them about the deadline. It is your responsibility to track the status of your application and ensure that your recommendations have been submitted.


You will be asked to provide an official and/or unofficial transcript from any collegiate and post-collegiate institutions you have attended. You may be asked to mail in a copy of your transcript(s) or type it into a downloadable Excel form. The latter can be time-consuming, so allow yourself plenty of time to complete the task. Typically, only Accepted applicants are required to submit official transcripts prior to matriculation. This means that you may not need to submit official transcripts to each business school.

Requesting sealed, embossed copies of your undergraduate and graduate (if applicable) transcripts is usually a straight-forward process, but it does take a few weeks to complete. Generally, going to your alma mater's website is the best place to start. Your college is likely to have an 'alumni' link on its home page. If you click on that link, you can usually find information about transcript requests. If the information does not appear there, find the page for the registrar's office. The charge per transcript copy varies by college but it is usually between $5 and $12 per copy. We advise allowing three weeks for transcript requests to be processed and mailed to your home. You should also order a few extra copies to have on hand in case you decide to apply to additional schools that may require official transcripts up-front.

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