Planning to apply to a top MBA program? Here's what you should be doing right now.

How do you actually start the process of applying to an MBA program?

Are you planning on applying to a top MBA program? Below we offer some helpful tips on how to start the process and set yourself up for the success you deserve.

1: Determine your reasons for wanting an MBA

Before you do anything else, set aside some time by yourself to fully explore why you want to pursue an MBA and what you hope to gain from obtaining this advanced degree. While this seems simple, it is important to know for yourself what you want from a program and what you intend to do with the knowledge and experience you will gain from the education you receive. These will likely be things you share in essays and admission interviews, but even if you are never formally asked why you want to attend business school, knowing the reasons yourself will be instrumental in guiding you to select the program that is best for you. Here are a few questions to consider:

  • Why do you want an MBA? Are you seeking a promotion, career change, or salary increase? Or, are you interested in a deeper understanding of modern business-related knowledge and practices and strengthening your professional network?

  • How will you pay for your MBA? Will you require financial assistance? Have you considered where to obtain such assistance?

  • Is this truly the right time in your personal and professional life to pursue an MBA? What are the pros and cons of attending a program sooner rather than later?

  • Do you prefer to attend a program in person or online? Are you willing to relocate in order to attend a particular program in person? Are you able to attend a program fulltime or is attending parttime/on evenings and weekends a better option for you?

Answering these and other questions you might think of will help you define and refine your reasons for pursuing an MBA.

2: Research programs

Before beginning any important venture, it is important to do your research…knowing where you want to go will guide so much of your later decision making, allowing you to focus your attention where it matters and helping you avoid wasting time, energy, and money. You likely already have some idea of what school you would like to attend, but it is important to spend some time on the program's website, familiarizing yourself with the particulars of the application process, learning about their typical incoming class, reading the accomplishments of recent graduates, and more.

By the time you are ready to seriously begin the process of applying to MBA programs, you will probably have heard a great deal about various programs, but that information might not be the most accurate or up-to-date, and the best place to learn about a program, its admission requirements, as well as its courses, is directly from the program itself. Researching an MBA program also allows you to gain a better understanding of what the school values; some programs might focus on producing graduates who go on to work for top international companies whiles others might focus on graduating people who want to be leaders in their local community or favor entrepreneurship. The more you know, the more certain you can be that the program is a good fit for you (and that you are a good fit for the program).

3: Go beyond the website and connect

After you have a sense of the programs you would like to apply to, use the connections and relationships you already have to become more acquainted with the program on a personal level. Do you have undergraduate professors who attended an MBA program you are interested in? Schedule a meeting with them to talk about their experiences. Do you have a colleague who attended a particular MBA program? Take them out to lunch and ask them to share their experiences, what they liked as well as what they didn't, and let them tell you things they wished they would have known before attending that particular program.

Do you have a friend who knows someone who works in the admissions department of an MBA program? Reach out and see about scheduling a phone call or online meeting to learn more about their experiences and what the program looks for in prospective students. Does someone in your family or circle of friends know a professor in an MBA program? Ask them to connect the two of you and gain an increased familiarity with the overall program curriculum, as well as what professors expect of first-year MBA students. Do not be shy about using any and all connections you have when learning about individual MBA programs, as this allows you to expand your professional network while also gathering important information that will ultimately determine where you apply.

4. Go to online events hosted by the school

Many MBA programs now offer virtual or online opportunities for prospective MBA students to learn more about the application process, as well as the program in general, and we strongly encourage you to take advantage of such opportunities. They are usually free and do not require travel, overnight accommodations, or taking a significant amount of time off from work or school. These virtual events can be wonderful places to begin establishing connections and, depending on the size of the event, you might have the opportunity to interact one-on-one with an admission officer or others involved in the admission process. Attending such an event also demonstrates your sincere interest in the school, allowing staff and faculty to begin getting to know you, or at least start the process of developing name recognizability.

It can be incredibly helpful to practice introducing yourself and saying a bit about why you are interested in attending this particular program prior to participating in an online event, as you might have the opportunity to share during the event and being unprepared is not the first impression you want to make. We also recommend having a few thoughtful questions on hand, as this demonstrates you have at least some knowledge of the program and are seeking to build upon that knowledge. It is advisable to craft questions whose answers cannot be easily found on the program's website, perhaps asking what someone likes most about the program or asking them to share something they wish they had known back when they were considering applying to MBA programs.

5. Visit the school in person

The ultimate way to test how you feel about a certain program is to visit the school in person. This is something you should devote some time to, as you should not simply show up on campus one day asking to sit in on classes or take a tour. Think about what you would like to accomplish during your time on campus and plan accordingly. Is there a class you would like to sit in on? Reach out to the instructor or teaching assistant well in advance to make certain such a visit would be welcome. Are there campus tours available during your time there? Sign up for one or arrange for a private tour that highlights the particular program of interest to you. Is there a way to have lunch with a current student? Contacting the Admission Office and letting them know you are interested in gaining a better first-hand experience of the school can lead to many different opportunities to connect with current students, staff, and faculty. Remember, you want to make a good impression, so be polite and respectful towards the people you meet and appreciative of the fact that they are taking time to help you.

After your visit, it can be nice to send individual follow-up emails to the people who helped you during your time on campus, either meeting with you, showing you around, or simply answering questions. If you have any additional questions that were not answered during your visit, or that you perhaps developed as a result of your visit, this can be a good time to ask them.

In Conclusion…

These five tips should help you get a jump start on selecting the right MBA program for you. Applying to MBA programs is a long and complicated process, but skills such as learning to pace yourself, prioritizing tasks, and meeting deadlines are necessary to succeed in such a program, and the application process is simply one part of ensuring you are prepared for the quantitative rigors of the classwork to come.

After researching MBA programs and visiting schools virtually or in person, it will be time to start your application process. Go to the website of each school you are considering applying to, open an account, and start filling in any information you can, including name, date of birth, past educational information, etc. While this can seem premature, it will save you precious time later in the application process and ensure you can devote your full attention to more complex aspects of the application, such as essay questions. Doing more tedious work whenever you are able makes the overall application process easier and keeps you from having to rush through paperwork closer to the application deadline.

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