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Applying for Business School: Tips and Strategies for Success

August 22, 2023
Young woman student applying online to college while in a library.

Everyone wants to make a first good impression. Your MBA application is an opportunity to showcase your best skills and prove why you’re a stellar candidate for business school. The pool of applicants for some of the nation’s best business schools continues to grow more competitive, with GMAT scores hitting new highs in 2022,1 so it's important to do everything you can to stand out. From standardized tests to transcripts, you need to put your best foot forward if you want a shot at a top MBA program

Keep reading to learn more about how to meet–and exceed–admission requirements to build a top-notch MBA application. 

Aim for the Right Deadlines 

At many schools, the admissions committee evaluates MBA applicants over multiple rounds. Although every school is different, there are usually four rounds for applicants to choose from:2

  1. Round one — September/October
  2. Round two — December/January
  3. Round three — April/May 
  4. Round four — July/August

However, the process isn’t always straightforward. Some business schools offer only one start date each year, while others allow students to choose one of a few start dates throughout the year. Depending on the school and program, deadlines may vary. 

Whatever deadline and start date you choose, it’s important to start as early as possible in preparing your MBA admissions materials. While more admissions offers and scholarship prizes may be awarded in the earliest stages of application review, the odds of getting these accolades will only be high if your application is strong enough to earn a spot. So if you need to polish your application, make sure you take the time to do that and don't sacrifice quality for speed.3  

Start the GMAT and GRE Process Early 

There are two tests at the heart of every MBA resume: Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) and Graduate Record Examinations (GRE). Most schools only require candidates to submit scores from one test or the other, but there's a growing number of schools that don't require the exams at all. At Marquette University, the exams are provisional. Only candidates who don't meet certain requirements (such as a 3.0 GPA or completion of college-level statistics and calculus with a B- or higher) are required to submit a GMAT or GRE scores.

If you decide to apply to a business school that requires the exams, it takes a solid performance on either test to make it past the screening criteria for many business schools. To impress some of the top business schools in the country, you would need to get an exceptionally high score. The most demanding business schools tend to admit students with GMAT scores well above the norm: an average of 724.4

In 2021, top schools admitted applicants with an average combined GRE score between 325 and 330.5

You don’t have to score in the top percentile to have a competitive MBA application. But many business schools consider the GMAT and GRE tests to be a proven predictor of a prospective students' academic performance if accepted into the program.6 You can take either test up to five times in a 12-month period, so starting early can give you a chance to retake the test and strive for a better score.7,8

It's also important to remember that your test score is just one part of a much broader application process. A less-than-ideal score won’t necessarily break your application, as many programs consider each candidate based on a range of factors, including undergraduate transcripts, resumes, references, application essays, and interviews. 

Tell an authentic story 

While everything from your transcript to your test scores can play a role in the admissions process, a business school is looking for more than just academic readiness. According to admissions officers, the top business schools are looking for students with demonstrated leadership skills. In particular, they’re looking for an applicant who makes a “meaningful contribution” to the school programs, extracurriculars, and organizations on their resume.9

Keep this in mind when building your resume, writing application essays, and preparing for interviews. Think about how you can tell the most compelling and authentic story. What’s your professional background? What have you learned from your experiences–both successes and failures? Where do you want to take your career after business school? 

Do diligent school research

If you’re sending the same application to multiple schools or copy-pasting essay answers in each application, you could be hurting your chances. Experts say that general statements aren’t enough. Admissions committees want to understand why you’ve chosen this school specifically.10 The more you can show that your personal and professional objectives align with the school’s values, the better. 

To stand out from the applicant pool, do your research to understand what makes each school unique. Highlight the professional goals or personal experiences that align with the business school. For example, a marketing certification for a marketing-focused MBA program. You can also point toward the MBA program’s offerings that are most relevant to your career goals, from elective classes to clubs. 

Choosing the Right MBA Program for Your Schedule

The journey to business school is challenging. But with the right strategies in mind, it doesn’t have to be complicated. You’ve already put in the hard work to get to this point. Now it’s time to put your personal experiences into an application to the business school of your choice. 

At Marquette University you'll find a challenging yet rewarding MBA program that focuses on the contemporary business techniques and knowledge you need to succeed. Marquette's online MBA helps you fit business school into your busy life with a 100% online program. Our expert faculty work with students one-on-one to help them reach their full potential. Learn more about applying for our online MBA by scheduling a call with an admissions outreach advisor today.