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What Business Schools Want to See in Your Application

Joshua is the digital strategist for MBA@UNC, the University of North Carolina’s online executive MBA program. Joshua is also a data nerd who loves gadgets, movies, and all things movies. You can find him on Twitter @joshuavjohn.


What Business Schools Want to See in Your Application

There is no standardized process to evaluate business school applications. Each of the top 10 business schools has its own methodology to understand an individual applicant. Nevertheless, there are certain personality traits and academic achievements that all business schools look for in prospective students.


A Habit of Leadership

The purpose of an MBA program is to groom graduates to become business leaders and innovators. Schools want to see a habit of leadership in applicants’ personal and professional lives. This can mean leading a team on an important project in the office, initiating a community program to provide education to underprivileged children, or even a personal accomplishment, such as learning a new language or musical instrument. Essentially, it all boils down to being hands-on, initiating action, and demonstrating leadership credentials throughout your career.



Top business schools want their graduates to be agents of change. They want them to dream (and plan) big, shoot for the stars, and make their proverbial dent in the Universe. Aiming for a steady career as a mid-level executive at a Wall Street bank isn’t good enough; you have to try to change the world and create something spectacular in the process. Of course, ambition needs to be tempered with reality, so be prepared to be grilled heavily on any world-changing plans that you might have! Not to worry though, as the feedback and criticism you receive will help you grow and succeed.


Consistent Academic Performances

Whatever everyone else might say, your academics still play a crucial role in your application. Top B-schools want to see consistently good performances, not flashes of intermittent brilliance. As a business school graduate, you will be expected to fit into an existing corporate system where steadfastness is more valued than meteoric genius. Consistent academic performances tell the admission committee not only that you have the intellectual capability to handle difficult coursework, but can also work hard to do justice to your intellectual talents.


A Compelling Story

Make no mistake about it: your MBA application is a story. And just like any good story, it too must have its share of drama and intrigue. Granted, plenty of plain vanilla applicants get through each year, but admission committees also favor candidates from off the beaten track who have more compelling stories to tell. Consider each aspect of your application – the academic credentials, GMAT score, work history, references, etc. – as narrative elements that can help you craft a story. It’s your responsibility to arrange these individual arrangements in a manner that highlights your unique personal and professional story.


A Good Fit

“Fit” is a rather ambiguous word that is bandied about aplenty in MBA applications. But what does “fit” really mean?
Essentially, fit is the aggregation of a school’s culture and identity built up over years of expertise and focus on certain characteristics and management pursuits. Some schools are focus on operations, while others emphasize entrepreneurship. Some attract investment bankers, some become the camping ground for ex-journalists and writers. Some are quant focused, others are more conceptual in their approach. Seeing whether is an applicant fits into the school’s culture, therefore, is a crucial part of the application vetting process. A wrong fit, after all, can affect the school as much as it affects the student.

An MBA application is more than the sum of its many parts. It is essentially a brief biography of your life, one that you get to write yourself. Admissions committees don’t merely look for a catalog of personality traits and academic requirements; they consider your application as a whole to see whether you represent as good an investment for the school, as the school does for you.


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