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The Most Important Part of Your MBA Application Is….

A guest post from our friends at InsideTheAdCom, enjoy!

The most important part of your MBA application is the decision of where to apply.

You might be thinking “What???” so I’ll explain why this is true.

The decision about what MBA programs you should apply to is complicated and more important than people sometimes recognize.

Imagine you are a confident and ambitious person with aspirations to a highly ranked MBA program.  You know you are able to succeed in any situation and that with the MBA behind you, you will have an excellent career.

Now imagine that you have a 2.6 undergraduate GPA, a few months of work experience, and a 550 GMAT.  With this reality you must ask yourself again: “where should I apply?”  Should you still apply to Wharton?  Harvard Business School? Stanford?  Maybe, but chances are really high that if your application qualifications do not change, those business schools and many others are out of reach.

There are many factors leading to a wise decision about where to apply, and they should be considered seriously, objectively, and professionally.  In the MBA admissions process you are a marketer marketing the biggest product of your life to date: your application.


Post MBA Career Goals

In counseling prospective applicants when I was an Admissions Dean and now with private coaching clients, I always start the discussion with a focus on career outcomes.  The greater the definition here, the easier your applications will be.  Defining the function you want to work in, the industry you want to work in, or both (ideally) will create a stable benchmark to use when screening possible MBA programs for fit.  Be clear about what you want.  Be decisive and don’t worry about keeping a pile of other options open.  Define a career path in the range of 3-5 years after completing an MBA only because farther out your career will also be influenced by many issues not related to your business school choice.

Program focus

Once you know what your career goals are, you can easily review the many MBA programs out there to see if they offer a program focus that meets your needs.  Imagine again that your focus is the international construction sector.  Then you could be very interested in programs that contain a project management or construction management track (there are few, by the way).  If your career plan is to work in services marketing (as opposed to fast moving consumer goods, for example), then you can find programs that have that focus.  Of course, the less focused your goals, the more programs potentially fit – because you still don’t know what you want to do.

This section of your homework is very important.  If you find a school that offers a particular program niche you are seeking, or has a feature of their program that is a perfect match for your interests or needs, you will be able to reveal that in your essays.  The more completely you describe why this particular school is a good fit, the better your essay will be received.  The same holds true for admissions interviews.  The more articulate you are about why this school, the stronger your application will be perceived.

MBA Profile

Next, you can check the enrolled student profiles for the short list of schools you have created.  This is no touchy feely exercise.  You need to know how much you look like the typical student enrolled in the program (statistically speaking).  This involves checking the enrolled student averages for: work experience, GMAT, GPA, TOEFL or IELTS scores.  This process identifies programs that you may be very competitive for, which ones could be a stretch, and which you would likely be uncompetitive for.  While statistics don’t tell the entire story about your chances of admission, they are a very tangible part of your school identification process.  If you are competitive with these factors, or even a few of them, then consider keeping the school on your list to apply to.  If you are not competitive and have no plan to become more competitive, eliminate the school from consideration – and don’t second guess yourself.

Other factors

There are many other factors often considered in the choice about where to apply.  Some of them are more important and others not at all.  Everyone has to make their own decision about what influences their decision.  Please also consider:

  • City setting: Large urban, suburban, rural, no preference
  • Weather: always warm, always dry, real winters, no special considerations
  • Local industries that match your interests.
  • Cultural connection: typically more important for international students.

Sorting it all out

So once you identified your career goals and started checking lots of schools for matching programs or industries, then you screen them for competitiveness with the student profile.  This gets you to a short list of schools to consider.  The other considerations will further help you shape this group into a priority ranked list.  After that, start looking at admissions deadlines and rearranging the list in chronological order and start your applications.  All the reasons you found a good fit can become part of the admissions narrative you create with your essay, statement of purpose, or in the interview.  Keep them in mind as you prepare.

Earning MBA admission

So you go through this thorough screening process starting with maybe 100 or more schools.  By the time it is all done, perhaps you have 7-15 schools on your “shortlist”.  These should be schools that you can articulate how they compliment your career goals, they should offer a focus track that matches your needs, and your qualifications should be competitive.  Of course, if you apply to six schools, try to make two slight stretch goals, two or three that are competitive matches for your qualifications, and one or two that you are more highly competitive at.

There are good schools offering great educations everywhere.  Good luck finding the right programs for you!


About the author

This is a guest post by Daniel Chatham, who writes the Inside the Admissions Committee blog.  Mr. Chatham is a former dean of admissions and financial aid with ten years in professional school admissions for public and private universities where his program areas were top 50 MBA, top 15 international relations, and premier professional science masters degree programs.  He now provides private admissions coaching for candidates and can be reached at


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