What Makes an Ideal Business School Application?

By Catherine Groux
Posted October 16, 2012 12:00 PM

Business schools look for a few common elements in all applications.
Business schools look for a few common elements in all applications.
If individuals want to be accepted to one of the nation's top business schools, it is important for their applications to stand out from the crowd. While each institution has its own way of judging candidates, most agree on a few elements an ideal business school application should possess. On top of a strong undergraduate GPA and significant work experience, students who apply to Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs should consider including the following elements on their applications: 

A Strong Letter of Recommendation

Keith Vaugh, assistant dean of MBA admissions at the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business, recently told The Wall Street Journal that one of the biggest mistakes applicants make is not spending enough time with the professional who is writing their letter of recommendation. Therefore, the business school admissions office receives a letter from a professional who is not even certain why the applicant is applying or what their future goals are.

To avoid making this error, Jeremy Shinewald, founder and president of mbaMission, said students should take their recommender to lunch to discuss their goals and professional aspirations. Applicants should be sure to mention their previous and past accomplishments so their recommender can write about them in an informative, yet personal manner.

Clear, Relevant Goals

Whether they mention it in their essays or bring it up during an interview, business school applicants should be sure they have established their post-MBA goals. Paul Bodine, an author and admissions consultant, told Bloomberg BusinessWeek that students should strive to connect their current roles with their post-MBA goals whenever possible. This could mean explaining how their present position influenced their desire to change careers, or how the skills from their current jobs could be applied to new fields.

However, Bodine explained that it is OK if there is only a small connection between a students' pre- and post-MBA goals, as long as they can clearly explain why they want to change careers and display their interest in a new field. 

An Appropriate Inclusion of Failure

The purpose of an application is to give a business school a personal and professional view of an applicant. For this reason, most institutions are looking for a holistic picture of candidates, which, oftentimes, includes their failures.

Scott Shrum, author of Your MBA Game Plan, told Forbes that as long as students frame it in the right way, it is OK for them to talk about failures on their applications.

"I don't know anyone who is flawless," Shrum said. "If someone says they are, we're not getting an accurate version of them. It's OK to talk about failure, but you need to discuss what you learned from it. How did you become stronger for it?"

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