Written by S.M. Audsley

Do you aspire to be in boardrooms making major decisions for your company? Or envision yourself crunching numbers behind the scenes for investors? Or maybe you crave the thrill of the trading floor where investment deals are happening left, right, and center? No matter what your dream is, getting there involves a lot of hard work. One well-trodden, prestigious path to the top in business is a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree.

An MBA degree will offer you training in the skills and tools you’ll need to succeed. So, do you think you’re ready to take the plunge to apply to get your MBA? Great! It will no doubt be a challenging and rewarding career path for you. Here are some tips on how to write a successful MBA application. Take notes and get on that MBA application today!

1. Key aspects of successful applications

How do you write a winning MBA application? The successful MBA application puts your best self forward. You’ll need to be thoughtful in your delivery of the information and answers to the application questions, so don’t leave the application process to the last minute.

MBA applicants, generally speaking, must prepare the following items for the MBA application: GMAT/GRE test scores; a resume or CV with relevant work experience; an essay or personal statement; your undergraduate transcript; and letters of recommendation. A successful applicant makes sure all of these items are submitted on time.

First off, make sure you ask for your letters of recommendation ahead of time. Giving your recommenders plenty of time to complete their letters of recommendation is not only common courtesy, it also will hopefully result in more thoughtful and thorough letters.

Next, take your time and make sure your resume or CV is free of typos and errors. Have a friend or co-worker take a quick look at it to give you feedback and to hopefully catch any typos.

Third, make sure you take your time to write an authentic, truthful, and convincing essay that shows exactly who you are and why you feel like you are at a good point in your life to pursue graduate school studies and an MBA.

Finally, depending on the MBA program, you’ll need to take the GMAT/GRE exams. Make sure you schedule the exam ahead of time to allow for enough time to transfer the test scores to your MBA program(s) of choice. Also, you might need to take the exam(s) more than once, if your first attempt results in scores that are too low. Take that into consideration.

The successful MBA applicant makes sure that he or she lines everything up and adheres to deadlines. Make yourself a color-coded calendar with deadlines, if that helps you stay on task and keep your eye on the prize.

2. Know the MBA application process

As a potential MBA candidate, you’ll increase your chances of getting accepted into the MBA program of your choice by doing your research and knowing the ins and outs of the application process ahead of time. This can alleviate a lot of anxiety about the overall process, and help you be poised to succeed. First things first, make sure you get your deadlines set in your calendar. Every program will have different deadlines and you’ll want to make sure you don’t miss any. Set up your GMAT/GRE exams and request your letters of recommendation way in advance. The Economist recommends, “It is important to take the GMAT exam seriously as this is one aspect of the application that is very much within your control. In a sea of highly qualified candidates, the GMAT is an important screening tool.”

Don’t forget to practice interviewing. The Economist also recommends to keep in mind some basic do’s and don’ts regarding the standard MBA interview: “Do practice out loud, rather than just mentally preparing answers. You can have mock interviews with a friend or even speak to yourself in the mirror. Don’t opt to interview on campus if you will perform better off campus. Set yourself up for success, by choosing the environment where you will be most relaxed.”

Your letters of recommendation are vital to the overall strength in the application process. Karen Schweitzer of ThoughtCo., writes, “Letters of recommendation are almost always required in an MBA application. You will need two to three letters from people who are familiar with you professionally or academically. An individual who is familiar with your community or volunteer work would also be acceptable. It is very important that you choose letter writers who will provide a glowing, well-written recommendation.”

3. Write a winning MBA essay

The essay is an essential part of the MBA application process. It is the opportunity to express, in your own words, why you want to pursue a degree in higher education that prepares you to take on a role and develop a career in the business world. This essay needs to be exceptionally well polished and exemplary of your intentions and reasons behind applying for an MBA.

The Princeton Review explains, “Your MBA essays are your best chance to sell the person behind the résumé. They should tie all the pieces of your business school application together and create a comprehensive picture of who you are, what you've done, and what you bring to the table.”

Meanwhile, Poets and Quants recommends, when writing the business school application essay, to focus on some of the following qualities: leadership; collaborative style; integrity; analytical intelligence; emotional intelligence; creativity; community spirit; global awareness; and self-awareness.

Mark Skoskiewicz of Because Business recommends that you include four types of items in your MBA essay: 1) knowledge acquisition; 2) project-based learning opportunities that turned into knowledge and skills; 3) talk about testing ideas; and 4) focus on building teams. All of these are good things, however, if it is not framed in a structurally interesting and appealing way, a reader will instantly get bored and will pass on your application. Think of storytelling and how the elements of storytelling can help you convey your own story about your path to pursuing an MBA.

In your essay, you will want to steer clear of many things which can be turn-offs to the application readers. This could include, but not be limited to, egotistical writing, too many “I” statements, repetition, arrogance, platitudes, etc. Remember that you are writing an essay that is both an introduction to yourself as a candidate in the program and also as a future teammate alongside a cohort of incoming MBA classmates.

To strengthen your essay, The Princeton Review recommends including an MBA application video. You’ll want to make sure that the quality is high and that you don’t look like you are trying too hard. Keep it casual, yet professional. Easy-going, yet like you take yourself seriously. There are pros and cons to including a video in your application -- just know your strengths and weaknesses and only do it if you feel comfortable.

4. Have Some Relevant Work Experience

Most applicants for MBA programs have a few years of relevant work experience under their belts. You will want to highlight this relevant work experience to effectively demonstrate your intentions behind applying to an MBA program at this time in your career, and to also show off your teamwork, team building, and independent work skills and ethic.

Karen Schweitzer of ThoughtCo., explains, “Work experience is important to business schools because they want to be sure that accepted applicants can contribute to the program. Business school is a give and take experience. You are able to obtain, or take, valuable knowledge and experience in the program, but you also provide (give) unique perspectives and experience to other students through participation in discussions, case analyses, and experiential learning.”

The US News and World Report says MBA recruiters like “to see work experience on an MBA resume that is business-related, such as a job in finance or technology [and] to see professional experience that demonstrates quantitative expertise, since the math skill set in MBA courses is rigorous.”

Regardless of what type of work experience you have, you will want to tailor your resume or CV accordingly. Make sure you highlight your accomplishments and focus on the areas that are strengths for you. If you don’t have a ton of high-level experience, then emphasize your willingness to learn and your ability to learn quickly and to adapt and thrive in fast-paced, high pressure, dynamic environments.

If a future in the business world is your dream career, then finding the MBA program right for you and applying can prove a very beneficial move for your career (and life in general). Getting your application ready can feel like a daunting task, but if you are organized and mark your calendar with the pertinent deadlines, you’ll do just fine. And remember the wise words: "Success is not final; failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts."

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