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How MBA Programs Work

Applying to Business School
Adding those three expensive letters to your academic credentials starts with the application process.
Adding those three expensive letters to your academic credentials starts with the application process.

With more than 1,000 business schools worldwide, you'll need to face the task of deciding which business school is right for you and drawing up a realistic list of schools to apply to [source: AACSB]. Resources are available to help guide your decision. For example, numerous ranking systems exist for MBA programs, and like the ubiquitous U.S. News & World Report college rankings, such rankings may attract controversy and debate. Even so, BusinessWeek Magazine's rankings are frequently cited as an industry standard.

Before you can apply to business school, you likely will have to submit to the standardized test. Around 1,900 of the world's business schools rely on the Graduate Management Admission Test, or GMAT, when considering applications [source: GMAC]. It's not designed to test your business skills but rather your problem solving, verbal and analytical writing abilities.

Administered by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), the GMAT costs $250 and can be taken at one of many test centers located in the United States and abroad. The score remains valid for five years. The GMAC offers free preparation software, but many prospective b-school applicants choose to purchase software, books or classes to help them study for the test.

In addition to taking the GMAT, you'll have to compile some other crucial application materials, such as college transcripts, recommendations, possibly several essays and other relevant documents. For that reason, keeping a spreadsheet may be the best way to stay organized and to know which materials go where and by what deadline. If you choose to apply to a combined program, such as a JD/MBA or MD/MBA, you will have to budget your time accordingly to complete the additional application materials.

You also should be prepared to travel to prospective b-schools to interview with admissions committees or to visit campuses to find the best fit for you. Because of the time, expense and paperwork involved, applying to business school is, at least for a time, a job in itself.

Lastly, keep in mind that business-school applications have skyrocketed since the beginning of the financial crisis [source: Gloeckler]. One Hong Kong-based program reported in late 2009 that applications were up at least 50 percent [source: Kolesnikov-Jessop]. For some prospective students, going back to school represents a way to escape a volatile job market -- or having no job at all. For others, it's a way to transition to a new industry or even a new country, such as by attending an MBA program abroad. Meanwhile, some schools offering part-time MBA programs are experiencing lower application numbers, due to applicant concerns about keeping their jobs while attending school and worries about whether sufficient on-campus recruiting exists [source: Gloeckler].