How MBA Admissions Works

Skyline College students talk to a recruiter during a job fair in San Bruno, Calif. How can you stand out to MBA programs? See more college pictures.
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Since 2005, administration of the GMAT, the standardized test for graduate business school admission, has steadily increased, and in 2007-2008, the number of times the test was administered reached an all-time high [source: VanderMey]. In the 2006-2007 academic year, more than 150,000 Americans earned MBA degrees [source: Boston Globe].

An MBA, or Master of Business Administration, is a degree for people who want to enter the business world. In an MBA program, you'll take classes such as marketing, accounting, management and human resources. Once you've earned your degree, you'll have obtained all the skills you'll need to enter the business world at the management level.


With the levels of competition for admission to MBA programs mounting, you'll want to make sure that your application stands head and shoulders above the rest. In order to make an excellent impression on admissions committees, you'll need to know how to best present yourself throughout the admissions process.

Before you begin applying to MBA programs, you'll first need to explore more than 1,000 schools worldwide that offer the degree [source: Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business]. You can narrow down your choices based on areas of specialization, location or rankings. It might be helpful to consult with your college career center or a contact in the business world to find a program that would be a good fit for you.

Once you've settled on a list of potential schools, you can then begin gathering materials necessary to complete the application process. In order to apply to an MBA program, most schools will require that you send them an application form, essay, GMAT scores, letters of recommendation, transcripts, and a curriculum vitae or resume. They'll also want you to visit for an on-campus interview.

In this article, we'll discuss how you should prepare to apply to an MBA program and what's most important about your application. On the next page, we'll take a look at the ins and outs of the GMAT.

Taking the GMAT

You can take a GMAT preparation class or form a study group.
You can take a GMAT preparation class or form a study group.
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In general, most schools consider your GMAT score one of the most important factors when determining whether or not you'll be accepted into a program. Rather than test your business skills, the test assesses your problem solving, critical reading and writing skills in order to determine your potential for success in an MBA program. Whereas quality of GPAs might vary from college to college, the GMAT is a universal measure that everyone has to take in order to gain admission to an MBA program.

Before you register for the GMAT, you might consider enrolling in a test preparation class. While it's not definite that your score will go up as a result of taking a class, it might prove helpful as you prepare for the test.


You should register and take the test in advance of applying so that the MBA programs receive your scores in time. Be mindful that in some countries the GMAT is only offered once per year, so plan well in advance as to when you need the test. You can only test once per calendar month.

The GMAT is administered in a computer-adaptive format -- that is, questions are selected as you take the test, and one question appears on-screen at a time. You can't go back or skip questions. The questions on the GMAT will adjust to your ability level. For example, your first question will be moderately difficult. If you get the first question wrong, the next question will be easier; however, if you get the first question right, the next question will be harder. Each test is unique, and minimal computer skills are necessary. You'll just need to know how to type, use a mouse and operate a help button.

The GMAT consists of three sections: analytical writing, quantitative and verbal. In the analytical writing section, you'll be assigned two 30-minute writing tasks: an analysis of an issue and an analysis of an argument. In the quantitative section, which follows an optional break after the writing section, you'll be given 37 data sufficiency and problem solving multiple-choice questions. You'll be given 75 minutes for this portion of the test. Following a brief optional break after the quantitative section, you'll begin the verbal section, which lasts for 75 minutes. This section consists of 41 multiple choice questions of three types: reading comprehension, critical reasoning and section correction.

Your GMAT score is determined by the number of questions answered, the correct number of answers and the level of difficulty of the questions, which are weighted according to statistical data. If you aren't sure about an answer, you definitely should guess. There's a penalty for all unanswered questions. So, if you see you're running out of time, you should make sure to have a minute to spare to fill in every question, even if your response might not be accurate.

On the next page, we'll look at two more important elements of your application: your resume and application essay.

Preparing Your Resume and Application Essay

Have a counselor or professional look over your resume before you send it off.
Have a counselor or professional look over your resume before you send it off.
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In addition to your GMAT score, your resume and application essay are vital in distinguishing you as a business school graduate student. This area of your application will allow you to relate your unique personal and job-related experiences to your potential MBA program. Essentially, this part of your application will help to establish you as a name rather than a number.

When preparing your application, you'll want to include an up-to-date resume of your academic and professional experience. You should list all of your information chronologically or by skill set. You should include the following information:


  • Job history
  • Educational background
  • Other relevant experience, such as foreign language proficiency or computer skills

If you're submitting a CV, or curriculum vitae, follow the standard academic format. For examples of either resumes or CV, search online for models to follow.

After you've created your resume, be sure to have your resume reviewed by your school's career counselors or another experienced professional. You'll want to make sure that it's polished, clearly written and in the correct format.

After you've tweaked your resume, you can move on to your application essay. This part of your application is the place where you can really sell yourself to an MBA program. Here, you can tell the admissions committees why you'd be a good fit for their program. You also can focus your essay on what makes you a unique candidate who'll make a meaningful contribution to their school. Be sure to read essay instructions carefully; some schools require that you answer specific questions. Some essay topics include:

  • Why are you applying to business school?
  • Why did you choose this program?
  • What are your career goals?
  • How would you make a contribution to this program?

As with your resume, have a career counselor proofread your essay for clarity and coherence.

On the next page, we'll review some other essential elements of a successful MBA application: letters of recommendation, transcripts and an interview.

Letters of Recommendation, Transcripts and Interviews

Interviews are part of some MBA admissions processes, so make sure you're prepared.
Interviews are part of some MBA admissions processes, so make sure you're prepared.
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Most MBA programs require that applicants submit letters of recommendation from people familiar with their academic credentials or experience in the business world. When thinking about whom to ask for letters of recommendation, consider all of the people who could speak highly of your business or academic accomplishments. They should be able to attest to your strengths and how you interact with others, offering specific and concrete examples of your accomplishments.

After you've decided on the people who'll write your recommendations, make sure that they include in their letters information about how long and in what capacity they've know you. Give your recommendation writers plenty of time to craft a letter, and thank them after they've written it. Once the process is over, let them know if you got into the program. Not only is this a polite way to thank your recommendation writers, it's also a good way to foster relationships in both the business and academic world.


In addition to letters of recommendation, you'll also need to request that each academic institution you've attended send your transcripts to the appropriate MBA programs. You should follow school-specific instructions when sending in these materials.

Finally, after you have all of your application materials squared away, you'll need to check if your MBA program recommends or requires an interview. If you decide to interview, prepare by practicing with a career counselor or someone else with experience in the business world. Think about questions MBA programs might ask you and about how you can sell yourself and speak to your strengths. When you go to your interview, make sure you're dressed in appropriate business attire. You not only want to make a good impression on paper, but you also will want to appear professional in person. The combination of your test scores, academic record, professional experience and personal demeanor will give MBA programs a good idea of how well you would fit into their school.

You've learned about all of the factors that go into an MBA application. But what matters most? Read the next page to find out the most important factors for MBA admissions committees.

MBA Admission Factors: What Matters Most?

If you ever have any doubts about applying to business school, contact the admissions office for information.
If you ever have any doubts about applying to business school, contact the admissions office for information.
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What if you have a low GPA and a high GMAT score? Or a low GMAT score and a high GPA? Or maybe you've had some amazing business or internship experiences, but your academic and test credentials aren't as impressive as you'd like them to be?

MBA programs weigh many different factors when determining admission, and whether or not an applicant is successful isn't as clear cut as you might think it would be. MBA admission decisions take into account all parts of your application, and various institutions weigh GPA, test scores and experience differently. In general, however, the following factors are most important in MBA applications.


First and foremost, your GMAT score is very important. Because it's a universal measure of MBA potential, your score will be compared to all of the applicants. Before you apply, check out average scores of programs in which you're interested to see where you fall. This will give you a good idea if you're in the running for admission.

Next, schools will consider your GPA. After all, they'll want to see how successful you were at your previous academic institutions. Although a high GPA will certainly prove beneficial in the admission process, the caliber of your previous institution might also play into their admission decision. For example, a lower GPA at a top tier school might be favored over a higher GPA at a lower ranked school.

In addition, your level of experience and interest will also be looked at carefully by MBA programs. The quality of past internships or jobs and connections you've made in the academic or business world will definitely factor into an MBA programs decision about your admission.

When in doubt about your potential for success in a particular MBA program, contact the admissions offices of the schools in which you're interested. They can give you additional, school-specific information about their admission statistics. For lots more information on applying to school, see the links on the next page.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • Harvard Business School. "Admission and Financial Aid." (March 12, 2010)
  • The Association to Advance the Collegiate Schools of Business. "Data and Research." (March 12, 2010)
  • The Boston Globe. "In recession, MBA students seek backup plan." Feb. 13, 2009. (March 12, 2010)
  • MBA Admissions. (March 12, 2010)
  • MBA Programs and Admissions (March 12, 2010)
  • MBA Admission Advice. (March 12, 2010)
  • MBA. "The Official GMAT Website." (March 12, 2010)
  • VanderMey, Ann. "MBA Applications: Is the Party Over?" Business Week. May 26, 2009. (March 12, 2010)