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How To Get Into A Top MBA Program – Admissions Directors

MBA candidates will next month file their applications in droves, but what do they need to know about business school admissions? We have inside answers.

Wed Aug 6 2014

This time last year Ben Sheppard, an account director at NYSE-listed insurance broker Aon, was at an information session in the heart of London. His trip to Cass Business School, one of the UK’s finest, ended in excitement.

“I wanted to study in London, I wanted a full-time MBA, I have friends who have studied there and their open evening was impressive,” said the applicant.

Ben was looking into a bevy of London-based business schools, part of a bid to advance his financial services career. After a lengthy spell advising offshore wind and other renewable energy clients with Aon, he was dead-set on an MBA degree.

“I was keen to find a new challenge that would stretch me and give me a broader outlook,” Ben said. He applied to both Cass and Imperial College Business School, another London stalwart, and was surprised at the depth of information he needed to produce.

The process was challenging. He had to file detailed questionnaires addressing his career to date, motivations, skills and areas of development – including two short papers all about Ben.

“Whilst the process was very time consuming and challenging, it was worth the investment,” Ben said, after gaining admission to both schools.

His application plight is shared by thousands. The deadline for application round-one submissions for the leading business schools is encroaching. Applicants will be sending their essays and application forms off next month in their droves.

Crafting a successful application is no easy feat. “I would strongly recommend that you start as quickly as possible. I only really committed to the process in March, for a September start date,” Ben said.

Admissions teams are hard to impress, and they only admit a small percentage of applicants – across the top-ranked schools the average is 46%, according to Businessweek rankings.

“We want someone who we can clearly see has strong leadership potential,” said Keegan Pierce, associate director of international admissions at ESADE Business School.

“Secondly, we want people who have international and cultural experience… Finally, not only must they demonstrate excellence within their profile, from university grades to standardised tests, but also understand the power of team work, sharing and collaboration with other individuals.”

A solid GMAT score and outstanding academic backgrounds are par for the course for most candidates – so diversity is often a key differentiator.

“This year we’ll have a news reader from India, an ex-professional hockey player, but also candidates from traditional industries like banking. We look to have a varied group of people in the classroom,” said Shane Moore, associate director of recruitment at the Sauder School of Business.

Additional degrees like chartered financial analyst or project management qualifications may help you stand out from the crowd, as will new cultural experiences and international travel.

But it can be equally important to show impact within your local community – demonstrating leadership qualities.

Michele Roberts, MBA program director at UWA Business School, said: “The UWA MBA is about developing global leaders, which means we expect our students to be culturally aware and ready to adapt to a changing business environment.”

The school, one of only a few in Australia to be internationally accredited by EQUIS and AACSB, has just launched a new full-time MBA program. To impress the admissions team, candidates will need to demonstrate strong interpersonal skills and leadership potential, Michele added.

It is a sentiment echoed by Shane at Sauder, one of Canada’s highest-ranking schools. “We believe that if you have those communication and interpersonal skills, we can help you develop into a strong leader,” he said.

According to Ben, candidates stand their best chance of gaining admission if they start the application process as early as possible. You can get the essays out of the way before committing to a program.

But some candidates fail to get their “story” across in their essays, said Keegan. “Often we want students who have thought through what their story is and how an MBA can help their long-term goals, and know how ESADE can help them get to where they want to be,” he said. “Some candidates don’t show that they’ve done their homework.”

You should choose your business school carefully, and ensure you craft a fresh application and individual essays for each school you apply to.

Shari Hubert, associate dean of admissions at the McDonough School of Business, said: “We look for inconsistences in the different aspects of the application process… We can tell if someone is copying and pasting the same information for different business schools and just changing the name of the school. Make sure the essay is tailored.”

The GMAT is still one of the biggest stumbling blocks. Test preparation involves a great deal of self-study and self-discipline, said Toby Blackwell, a professional GMAT tutor at Varsity Tutors.

Ben had just two months to prepare for his test. “I was a little concerned,” he said. At evenings and weekends, he learnt the syllabus and brushed up on his math skills. “About ten days before the test, I started to use the free online practise tests,” Ben added.

However Kevin Rocci, a GMAT expert at Magoosh, said you should not study for more than two or three hours. He added: “Set realistic goals for yourself and don’t shoot for the stars. Baby steps are the key to improvement.”

But arguably the most crucial stage is the interview. According to Keegan, candidates should start interacting with the admissions team long before sitting down for a formal meeting.

He said: “I suggest trying to contact ESADE students and alumni as much as you can… Try to reach out and see if they can answer questions about your experience, and sometimes they even give us feedback about the people they speak with.”

However Shari pointed out that the interview process is both a chance for the team to assess the candidate – but also for the applicant to assess the school.

“People should relax and look at the interview as a conversation and really try to get to know the admissions person in front of them,” she said.

“It’s the applicants opportunity to tell us and show us what is unique about them, and how they will stand out and be successful in our program.”

Student Reviews

Bayes Business School




On Campus

Best Journalism school in Europe

When I first stepped onto the campus of City, University of London, I knew I was in for a ride - and not just on the Tube! With its vibrant energy and an impressive repertoire of programs, City U became my home away from home. The Journalism program was kind of a big deal. Rumour was that we were the best in Europe! The lecturers were not just experts in their field; they’re practically journalistic royalty. They were invested, passionate, and had a knack for turning the most flat press release into a riveting news story. With their guidance, I’ve learned to navigate the chaotic world of media like a pro. The campus was a melting pot of every culture, being that we had such a diverse international crowd. Being in the heart of London, I had the world at my fingertips - there was always a new corner to explore, a hidden gem of a cafe to discover, or a street performer! City, University of London wasn't just a university; it was a chapter in my life story that I’ll never forget.




On Campus

Learning environment

The teacher-learner ration is manageable, giving each learner a chance to gain personal attention. It is also easier following up on the progress of a student, as the numbers per class is not large. the conducive environment for learning includes clean classes, standard desks, world class instructional facilities and the opportunity to engage lecturers even after their sessions. The team spirit at City is above board, with learners getting chance to learn both from instructors and colleagues. This is the university of choice; the place to be.




On Campus


I liked that each class had a manageable number of learners, making the professor-learner ratio favor knowledge acquisition. I also liked that study schedules were manageable, and not overwhelming. The focus on talents and gifts even within the learning environment makes it possible for learners to achieve the best of their potential, and this has worked to the advantage of those that have schooled at City, University of London




On Campus


The diversity at City University facilitates interactions and is a direction toward the unity of the world. The classes are well built to match the number and needs of all students regardless of the elements of diversity that set people apart. The use of technology in delivery makes learning even more interesting and achievable. At City University there is no distinction pegged on the issues that make people unique.




On Campus


The team of lecturers at the Uiversity are well experienced. Their level of insight and the methodologies of delivery works for the interes of the leaeners. My learning experience was largely boosted by the level of knowledge of the professors at the institution, and their passion to transfer the same to learners. I appreciate every class I attended because of the level of insight I was able to gather




On Campus

The best university I’ve been to

The campus and the people I've met have made it a wonderful experience. I was reared in a small town with a graduating class of only 88 individuals, so moving to City University was a huge adjustment for me. My dorm has more residents than my whole high school combined! I enjoy the atmosphere here, and everyone is so friendly. Outstanding academic options and a stunning campus. Really great from beginning to end. The educators genuinely love what they do, and the students are ready to learn. On or around college, there is always something to do with friends, and the social scene is particularly warm.




On Campus

Bayes Business School

As a student at City university attending Bayes Business School I would totally recommend choosing this university as the experience is exceptional with great social networking opportunities . Professors are significantly helpful, delivering with excellence and professionalism. Everyone is happy to help and make you feel welcomed in such an esteem university as City, offering exceptional development and guidance through out the course.




On Campus

Economics and Politics

Incredibly amazing university, the way they polish students and help them boost their morale and think intellectually is worthwhile. Many universities have international partnerships to allow exchanges between their students. The most obvious subjects for these opportunities would be those that involve languages, and the study of people and places.




On Campus

Clinical biology

I really like it it’s perfect for me with not too many people and not too few either. All the modules are amazing. I love the toy bar. I love all the societies that I’ma part of. Especially the colour Bollywood society