Business

Five tips for putting together the best MBA application

Easy-to-execute strategies from insiders for prepping the perfect package

We asked admissions committees for some quick and straightforward pointers to help you glide through the application process. Here’s how to increase your chances of getting into your top school.

1. Do your homework

Choosing to pursue an MBA can be an expensive and labour-intensive process, so you’ll want to make sure that a school’s program is the right fit for you. Admissions committees want to see that you’ve thought about your career trajectory and how your decision to do an MBA at their institution will help you get to the next stage. “What we like to see are students who are engaged, who are determined and have a focused direction of what they want to do in the program,” says Beth McKenna, graduate student recruitment officer at Concordia University’s John Molson School of Business. “I see a lot of students come by and say, ‘I want a job,’ and that’s not the reason to be doing this. It’s really to advance their career, advance themselves professionally and build their professional toolkit.”

2. Connect early

Business schools encourage prospective students to take advantage of the various opportunities to connect with them before and during the application process, whether it’s through information sessions, campus tours, class visits, speaking to current and past students, or having conversations with admissions committee members. “If you do all of these things, a) you get a much better understanding of the school and the culture and what we have to offer, and b) we get an understanding of who you are and what the potential fit might be,” says Leigh Gauthier, assistant director of recruitment and admissions at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. “I think it’s a win-win for the admissions team and for the candidate to really get to know us before their file lands on our desk.” 

3. Take advantage of pre-assessments

If you’re not sure whether doing an MBA is right for you, take a preliminary assessment. Many schools offer applicants the opportunity to have your resumé reviewed by someone from the admissions team so they can look at your background and offer advice. Admissions committees say a lot of people don’t pursue an MBA or apply to a business school because they don’t think they’ll make the cut. “It’s a multidisciplinary degree, so never self-select yourself out because you don’t think you have the right background, or you don’t think your academic performance is reflective of who you are. There are other elements of [the application]—we look holistically at it,” says J.D. Clarke, executive director of master’s programs, recruitment and admissions, at Western University’s Ivey Business School.

4. Go the extra mile

Applicants may feel that having a traditional business background, such as an undergraduate degree in business, is required for an MBA, but admissions committees say there are other ways to show your business acumen. Ivey’s Clarke says regardless of where somebody comes from, the business school is looking at their accomplishments. But Clarke does encourage prospective students to show that they’re interested in a business issue beyond the periphery. “Make sure [there’s] some business issue out there that you can talk about that you’re following beyond the headlines. A business issue can be broad. It can be about signs of leadership, not just watching the stock market,” he says.

5. Consider retaking the GMAT

If you’re not satisfied with your GMAT score, remember that you always have the option to cancel it, and your score won’t be sent out to schools. “Think about retaking [the exam] if you think your score doesn’t accurately reflect your abilities,” says Rotman’s Gauthier. “I’m not sure if students realize how many people retake the GMAT or the GRE to get a competitive score.” If you’re thinking of retaking the GMAT, remember that you have to wait 16 days before you can sit for it again.

MORE FROM THE MBA GUIDE: