Admissions expert Iliana Bobova reveals what and why business schools take into consideration when they assess prospective applicants. She also shares the main Dos and Don’ts for your application.
Is there any specific area of business management that is considered as a big plus when evaluating the MBA profile of a prospective applicant?
Actually, no. The MBA programs are open to professionals from any background and any field of study. And, actually, applicants who come from a non-management and non-business background might even be much more interesting to the admissions committees, because they bring diversity to the classroom, and fresh perspectives. Also, the MBA is a general management and business leadership program, and management and leadership are needed in all areas of business. So, people from all backgrounds are really welcome to the MBA programs. However, the admissions committees will be looking for evidence that applicants have the necessary analytical and quantitative skills. So, if an applicant with a non-quantitative background applies, then they will require – and they will be looking closely at the GMAT scores or other test results that will show this – that this person has the analytical and quantitative skills required for the program.
Are analytical and quantitative skills more important than language skills?
No – actually, the language skills are the basics. If you are not fluent in English, even if you have the analytical and quantitative skills, you will not be able to benefit from an MBA program conducted in English. So, I would say that the language skill is the first basic requirement. And here I would like to highlight that people should not overestimate their language skills. Many MBA prospects use the language in their everyday work – some of them primarily write in English, others maybe primarily talk in English. However, going to graduate school to study in English requires fluency and a more sophisticated vocabulary. MBA participants should be able to read, process and analyze long texts in different subject areas, from finance strategy, HR, technology, data science… The MBA programs are quite intense and demanding. So, the language should definitely not be a barrier for MBA participants.
What are the tests besides GMAT and GRE that can be considered during the application?
Usually, these are the tests. The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is the one that is still, in many cases, preferred by business schools, because it is particularly prepared for admission to management programs. The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is a test for graduate schools, and it is more and more accepted as an alternative to the GMAT. Some business schools have their own admission tests. But applicants need to decide: if they’re going to apply to one school only, and if the school has a school test, applicants don’t need to take the others. But if they are applying to many schools – like three, four, or five, they’d better take the GMAT or the GRE test. And actually, they have to make sure that the schools accept the GRE as an alternative to the GMAT. And there are some MBA programs that don’t require any test, but they have other ways through which they get the evidence that the applicant is bringing the qualifications and the skills that they require. And, of course, the language tests, as I mentioned – they are obligatory. And some might ask why schools want language tests and the GRE and GMAT, since the GRE and the GMAT are also in English. Briefly – these tests, GMAT and GRE on one side, and TOEFL, IELTS, etc. on the other – check different skills. So, aptitude tests do not replace language proficiency tests.
How do admissions committees evaluate the prospective students’ potential for academic work and what is the most important thing about that?
The GPA, the score from your first university degree studies, gives an indication of how you performed in an academic environment. Your language proficiency is also important. As already mentioned, if someone struggles with the language, the possibility of succeeding with studies is low. So, the test scores from TOEFL, IELTS, or Cambridge, etc., will also be an indicator of academic success. Application essays also supply information. But basically, it’s the first university GPA and academic transcripts and the test scores – language tests, as well as the GMAT test and the GRE. GMAT and GRE actually test skills that are essential for success during the studies, skills that students will use every day in graduate school. So, if you have good scores on these aptitude tests, this is an indication that it’s very likely that you will be successful academically in the program.
Is it possible to achieve a good result using only online tools, or we should also consult with an admissions officer? And is oral or written communication better?
If you ask about how to achieve good test scores, then it’s very personal. Some people can prepare really well using online resources, and currently there are plenty of them, including PrepAdviser. There are sample tests, practice questions, etc. Other people can’t study well entirely online, so they might need to attend classes or have individual tutoring. So effective tests preparation depends on the personal learning style of each applicant.
If the question is, how can you improve your chances of admission, I would recommend getting in touch with the admissions officers at your desired universities as early as possible. Contact them as often as needed, taking any opportunity to consult them – email, attending webinars, Q&A sessions, school presentations. Interact with the admissions advisers – their role is to help applicants prepare their application for admission, to guide them to get to know the school and decide how this school can be helpful for them, and whether this is the right school for them.
How do business schools measure leadership potential?
This is a tough question, and every business school has their own ways of doing that. But, basically, admissions committees look at the career details and progression, as well as the quality of both the professional and personal experience. They will be looking at whether the person has led teams, either formally or informally – in the workplace, or during their personal life and hobbies, interests, volunteer work… So, it’s a really complicated review. Admissions committees will be looking also for evidence in the essays because even some essays might be focused on leadership. Very often, in the letters of recommendation, schools ask the recommenders about the leadership potential of the candidate. The admissions committees are putting together bits and pieces from the whole application package to evaluate leadership potential. And, of course, your leadership aspirations and experience will be discussed during the admissions interview.
How can applicants discuss any weak points in their resume?
First, applicants should work really well on preparing their MBA resume. It’s different from a job application resume. It needs to be focused on the MBA application. Of course, they should be very honest and not try to be someone they’re not. If there are any drawbacks that the CV shows, like, for example, lack of quantitative experience, this should be directly addressed in the application essays.
Most business schools have one or several admission essays that applicants need to write. So, this is the place where they can comment or provide additional information and evidence that they have certain skills or, alternatively, compensate for certain weaknesses in their profile and in their CV.
Also, the recommenders can address such weaknesses and explain what the reason might be for these. In their letters of recommendation, they can convince the admissions committee that this will not be a barrier to the applicant’s success at business school. Of course, during the admissions interview, these weaknesses will be discussed again, so the applicant needs to prepare well in advance about how to address them.
Which section of the resume is the most important for my profile?
Every section has its value. The education background gives information on whether applicants are qualified – whether they have the Bachelor’s degree. However, I would say that admissions committees would be very much looking into the career section. They will certainly pay attention also to the section describing your additional interests, hobbies, volunteer work, etc. This is because the admissions team want to get to know the person really well – not only professionally, but also personally. They need to assess an applicant’s potential contribution to the MBA program.
How can I improve sections from my profile to make them more visible for admission directors?
Actually, the admissions directors and the admissions committee review a whole set of documents that the applicant prepares: the application form, the CV/resume, test scores, academic transcripts, recommendations, and the essays. This whole package needs to be very well thought through and interconnected, so that each part provides the most important and relevant information, but also, each of those documents should support the rest. For example, the data you supply in the online application form needs to be supported by the CV, and some parts of the CV need to be supported by the letters of recommendation, etc.
Can an admission officer or other adviser advise which MBA format – full-time or part time – is best for the applicants’ profile?
No, I would say not, at least this advice can’t be based on the profile alone. Based on the profile, they can recommend whether the applicant is eligible for an MBA versus an Executive MBA. But choosing between different formats – full-time, part-time, distance, online, blended, etc., is not something that they can see from the profile, and not even from the CV.
So, the best way is for the applicant to contact the admissions team and ask for details about the differences between these types of programs. Thus, the applicant can decide what works best for them. This is a rather personal choice, because this choice reflects how they will participate in an MBA program. This depends on many factors: whether the person wants to stay employed while studying or whether, for example for a full-time program, they would like to quit their job for one year or two years and commit fully to their MBA studies. Many factors should be taken into consideration, but the answer doesn’t come from the profile evaluation.
What is the most important thing to know about the profile evaluation if I want to receive a scholarship?
Two things. First, scholarships are provided to really strong applicants for the particular program. One needs to be really outstanding, not just satisfy the minimum requirements for admission to the program.
So, scholarship applicants need to make sure that their profile really stands out, that they are a great fit for the school. They should be clear about what unique experiences they can bring to the school, so that the school would want to reward them with a scholarship.
Applicants should do thorough research about the types of scholarships and make sure where they fit. Some of the scholarships are merit-based, which means that the test scores will play a significant role, so they should aim to achieve high test scores. There are also scholarships of other types – based on nationality, on particular subject area, such as entrepreneurship. Each scholarship might have specific requirements.
So, first – make sure you are a strong applicant overall for the program. Number two – make sure your profile meets the scholarship requirements.