10 Essential Tips for a Successful MBA Application

Two professional MBA coaches and alumni of Wharton and Yale SOM provide their top 10 tips for a successful business school application. Learn how to take your application from good to great with this expert advice.

Lex S.

By Lex S.

Posted March 13, 2024

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In this article, we will share 10 essential tips for a successful MBA application. These are bite-size, rapid-fire tips, so be sure to check out any linked articles for even more detailed advice. You can treat this as a checklist to ensure you have nailed the most essential steps for a winning MBA application.

Tip #1 - Start Early!

Tick tock, tick tock. The application deadline comes by pretty quickly. Each school requires several application materials, and if you’re applying to multiple schools, all the more.

Start early so you give yourself plenty of time to study for the GMAT/GRE and also have room to retake the test if needed. Start early so you give yourself plenty of time to reflect before tackling your essays. Start early so you give your recommenders plenty of time to write stellar letters of recommendation for you.

Aniekeme’s pro tip: Create an application timeline with your internal deadlines for each school and application component.

Tip #2 - Find Your ‘Thread’

To craft a successful MBA application, your entire package (essays, resume, extracurriculars, and future goals) should be aligned. You must come off as authentic, human, and genuine. The best way to do this is to find the thread that connects who you are, to what you’ve done and what you want to become, and ultimately, how an MBA fits into that picture.

A quick way to do this is to picture what you want to accomplish five years post-MBA and work backward from that goal. Performing this simple exercise will give you a sharper focus that will shine through in your essays and story.

Lex’s pro tip: It’s okay to dream BIG!

Tip #3 - Network

Many prospective students understand the impact and value of networking in other parts of their lives and jobs, but neglect networking for their business school applications. Can you get into a top program without having attended fairs, meeting first and second years, or having visited campus? Maybe! However, by visiting and interacting with people from that school, your essays are more authentic, you understand more about the school and what it represents, and can craft a more coherent story. Set time aside to email club members, send out LinkedIn messages, visit campus (if possible), and attend as many fairs as you can.

Lex’s pro tip: Networking puts more people in your corner. You’ll end up with folks who become invested in your success and pull for you!

Tip #4 - How Do Your Scores Match-Up

While the top business schools don’t care ONLY about scores and academics, it is an important factor in getting into a top school. While selecting programs to apply to, make sure you are not putting yourself at a disadvantage from the get-go. That’s not to mean you can’t aim high, but rather, make sure you understand the average profile (undergrad GPA, test scores, etc.) of the schools you are applying to and select programs accordingly. However, don’t be disheartened if you fall below these as this is where your essays can come in handy to explain issues in your past that contributed to a low GPA, for example. You could also take supplemental programs that show you have the aptitude for a heavy quant workload - CFA, UC Berkeley/UCLA Extension, or HBS Online courses.

Lex’s pro tip: Do what you can to get your Quant scores up!

Tip #5 - Polish Your Resume

The MBA resume is often the first piece of the application that is reviewed and serves as a roadmap for the admissions committee as they read through your application. Your resume should be a clear, concise, and professional reflection of your education, work experience, skills, and interests. Use clear section headings, avoid fancy fonts and images, quantify your impact, and start your bullets with strong action verbs. A lot can be said about crafting a stellar resume for your business school applications. Check out fellow coach Drake P.’s article on resumes for more expert guidance.

Aniekeme’s pro tip: Focus on your impact.

Tip #6 - Extracurriculars Matter

Schools want to know you beyond work. Extracurricular activities are a great way to showcase a different dimension to you that adds to the overall picture the admissions committee has about your candidacy. Quantify your impact wherever possible, be specific, and don’t be afraid to share your diverse interests. You can use this section as an opportunity to address gaps in your skillset - for example, if you have no formal leadership experience at work, you may have some through an extracurricular activity. You can also take advantage of this opportunity to highlight activities that align with some of the school’s values and that connect with your thread.

Aniekeme’s pro tip: Quality trumps quantity.

Tip #7 - Choose the Right Recommenders

Recommendation letters can make or break your application. This is the only part of the application where the admissions committee gets to hear a voice that isn’t yours. That’s significant, so you need to make it count. Choose recommenders who know you well professionally. Current or former managers, supervisors, or anyone who can speak to your skills and capabilities make the best recommenders. If you can’t ask your manager/supervisor or you work in a family business or as an entrepreneur, try to find someone else who can speak to your professional capabilities with specific examples, like an investor, vendor, or business partner.

Aniekeme’s pro tip: Choose your true champions, and guide, don’t write!

Tip #8 - Have Someone Else (or Multiple) Review Your Essays and Applications

A second pair of eyes to help you review your essays and applications as well as critique your story is invaluable. Many of you are also working full-time while applying and may not have spent enough time really diving deep into what an essay prompt is trying to get at or what a particular school likes to see from candidates. Your essay is the biggest opportunity you have to connect with an AdCom. Set your ego aside and don’t go it alone.

I have reviewed multiple essays where the candidate did not answer the question or was too superficial or arrogant - these are things that someone reviewing your applications would hopefully catch and help you fix. A coach would be your best bet, but if you are hesitant to work with one, you can also reach out to current first and second years with whom you have a strong connection to assist you and many will be willing to help (see Networking tip). Remember that your essays and applications should be a live document right up until you hit submit and you will go through multiple drafts before you get there.

Lex’s pro tip: Continuously seek and be open to feedback!

Tip #9 - Got an Interview? It’s Yours to Lose

Got an interview invite? Congrats! They already like you! MBA interviews can actually be pretty fun, they are mostly there to dot the i’s and cross the t’s. That said, you’ll need to practice common behavioral questions that come up. Some school interviews get more specific, but you can find a general MBA interview guide here.

Lex’s pro tip: Stay calm, know your resume in and out, and be able to answer “Why this school?”!

Tip #10 - Celebrate the wait

Whether you’re waiting to hear about interviews or about the final admissions decision, celebrate putting your very best effort into your applications. This process takes a lot out of you. You may have sacrificed time with loved ones or activities you enjoy. Now that you’ve done your part, reward yourself while you wait. This is also a great time to thank everyone who helped you, whether by writing a letter of recommendation, introducing you to an alum or current student, reviewing your essay, or listening to you while you stressed out the application. Acknowledge their support and express gratitude.

Aniekeme’s pro tip: Reflect on how the process changed you.

We hope that you found this guide helpful. With business school admissions, there are factors beyond your control, so it’s important to address everything you have control over. If you are interested in working with either one of us, you can view our profiles here - Lex and Aniekeme.

About the Authors:

Lex Sodipe obtained his MBA from Yale SOM and has worked in investment banking, private equity in New York and in technology at FAANG. Originally from Nigeria, he has worked for over three years to help prospective candidates gain admission into top schools. He’s a professional coach on Leland and is passionate about sharing his strategies and helping the next generation of talent successfully apply and get accepted to the best business schools in the USA. Lex lived in Beijing for seven years where he learned Mandarin and obtained his undergraduate degree from Beijing University of Chemical Tech. In his free time, Lex loves to watch and play soccer and is an Arsenal fan.

Aniekeme U. is a professional admissions coach and TEDx speaker on the power of stories. She earned an MBA from Wharton, where she served on the board of Wharton Storytellers and was an Executive Communications teaching assistant. Aniekeme is an international who moved from Nigeria to attend Columbia University, where she earned a BS in chemical engineering and served on Columbia’s Global Recruitment Committee. Prior to founding her business, her corporate career spanned consulting, investment banking, and tech at companies like PWC, Evercore, and Peloton.

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