The Most Frequently Asked Questions on MBA Applications

There are so many different parts of an MBA application that it can be difficult to know where to start. Here are some common business school application FAQs to help you stand out and get into your dream program.

Posted April 12, 2024

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Applying to business school is a long and complicated process. There are many moving parts, from letters of recommendation to essays, resumes, and more. Though each school has its own unique application, many of the requirements are the same. In this article, we’ll answer some of the most frequently asked questions our expert Leland coaches receive when helping people apply to top MBA programs.

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1. What are the main differences between MBA resumes and regular job resumes?

The resume you’ll send in with your application should not be the same one that you have on your LinkedIn profile. There are several primary distinctions that will help you make sure you’re writing the right kind of resume.

First, when drafting your business school resume, you don’t need to use SEO keywords as you do for work resumes. There will not be any computers mass scanning the resumes for certain words and phrases.

Second, you don’t need to have a summary at the top of the resume. Because everyone who’s sending in these resumes is applying for the same “role” of MBA candidate, summaries are not only redundant but a waste of valuable space.

Third, your business school resume should be less of a list of skills and more of a story. Highlight your achievements, tell the admissions officers about projects that you worked on, and show the impact that you had and the teams you worked on.

Lastly, when a recruiter is reviewing resumes for potential hires, they will spend only a few seconds looking at each one. This is not the case with your MBA application. Your MBA resume–like the rest of your application–will be looked over extensively. With that being said, take a second to make sure that there are no spelling or grammatical errors or industry-specific jargon. Everything on your resume should be able to be understood by someone not in the same industry as you.

2. What do you want your MBA resume to accomplish?

The answer to this can be summarized in one word: impact. Action verbs are great. You should definitely include the times when you led a project or created an event, but what was the result of it? Go through the experiences you have listed and think to yourself, have I answered the “So, what?”?

MBA resumes also provide an opportunity to show more layers of yourself than you are able to in a work resume. It is not a professional document so much as a one-page description of who you are and what you’ve done. Show personality where you can. Many business school resumes include an “Interests” section at the bottom. When you list these out, don’t just say, “Baking, biking, reading, traveling…”; rather, make your interests, interesting. For example, “Baking” could instead be, “Baked along with 3 seasons of the Great British Bake-Off and never burnt a crust.”

3. Why are MBA letters of recommendation important and how do they fit into your application?

Many of the top MBA programs’ essay prompts don’t ask about what you actually do at work. The letters of recommendation can serve to highlight this area of your expertise and show the impact that you made.

Also, these recommendations are important because they show the adcom who you actually are in a way that’s difficult to understand from an essay or resume. Almost every recommender will say that the applicant is wonderful, it’s more about how the recommender talks about what you do. For example, are you a teammate? A leader? A builder? You might hint at this in your application but a third-person perspective here is incredibly helpful.

LORs can also help you bolster the potential weaknesses in your application. If you have a mediocre GPA or GMAT score, your recommender may be able to speak to other quantitative skills that you’ve shown. With that being said, your recommenders still need to absolutely only write what they genuinely believe.

4. How do you prepare recommenders?

An often overlooked part of MBA application strategy is approaching recommenders tactically and making sure that they have everything they need to write you a stellar recommendation. Here are a few tips:

Ensure that your recommenders know your “why”: They should know why you’re applying to business school, why you’re applying to specific schools, and why it’s important to you. This will not only give them fuel for the letter, but will also help make sure that they’re on your team.

Start early: A lot of getting good rec letters comes down to the nature of the relationship. Ideally, you have known and worked with your recommenders for at least a year. Also, you should give them enough time before the applications are due to write your letter so that they don’t ever feel rushed.

Prepare recommender prep docs: There are a few different documents that you should provide your recommenders ahead of them actually drafting the letter. The first should list out when you worked with them and on what projects, as well as the impact that you had. If you have two recommenders who worked on the same teams, you can also specify which points you’d like each to speak to. A second document should outline on paper the schools that you’re applying to, their application deadlines, and what each program’s letter of recommendation process looks like.

5. What are the different kinds of MBA application essays?

Though the prompts are unique to each school, there are three main types of MBA essays. Most of the schools’ prompts will fall into one of these buckets:

Personal Statement – Ask about who you are and what you value

  • What matters most to you and why? (GSB)
  • What else do you want us to know? (HBS)
  • What values are important to you and how have they influenced you? (Kellogg)

Why this School? – Ask about your motivations for a specific program

  • Why Stanford?
  • Why do you feel Columbia Business School is a good fit for you?
  • How do you plan to use the Wharton MBA program to achieve your goals?

Behavioral Prompts – Ask about a story or something related to your behavior

  • Share a time in which you engaged with a perspective, identity, community, or experience that was different from your own and how it impacted your worldview. (Darden)
  • Think about times you’ve created a positive impact, whether in professional, extracurricular, academic, or other settings. What was your impact? What made it significant to you or to others? (GSB)

The ways that you approach brainstorming and drafting each essay will depend on what kind of prompt it is. For a more in-depth review of the essays, read The Ultimate M7 MBA Essay Guide.

6. If my application feels too “generic” or “overrepresented,” what can I do to stand out?

Many of the people applying to business school might think they are too similar to the other applicants. And, it’s true that each year, many consultants from McKinsey, bankers from JP Morgan, and investors from top VC firms will all apply to the same programs. Though it’s easy to feel generic, remember that every person is unique, regardless of job title or company.

Secondly, think about your differentiating factors. Did you do any interesting projects outside of work? Or collaborate on something unique within work? What skills do you have that others in your field likely don’t have? If you think long enough, you will find things that make you unique. One strategy here is that if it’s accessible to you, ask your parent(s). Oftentimes, they will remember childhood attributes that are connected to your strengths now.

Thirdly, there is a lot of value in specificity. Even if you went through the exact same project, at the same company, with someone of similar age in the same role, the way that you experienced it and how it impacted you will be completely different. So, in your essays, think about how you specifically went about your role. How did you approach building a team? How did you approach learning? How did you find gaps in your professional experience and build toward them?

Lastly, don’t be afraid to get personal. MBA applications require a lot of self-reflection. The admissions officers want to see who you are, what you value, and what motivates you. That is incredibly personal information and will be different for everyone, regardless of where you work.

Where Can I Start?

The absolute best way to make your MBA application stand out is by working one-on-one with an expert Leland coach. Getting insight and guidance from someone who has gone through the process can make all the difference. Our coaches can help with every part of your application, from selecting which schools to apply for to mock interviews and everything in between. Below are some of our top MBA coaches. Browse all of them here.

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