Breaking Down The MBA Application

An application timeline from, leading MBA admissions consulting firm

Breaking Down The MBA Application

You’re planning on applying to an MBA program next year, but you’re worried about how intense and time-consuming the process might be.

Stacy Blackman, an admissions consultant and contributor for the Economist, offers a few pieces of valuable advice when it comes to the MBA application process.

Where To Apply

Knowing which schools you want to apply to and how many is critical to staying organized in the application process.

Blackman’s rule of thumb when it comes to “how many” schools is to not apply to more than six.

“This is an intense and time-consuming process,” she writes. “Applying to too many schools leads to burn-out and diminishing returns.”

Blackman recommends applicants apply to at least four schools of varying levels of competitiveness. Doing so can help increase your chances of acceptance, she says.

Take The GMAT Seriously

Taking the GMAT is a tough ordeal, but Blackman says this is the application component that is most within an applicant’s control.

To set expectations, Blackman says applicants should plan to take the exam more than once.

“Fewer nerves and more experience often lead to a higher score the second time around,” she writes.

Tyler Cormney, co-founder of MBA Prep School, says applicants should plan to take the GRE as early as possible.

“Completing the GMAT early will ensure that you have enough time to retake the exam if you don’t achieve your target score the first time,” Cormney says in an article for P&Q. “Furthermore, when it is time to refine your list of schools, knowing your GMAT score in advance will help. Since a majority of MBA programs accept GMAT scores within a 5-year window, completing your exam as early as possible will give you one less thing to worry about as you move forward with your application.”


When it comes to letters of recommendation, Blackman recommends that applicants reach out to professional references rather than academic ones.

“An academic reference will not be able to answer the most common recommendation questions,” she writes. “Schools are really looking for insight into your professional performance.”

Additionally, these references should be from recent or current jobs.

“The most recent insights help create a picture of you as you currently are,” Blackman writes. “The admissions committee is not as concerned with how you behaved eight years ago.”

The Essay

Each school has their own preferable traits they look for in applicants, but Blackman says there are also a number of traits that nearly every school seeks out. Those include areas like leadership, team skills, ethics, and communication skills.

What’s most important, according to Blackman, is being able to properly support your essay with stories that back your traits.

“Just saying ‘I am a strong leader’ is not enough,” Blackman writes. “Every claim you make must have supporting stories that help the reader believe you. You do not need to check off every quality on the list. Select a few that apply to you and reinforce those in an honest and compelling way.”

Sources: Economist, Poets & Quants, Economist

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.