After you finalize your list of business schools that offer the online MBA program model, curriculum and value-added features that align best with your career goals (see Parts One and Two of this series), it’s time to launch your admissions campaign.
While nearly double the acceptance rate for comparable full-time MBA programs, admission to top-tier online programs is not a certainty by any means. Among the top 10 as ranked by Poets&Quants, acceptance is as low as 43% and averages about 60%. Given the substantial time and effort required to apply — and the frustration that accompanies rejection — serious applicants want to get admitted to their dream school on the first try.
To help maximize your chances for success, here’s some actionable advice from The MBA Exchange. Based on our experience advising over 5,000 MBA applicants over the past three decades, we present guidance on how to evaluate and improve your competitiveness for admission to top online MBA programs:
How Impactful is Your Professional Profile?
Schools will consider the duration of your full-time experience, industries in which you’ve worked, the responsibilities you’ve held, the tangible impact you’ve had, and growth you’ve demonstrated.
Among the top-10 online MBA programs ranked by Poets&Quants, the average length of their students’ full-time work experience is 8.4 years. If the average at your target school exceeds the duration of your experience, you can enhance your profile by taking on a new project at work, negotiating a more meaningful job title, starting a side venture, etc.
To assess where you stand, review the online MBA student profiles featured on the school’s website. Then, find their public profiles on LinkedIn. Do these individuals have professional backgrounds similar to yours?
Don’t be discouraged if you fall short since schools have the latitude to admit candidates with more potential than past accomplishments. However, don’t assume that having above average experience will guarantee acceptance. Admissions committee look for much more than just a stellar resume when analyzing an application.
How Solid is Your Academic Profile?
At the top 10 online MBA programs ranked by Poets&Quants, the average undergraduate GPA for their admits is 3.28. If your GPA is above average for your target school, you are set. However, if yours is below average, you can bolster your academic standing by taking relevant, graded pre-MBA coursework in areas such as accounting, statistics, microeconomics or calculus. Such classes should always be graded and taken from an accredited institution. Evenings, weekends or online offerings are fine.
Beyond the actual GPA, admissions committees also weigh the rigor of your academic major, relative selectivity of the institution, grades earned in business-related courses, and time demands of extracurriculars and part-time jobs. So in your application and interview, be sure to explain any circumstances that may have constrained your college classroom performance.
Arguably, the best way to overcome a modest GPA is with a strong standardized test score. Nearly all online MBA programs require a GMAT or GRE. At the top 10 programs ranked by P&Q, the average GMAT score is 622, and the average GRE is 273. So, to achieve peak performance, we encourage you to take practice tests until you reach your best possible results. If practice scores consistently fall below the average for your target school, consider engaging a professional tutor to analyze your skills and propose a personalized strategy for improvement. And remember, you can always “cancel” a score and then re-test if you fall short of your target results.
How Compelling is Your Personal Profile?
After you’ve optimized your professional experience and academic record, consider how your current candidacy aligns with the school’s core values and qualitative criteria.
Even though participation in student organizations and interaction with fellow students are limited for online MBA participants, admissions committees still want to see evidence of leadership, teamwork, interpersonal skills, and community orientation. Admissions committees want students who will give back, pay forward and add value. So, if the school’s website emphasizes cross-cultural understanding, public involvement, and team leadership, then prepare to demonstrate these attributes through non-profit volunteering, coaching, mentoring, volunteering, etc.
How Convincing is Your Commitment?
Unlike full-time MBA programs where schools are most concerned about their yield on offers of admission (i.e., candidates actually enroll if accepted), with online MBA programs the biggest doubt is completion (i.e., enrolled students actually graduate from the program). Therefore, it’s important to convey unwavering commitment in your application. This includes conveying that your employer and family are 100% behind your online MBA education.
What’s Your Next Step?
There’s a lot of work to be done if you’re serious about getting admitted to a quality online MBA program. If all of this feels a bit overwhelming, guidance and support are available. You can start by getting a free, objective evaluation of your candidacy. Then, engaging a professional admissions consultant could be very beneficial in confirming the program model and schools that best fit your goals, and maximizing your chances for admission on the first try.
Whether you proceed solo or partner with an admissions consultant, we wish you great success and satisfaction in your pursuit of a top online MBA education!
Julie Strong is a Master Consultant at The MBA Exchange. Former Senior Director of MBA Admissions at the MIT Sloan School of Management for 12 years, Julie subsequently served as Director of the MIT Sloan Latin America Office. She has evaluated thousands of MBA applications and conducted in-person interviews worldwide. More recently Julie was founding Director of Admissions for the Asia School of Business, a collaboration between MIT Sloan and the Central Bank of Malaysia. She has served on boards of the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC); Education Testing Service (ETS); and Forté Foundation. Julie created and led the career development office for the school of management of a major management consulting firm. She earned a master’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.