Harvard MBA Professors’ Summer Reading Recommendations

A Checklist for Your MBA Applications

With b-schools announcing a mix of online and in-person programs and summer internships being impacted amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, many MBA hopefuls may be left wondering whether they should still pursue the degree.

Experts have gone back-and-forth on whether the degree still holds the same value during a pandemic.

One of those experts is Barbara Coward, founder of MBA 360 Admissions Consulting. In a recent article for The Crimson Brand Studio, Coward offers MBA hopefuls a checklist that helps applicants prepare a strong MBA application.

“As a beleaguered economy makes for scant job opportunities, pursuing your secondary degree can be a great option. I’ve advised students and professionals embarking on this decision for more than two decades,” Coward writes. “What sets aspiring graduate students apart, regardless of where they attended undergraduate school or the GPA they achieved, is two criteria: preparation with appropriate lead time, and constructing a thoughtful application narrative.” 


Coward says it’s important for applicants to ask themselves what they want out of an MBA prior to doing research.

“This proves to be the most difficult stage of the entire process for some applicants I’ve worked with, as they ponder questions such as: What programs do I qualify for? What am I seeking in a graduate program? Or even – What do I really want to do with my life?” she writes.

It can be helpful, Coward says, to talk through these ideas with a trusted family member of mentor.

“Additionally, brainstorming lists and charts is helpful,” she writes. “If you seek expert guidance, a graduate admissions counselor serves as a terrific resource, providing an unbiased sounding board with a trove of expert information about grad programs.”


Organization is key in the MBA application process. And Coward says summer time is the ideal time to begin your application process and get organized about deadlines.

“Most graduate school first-round deadlines fall between September and October, and some programs offer an ‘early action or decision’ option, for eager candidates to indicate interest and preparedness as well,” Coward writes. “Calculate how much time you have until the date your application is due to create a timeframe for your grad-school application check-list. Within this timeframe, you can then create deadlines for items listed below, such as taking standardized tests, completing prerequisite courses and writing essays.”


Coward highlights a couple critical components of the MBA application.

The first is standardized test scores, which include either the GRE or GMAT, depending on which school you’re applying to.

It’s important to note, however, that test-taking requirements have changed due to the pandemic.

“Conduct research in deciding which test you will take – for some schools, it doesn’t matter,” Coward writes. “If your dream school prioritizes test scores, you may want to allocate more time and money to test preparation. You’ll want to identify whether the specific support you need is content mastery, test-taking strategies, time management or mindset, and then plan accordingly what your study plan will be.”

When it comes to your resume, Coward suggests that applicants tailor their resume to each program they’re applying to.

“You can do this by including a ‘Statement of Purpose’ at the top, in which you state why you are applying to that program in particular,” Coward writes. “Attempt to at least slightly tailor your resume to each program, even if it means just making a few tweaks here and there.”

Letters of recommendation are also a key component of the application and Coward says they’re probably the “most telling aspect of your application.”

“Be thoughtful in selecting your recommendation writers,” Coward writes. “Try your best to let your writers know one month in advance.”

Lastly, look at the application essay. It’s one of the most time-consuming, yet important parts of an MBA application.

“Essays that succeed in impressing the admissions committee will have received a great deal of thought and undergone multiple revisions,” Coward writes. “As aforementioned, I’ve served on several admissions committees, and thus, stood in the shoes of the audience for these essays. The time dedicated was evident. This is the part of your application you should not skimp out on.”

Sources: The Crimson Brand Studio, Poets & Quants, Emory Goizueta Business School


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