Tips to ace your MBA application

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Completing an online Master of Business Administration program can be the first step to attaining an increased and diversified skill set. This achievement can then help you realize career progression that offers benefits such as a higher salary and more influence.

To enroll in the Washington State University Carson College of Business Online MBA program, you must acquire, complete, and submit several documents to finalize the application process. You cannot change some of the information contained in these required application documents, i.e., the personal details on the application form, your college grade point average, or your prior transcripts. That said, there are parts of your MBA application that you may still positively influence.

Wondering how to improve your MBA application? You can study and prepare to attain a higher GMAT score, find a reference who will write a compelling letter of recommendation, and create a strong resume and statement of purpose. By focusing on these areas, you may improve your MBA profile, stand out in the admission process, and create a solid case for acceptance into the Carson College of Business’ Online MBA programs.

Before You Begin: Understanding the MBA Profile

While it might sound complicated, an MBA profile is simply an understanding of your knowledge, experience, accomplishments, and other key factors developed by an admissions committee. This is similar to the process used across many undergraduate and graduate programs to determine who will receive an acceptance offer.

Your profile is dependent on the materials you submit as part of your MBA application: your test scores, letter of recommendation, resume, and statement of purpose. While you may have a strong belief that you will be an exceptional student in an MBA program, and can back that feeling up with facts about your experience and accomplishments, admissions advisors can only make their conclusions based on the information you share with them. The following advice can support your efforts to optimize your profile and improve your MBA application.

1. Acing the Tests

When beginning the enrollment process, we recommend signing up for the Graduate Management Admission Test as soon as possible (if you haven’t taken it already). This test measures your analytical, quantitative, reasoning, writing, and critical-thinking skills through processes including:

  • Essay questions
  • Reading comprehension tasks
  • Data sufficiency exercises

he best way to prepare for the exam is to create and stick to a schedule that gives you enough time to study before the exam date. According to data from the Graduate Management Admissions Council, test takers who score between 500 and 590 spend an average of 98 hours preparing. Those who score between 600 and 690 spend about 107 hours studying, while those with a score of 700 or higher spend around 121 hours on this task. Based on this information, you can estimate how many hours you’ll need to study to potentially attain the score you want.

The GMAC provides several study tools to help you prepare for the exam. To use them effectively, you need to critically evaluate your current skills to decide which areas could benefit the most from a targeted effort to improve them. You can take a quick practice exam at home and determine which sections you score the lowest on. It’s good to prepare for all parts of the exam, but spend some extra time on the areas that offer the most room for positive change. If you study best in a collaborative environment or want something to supplement the tools provided by the GMAC, you can search your area for group GMAT preparation courses.

In addition to studying, review the administrative aspects of the exam so you’re fully prepared once you reach the test site. Furthermore, it is a good idea to scout the location of the test prior to the exam date to ensure timely arrival the day of the exam. Finally, make sure you have the following items on hand the day of the test:

  • An acceptable form of ID. This can be a passport, government-issued driver’s license, government-issued identity card, or a military ID card.
  • The confirmation email or letter you received after signing up for the test.
  • The code of the program to which you want to send your GMAT scores. For the Carson College of Business, the code is 09D-TL-19.

In some cases, the Carson College of Business will consider your application without GMAT scores. To apply for the waiver, simply submit a written request highlighting the following elements of your application for admissions officers to review:

  • College transcripts showing a 3.0 GPA or above on a 4.0 scale.
  • A strong letter of recommendation.
  • Completion of a prior graduate or professional degree or five-plus years of progressive work experience in a field related to business management.

Successful candidates typically submit a GMAT score of 550 or better.

2. Asking for a Recommendation

Although the GMAT can be especially stressful for some aspiring MBA students, one positive of the exam is that your score is something you can influence. The letter of recommendation, however, introduces others into the situation.

You have to rely on a past or current supervisor or leader to advocate on your behalf in a highly competitive MBA admissions environment. A strong recommendation will portray you as an eager, capable learner, and a dedicated future student. Therefore, you want to make sure you pick the right person for this task. Your efforts to complete the business school admissions process and earn entry into an MBA program depend in part on them.

Asking for an executive or industry leader to complete a recommendation can be beneficial, but only if the person is familiar with your skills and accomplishments. A letter from a well-known industry player that’s full of filler and light on hard facts about your abilities won’t portray you in the best light. In fact, it may even hurt your application.

Ultimately, the letter of recommendation is your chance to get a third party to advocate for the skills you claim on your resume and in your statement of purpose. If the letter does not mention these skills, the admissions committee could doubt their validity.

With that in mind, a current or past direct supervisor can be a more beneficial letter writer than a CEO or the president of your alma mater. Choose someone who is familiar with your work and can provide specific details about your leadership skills, management abilities, marketing aptitude, and other talents.

The MBA application process for the Carson College of Business requests only one letter of recommendation, so finding the right person to compose the letter is crucial. However, this does mean you can focus your efforts on selecting the best possible individual for the task, as opposed to trying to find several who can share valuable details from across the relevant areas of your career. Additionally, should your first choice be unable to write your letter, you can also assemble a list of alternates to contact.

To decide which of your past or current managers should field this important request, you could start by considering especially positive changes and professional growth you have experienced in your career thus far, and which manager had the largest role in overseeing and supporting that development. You could take a similar approach if you worked with a supervisor who greatly valued your contributions and encouraged you to progress in your career.

Above all else, ensure the references you select have the background needed to speak in detail about your work, abilities, knowledge, and performance — and that they have a positive view of your time spent working with them.

3. Crafting the Resume

Now that you have your letter squared away, it’s time to work on your resume.

Treat this part of your MBA application as though you are applying for a job: Tailor it to the position at hand. Emphasize accomplishments that show your ability to succeed in graduate school, such as examples of:

  • Leadership
  • Time management
  • Critical thinking

Also, detail any prior professional development opportunities you've pursued, such as third-party certifications or training programs created by your employer. These examples can help demonstrate your interest in and aptitude for learning, as well as a commitment to developing your career.

The structure of your resume is also very important. Be direct and concise with your statements to convey authority, and keep the resume itself to one page. Distill your most important achievements, duties, certifications, and skills into a brief format.

Don’t spend valuable time worrying about whether to incorporate something only tangentially related to an MBA degree. Instead of including specifics for your entire work history, only list the key details of the most relevant positions you have held related to management and leadership. This approach can give you more space within a restricted resume format to highlight truly remarkable accomplishments.

If you plan to pursue a concentration as part of your MBA program, such as international business or marketing, be sure to add relevant work experience and other accomplishments that pertain to those focus areas. You can demonstrate your suitability for the program in general and a clear connection between your career progression thus far and your desired area of study.

In addition to writing concisely, be sure to highlight facts, figures, and other objective details. List how much profit you helped generate on a project or how many people you supervised. Use figures over words where possible — $5,000,000 is more eye-catching than “five million.” Also, don’t reduce the font size to squeeze more words on the page. Smaller font sizes are harder to read, and too much information could lead to sensory overload. Use a 10- to 12-point serif font for optimal legibility, and write and print with black ink and its digital equivalent.

4. Writing the Statement of Purpose

The statement of purpose is a reflection of the prior categories. It’s a chance for you to detail your intelligence, accomplishments, and ambition in a way that is informative, interesting, and unique.

More so than any other part of this process, the statement of purpose is an opportunity for you to speak directly to admission officers. You already know better than anyone else why you want to enter a top MBA program and develop the advanced talents and knowledge that support further career development. The key is to combine your voice and the professional abilities and accomplishments that can help stand out with a format that checks all of the boxes and highlights your positive qualities.

Begin with a brief introduction describing who you are and why you’ve chosen to apply for graduate school. Then, summarize your undergraduate experience and your career to date. Follow up with how your current professional role relates to your desire to obtain an MBA. Maybe you’ve reached a career plateau or want to enter a new field entirely. You could even review the curriculum of the Online MBA program and point out relevant prior experience related to a few courses, as well as highlighting how those courses’ topics support your career progression goals. Finish your statement of purpose with a final emphasis on your aspirations, and thank the reader for their time.

As with your resume, be specific and concise in your statement of purpose. Try to keep your entire letter confined to a maximum of two pages. Any assertive statements, such as “I am a hard worker,” should be qualified with an example. Finally, write in an active rather than passive voice to make for a more engaging read. For example, writing “Increased inbound sales leads by 35%” is much more direct and uses fewer words than “Inbound sales leads were increased by 35%.” The first option makes it evident that the increase in leads was a direct result of your actions.

Questions around how to improve an MBA application are often answered through context around a specific portion of the process and a suggestion to focus on details, format, and preparation. That general concept is just as true for the statement of purpose as it is for all of the other application elements previously reviewed.

Applying at the Carson College of Business

Entering the Carson College of Business can be a rewarding educational experience that leads to a satisfying career. Click here to see the full list of start dates, and use the above tips to put your best foot forward as you start your application.

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