MBA Admissions Cycles: All You Need to Know About Getting into the Best US Business Schools | TopMBA.com

MBA Admissions Cycles: All You Need to Know About Getting into the Best US Business Schools

By Linda M

Updated May 14, 2021 Updated May 14, 2021

Thinking about getting into Stanford, Wharton, MIT Sloan or Harvard? Here's everything you need to know about admissions at these top MBA programmes.

Between standardised testing, essays, and letters of recommendation, getting into business school can seem like a daunting process.

While top business schools often have similar ways of assessing applicants for their MBA offerings, it’s important to keep track of each school’s unique criteria and methods of evaluation.

Here is everything you need to know about the admission cycles at the top four US business schools according to the QS Global MBA Rankings 2021: Stanford Graduate School of Business, The Wharton School, MIT Sloan School of Management and Harvard Business School.

Application rounds

Most business schools will have multiple application rounds for their MBA programmes. These are meant to help local and international applicants who might need longer to decide which programmes to apply to or to gather all the necessary materials for the admissions process.

  • Stanford GSB: Stanford has three application rounds in fall, winter, and spring. Candidates can only send their application once a year, in one of three rounds available. According to Stanford’s admissions committees, applicants who send their application in Round 1 or 2 have some advantages, including:
    • The possibility to complete a quantitative and/or English language coursework prior to the start of the degree
    • Access to the on-campus housing lottery for Stanford GSB Residencies
    • Additional time to complete the visa application
    • The opportunity to attend the Admit Weekend campus residency
  • Wharton: Like Stanford, Wharton has three admissions intakes in fall, winter, and spring, with first-time applicants encouraged to apply during Rounds 1 and 2. Successful applicants are invited to an interview via email, with interviews generally taking place a month after the application deadline.
  • MIT Sloan: MIT Sloan has three application rounds in fall, winter, and spring.
  • HBS: Harvard Business School has already released upcoming application deadlines for the class of 2024:
    • Round 1: September 08 2021
    • Round 2: January 04 2022

Evaluation criteria

While MBA candidates tend to share common traits – such as a passion for business, a flair for innovation and leadership potential –, each school will use different criteria to assess whether an applicant will be a good fit for their programme and academic environment.

  • Stanford GSB: Stanford recruiters evaluate students according to three criteria:
    • Intellectual vitality: their interest in seeking new knowledge and expertise; their willingness to test and challenge assumptions, and their ability to develop new ideas or perspectives
    • Demonstrated leadership potential: how applicants have created positive change in the organisations and communities in which they’ve been involved; and skills like strategic thinking, initiative, persistence, results orientation, engaging others, and developing others
    • Personal qualities and contributions: applicants’ values, beliefs, identity, passions, experiences and ambitions
  • MIT Sloan: MIT Sloan looks for applicants who can demonstrate:
    • Leadership and an ability to inspire others
    • A collaborative spirit and focus on community
    • Intellectual curiosity and analytical strength
    • Creativity to generate new solutions to existing challenges
    • Growth in both professional and personal endeavors
  • HBS: Harvard seeks candidates who share the following characteristics:
    • A habit of leadership
    • Analytical aptitude and appetite
    • Engaged community citizenship

Entry requirements

Entry requirements are must-haves that every applicant must present when applying for an MBA at any business school. These can be stricter or more flexible depending on each individual programme, but they’re crucial for admissions committees to ensure that candidates will be able to handle the workload that an MBA entails.

Here are the entry requirements for the big four:

  • Stanford GSB:
    • A US bachelor’s degree or equivalent
    • A valid GMAT or GRE score
    • An additional English language proficiency test (TOEFL, PTE, IELTS) for non-native English speakers who have attended a non-English speaking institution prior to applying to the MBA
    • A resume/CV
    • Transcripts
  • Wharton:
    • A US bachelor’s degree or equivalent
    • A valid GMAT or GRE score
    • An additional English language proficiency test (TOEFL, PTE, IELTS) for non-native English speakers
    • A resume/CV
    • Transcripts
  • MIT Sloan:
    • A US bachelor’s degree or equivalent
    • A valid GMAT or GRE score
    • An additional English language proficiency test (TOEFL, PTE, IELTS) for non-native English speakers
    • A resume/CV
    • Transcripts
    • An organisational chart which outlines the structure of the applicant’s department or company
    • A video statement of one minute in which applicants need to introduce themselves to their future classmates, tell MIT about their past experiences and touch on why MIT Sloan is the best place for them to pursue a degree
  • HBS:
    • A US bachelor’s degree or equivalent
    • A valid GMAT or GRE score
    • An additional English language proficiency test (TOEFL, PTE, IELTS) for non-native English speakers who have attended a non-English speaking institution prior to applying to the MBA
    • A resume/CV
    • Transcripts

Essays

Essays are a popular way for business schools to get to know applicants and assess whether they’d be a good fit for their MBA programme. However, if you plan to apply to multiple schools, make sure you don’t leave this part of the application until the last minute, as this could make or break your chances of securing a spot.

  • Stanford GSB: Stanford requires applicants to submit two personal essays. Both essays combined shouldn’t exceed 1,050 words. The school recommends candidates dedicate up to 650 words for Essay A and up to 400 words for Essay B. Stanford also gives applicants the opportunity to answer two extra short answer questions to supplement their application.
    Here are the essay prompts and optional questions.
    • Essay A: What matters most to you, and why? For this essay, we would like you to reflect deeply and write from the heart. Once you’ve identified what matters most to you, help us understand why. You might consider, for example, what makes this so important to you? What people, insights, or experiences have shaped your perspectives?
    • Essay B: Why Stanford. Describe your aspirations and how your Stanford GSB experience will help you realise them. If you are applying to both the MBA and MSx programmes, use Essay B to address your interest in both programmes.
    • Optional question 1: 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?
    • Optional question 2: Tell us about a time within the last three years when your background influenced your participation at work or school.
  • Wharton: Wharton asks candidates to write two essays that showcase their professional and personal traits. Reapplicants have to submit an extra one. These average between 250 and 400 words and will ask applicants to touch on topics surrounding their hopes for the MBA experience, their commitment to the Wharton community and their professional life.
  • MIT Sloan: Unlike other schools, MIT Sloan asks applicants to submit a 300-word cover letter. This should conform to a standard business correspondence and include one or more examples that illustrate why the applicant meets the MBA criteria.
  • HBS: Harvard requires candidates to respond to one essay question. There usually isn’t a word count limit and have more generic prompts than other schools’ essays.

Letters of recommendation

Letters of recommendation are another crucial component of MBA admissions, as they help admissions committees see candidates from a different perspective. Much like for essays, each school will have their own criteria of assessing applicants’ relationships and impact in their professional life.

  • Stanford GSB: Stanford asks applicants to submit two letters of reference – one from their current direct supervisor (or next best alternative) at work; and the other from someone who has supervised their work in the past
  • Wharton: Wharton requires two letters of recommendations from individuals who are well acquainted with applicants’ performance in a work setting, preferably from a current or former supervisor. These must be split into two sections:
    • Section A: A selection of positive personality characteristics. Recommenders will be asked to choose three characteristics from a list of ten that best describe the candidate they are recommending
    • Section B requires recommenders to answer two free-form questions:
      • Question 1: Please provide example(s) that illustrate why you believe this candidate will find success in the Wharton MBA classroom (Word count: 300)
      • Question 2: Please provide example(s) that illustrate why you believe this candidate will find success throughout their career (Word count: 300)
  • MIT Sloan: MIT Sloan asks recommenders to submit one letter of recommendation providing specific answers to the following questions:
    • Please provide a brief description of your interaction with the applicant and, if applicable, the applicant’s role in your organisation (Maximum word count: 50 words)
    • How does the performance of the applicant compare to that of other well-qualified individuals in similar roles? (e.g., what are the applicant’s principal strengths?) (Max word count: 500 words)
    • Describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicant. Please detail the circumstances and the applicant’s response (Max word count: 500 words)
  • HBS: Harvard requires two letters of recommendations in which the recommenders must answer the following questions:
    • How do the candidate's performance, potential, background, or personal qualities compare to those of other well-qualified individuals in similar roles? Please provide specific examples. (300 words)
    • Please describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicant. Please detail the circumstances and the applicant's response (250 words)

This article was originally published in May 2021 .

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Written by

Linda is Content Writer at TopMBA, creating content about students, courses, universities and businesses. She recently graduated in Journalism & Creative Writing with Politics and International Relations, and now enjoys writing for a student audience. 

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