What You Need to Know to Get Started with the MBA Application Process | TopMBA.com

What You Need to Know to Get Started with the MBA Application Process

By Niamh Ollerton

Updated February 29, 2024 Updated February 29, 2024

You’ve decided to take the leap of faith and study for your MBA. But before stepping foot on campus as a fully-fledged student, there’s the whole application process to consider.

TopMBA.com has compiled all the information you’ll need to help you get a place on your desired MBA program.

How to get admission in MBA programs

To gain a place on an accredited MBA course you’ll have to go through a rigorous application process, as well as provide evidence of an undergraduate degree and relevant work experience. You’ll also need to submit an admissions essay and GMAT (or in some cases GRE) scores. Given all of this work, it’s no wonder some students turn to MBA consulting services or MBA admission counselling to assist them in their application.

If you’re going it alone, it’s important to know that, before you land a spot at a top business school, there are actually three stages to the admissions cycle: pre-application, application, and post-application.

Some business schools also give prospective MBAs three different application deadlines by separating the admissions season into rounds. 

Being aware of when each round occurs lets prospective students know when to complete the GMAT, get letters of recommendation and prepare all other material required for admissions.

According to Judith Hodara, the former acting director of MBA admissions and former senior associate director of admissions for the Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania, prospective MBA students should start preparing to apply six to nine months before turning in an application.

There are three application rounds: round one is usually in the fall, the second round (which experts say is the most crowded) is in mid-January, and round three is in March. However, experts say only exceptional candidates should apply in this round as most of the entering class is full, leaving very few slots available.

According to experts, round one candidates usually know for a long time they want to go to business school and are well-prepared for the application process.

Understanding the MBA admission cycle

At each of the three stages of the admissions process (pre-application, application and post-application) you’ll need to dedicate time and focus to your application.

The pre-application process is when you research and decide which MBA program is best for you. Consult MBA rankings, review programs, attend open house events and visit campuses if possible, in order to get the most accurate picture of the top MBA programs. You should also be able to find out information about MBA acceptance rates at various schools, to give you a sense of how much competition there is for places there.

Let’s not forget another important component of this stage – GMAT prep. The GMAT features mathematics, grammar, and other subjects you likely studied many moons ago. To increase your test performance for the exam, you could take a GMAT prep course if need be.

Starting prep early also allows you the opportunity to strengthen your quantitative understanding, especially if your GPA is low or you don’t have a business background.

Next up, the application process – the most challenging stage to secure your spot at business school. It’s important to avoid skipping steps here. If you have the chance to interview for programs where there’s the option to interview, don’t neglect it, as admissions directors may see this as you not being truly interested in their program.

This stage is composed of several items, including your resume, recommendations, essays, transcripts, GMAT scores, and a completed application. The goal for applicants is to present a strong application across all the evaluation materials. The stronger each element of the application is the higher the chance of being admitted.

MBA programs have strict policies surrounding deadlines, so ensure you start the application process early, and remember, incomplete applications are typically pushed to the next round.

After submitting all your material, you’ll enter the post-application stage. To prepare yourself for business school, consider registering for some business classes as a refresher – especially if you’ve been out of school for a long time.

There’s also the dreaded reality of quitting your job once being admitted – only leave once you’ve received a firm offer. But there could be the possibility of a senior position at your firm in the future – so best not burn those bridges. Obviously, things will be different if you’re planning to study part-time.


While the GMAT is designed specifically for business school applicants, the GRE is a test that can gain students admittance to graduate programs across almost all subjects, including the MBA.

With 'management' forming part of its acronym, you might expect the GMAT to hold some sway over its GRE counterpart. The test places a heavier focus on quantitative and analytical skills - interpreting data presented in text, charts and tables to solve complex problems, for example. Tasks are therefore customized to evaluate skills seen as being specific to business managers.

The GRE, however, is a more versatile test and has less of a focus on math. It even includes a calculator for its quantitative problems. However, for those for whom English is not their first language, the verbal section may be more challenging than the GMAT's, as it places an emphasis on vocabulary rather than on grammar.

The GMAT is a computer-adaptive test, meaning questions answered correctly or incorrectly, determine the difficulty of the following questions. Students can't go back and review their previous answers on the GMAT. Meanwhile, the GRE isn’t a computer-adaptive test and allows students to check previous answers. 

What to do if the worst happens

Although applicants hope to be successful the first time around, sometimes, it doesn’t quite work out that way. But there’s no need to fret – one look at MBA acceptance rates will show you that you’re not alone and may simply have been unlucky. Take this opportunity to have a critical look at your application before your next attempt.

Here are five next steps to take if you weren’t admitted the first time:

  • Reapply at the next opportunity
  • Gain valuable additional experience and skills before reapplying
  • Widen the net of business schools that match your goals
  • Invest more time in getting to know your target schools
  • Assess if an MBA is really what you need to progress in your career

Use MBA consulting services or MBA admission counselling for a little extra help if needed.

Remember, the MBA admissions process is a marathon, not a sprint. A lot of training and careful execution is needed to achieve your desired result. By devoting appropriate time and resources to all stages of the process, will ensure you stay ahead of the game.

This article was originally published in August 2018 . It was last updated in February 2024

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