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If there is one piece of advice that all masters in management students should heed, it is to begin the application process early. Indeed, anyone wishing to study at business school next year needs to start the process as soon as possible.
Experts agree that the more time you spend on the process the more likely you are to get accepted on your first choice of programme. Chioma Isiadinso, chief executive of Expartus, the business school admissions consultancy and a former member of the admissions panel at Harvard Business School, says it is vital candidates do their research properly.
While MBA programmes are usually well marketed, MSc programmes can be hidden in a number of different departments in a school and often have inadequate websites, she says. Isiadinso advises prospective students to approach the admissions staff responsible for their preferred programme and to talk to alumni. Knowing the ins and outs of the programme you are applying for will have real benefits in the interview process, she says.
“The more educated students are about the programme, the more they will differentiate themselves,” she says. “Most people do not do enough research.”
It is particularly important to ensure that you meet the requirements for the particular programme. While some courses will take students regardless of their discipline, others will require a business qualification. Others will require quantitative knowledge, such as a science or engineering degree or a degree in economics.
Before accepting you on a programme, business schools will often require you to take one or more tests as part of the application process. This could be the Toefl (test of English as a foreign language) for those whose first language is not English, the graduate record examination (GRE) or graduate management admissions test (GMAT).
The GRE is designed for all students who wish to study at graduate school, while the GMAT is specifically for those who want to study at business school. It is vital to check with the business school what is required, as many insist on a particular qualification.
London Business School, for example, requires students to sit the GMAT for its programme, while the London School of Economics and Political Science will consider both the GMAT and GRE, according to Jorn Rothe, an LSE lecturer in management. “We want [applicants] to take [the GMAT or GRE] because it gives us another dimension on which to assess them, apart from their academic track record,” he says.
Dave Wilson, president of the Graduate Management Admissions Council, which administers the GMAT, says the advantage of that qualification is that it is designed specifically for business students, and is therefore a better predictor of success for a business degree.
However, the GRE is considered better for students who have not made up their mind about what they want to do at graduate level. “The benefit of the GRE is that it gives you more options,” says Isiadinso.
Test scores for both exams are valid for five years, so even if you defer, the test could still prove useful.
The next step is to select your referees. Your undergraduate professors are the best bet here, especially if you have worked with one on a piece of research. A corporate referee from a successful internship or a referee from a charity programme in which you have participated would also be an excellent choice.
While MBA applicants can usually point to their employment record, this is not always possible for MSc applicants, who often have little or no business experience. As such, an important part of your application will be your academic record. Leading business schools will require a first or upper second class degree from a UK university, a grade point average of 3.5 from a US university, or the equivalent.
At the top schools, admissions officers will also be looking to see that you have studied the most challenging courses and attained high marks. Any charity or volunteer work, relevant summer job or internship will be treated favourably.
Most important, however, is to rehearse your case, says Isiadinso. “You still have to explain why you want to do the progamme, and persuade the admissions officer that you’re not just applying because you can’t get a job,” she says.
Masters students should note that there is no central body responsible for business school admissions, so applications are usually made directly to the institution. There is no limit to the number of applications that can be made.