Listen to this article
Applying for business school is a lengthy process, regardless of the degree you choose to study. Given the time and money invested, it is vital to do the right research, pass the relevant tests and present yourself appropriately both online and face to face.
Over the past summer, FT MBA bloggers have been writing about their experiences in applying to business school. “My MBA application experience has been long. This is because I applied to four schools: two one-year programmes and two two-year programmes,” says Marco Biava, now studying at Cheung Kong.
This lengthy process is no different to that faced by aspiring students when they apply to study for a Masters in Management programme.
To start with, Nick Barniville, programme director at the European School of Management and Technology in Berlin, recommends students take a moment to reassess their position. “What might have seemed the ideal life at 17 or 18 [undergraduate level] might not be the same at graduate level, so re-evaluate your passion and think of the Mim as a career bridge,” he says.
Specialised programmes are increasingly becoming available for those clear on what they want to do – budding entrepreneurs for example, can now find programmes that will assist them in bringing their ideas to market. School careers services, social networks, faculty, students and alumni are all available to answer questions. “Social media is a great way to gain first-hand information about the programmes you are interested in,” says Keegan Pierce, associate director of international admissions at Esade Business School in Spain.
For more details on how to choose an Mim programme, read our guide.
Once you have a list of schools you want to apply for, it is important to ensure you have the right qualifications. On average, Mim students are in their early twenties and have no work experience, so an impressive bachelor's degree from a good university is a priority for business schools.
“The academic level is our top criterion, it has to be outstanding,” says Julien Manteau, marketing director at HEC Paris. He recommends students include details of any scholarships or awards they have received at university in their application to further support their academic strengths. “The most important thing is that we are convinced students have high potential,” he says.
A bachelor's degree in a business or economic background is also a requirement for some schools. In the Financial Times 2013 ranking of Mim programmes, this applies to 24 per cent of those featured.
Most institutions also expect students to have taken the graduate management admissions test (GMAT) or graduate record examination (GRE). At HEC Paris, the average GMAT score is always above 700, says Mr Manteau.
Those who speak English as a second language may also be required to take an English language test.
While an up-to-date CV will be a core part of the application, students may also be asked to write a personal statement or letter of motivation. This is a good opportunity to showcase your international experience and extracurricular activities, which schools often look for in order to ensure their classes remain diverse.
Francesco Saita, dean of the Graduate School at Bocconi in Italy, says: “A top school looks for talented people who will also be curious and energetic [in the classroom], and who will help increase the quality of the master experience for their peers, eg through class discussion or work groups.”
Timo Steitz, an Mim graduate from Esade, says it is also important to show that you have a real interest in the programme. “The two aspects to highlight in my view are: why this master’s is a good fit for you and why you can work in an international environment,” he says.
Internships and references
Internships are valued in the application process but as many schools include one as a core part of their programme, they are not too worried if a student has not already had this experience. “If someone has used all their summers to travel, for me that’s equally beneficial to having interned,” says Mr Barniville who is currently recruiting students for a two-year Mim programme launching in September 2014, which will include a one-year internship held in two stages.
Whether you have done an internship or not, however, you do need at least two references, academic and/or from an employer. “The important thing is that the person should know you well and have the experience to speak about your work, your demeanour and your management potential,” says Mr Pierce.
Once you have submitted your application, you may be invited to a face-to-face interview.
Tanja Bogumil, an Mim graduate from HHL Leipzig Graduate School of Management in Germany, describes the admission day she was invited to after submitting her application:
“The first part of the admission test consisted of two interviews – one with an HHL professor and one with an executive of a multinational corporation. In the first interview my theoretical knowhow from my bachelor studies and my personal skills were tested. In the second with the executive I had to apply my theoretical knowledge to different, smaller case studies. The second part of the admission test day consisted of a short presentation about a randomly distributed topic,” she says.
From this experience, Ms Bogumil advises students to prepare in the same way they would for any job interview. “Know who you are, including your strengths and weaknesses,” she says. “In the end, authenticity pays off.” She also recommends students find out the name of the person interviewing them beforehand and research the fields they specialise in and their latest publications.
Schools like students to ask questions at interviews. For Mr Manteau, the questions that stood out to him were the ones based on what the student expected from the school. “This gives an impression of great maturity and leadership qualities,” he says. “It shows they are not just there because their parents sent them.”