How to apply for a programme

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When trying to secure a place on a masters in management degree course, prospective students have to do their research to make their applications stand out from the crowd.

Candidates are expected to “have done their homework by properly investigating our programme and its value for their career aspirations”, says Omid Aschari, senior lecturer of management and executive director at the University of St Gallen.

A starting point is to consult various sources of information such as school websites, social networking sites, lists of alumni and current students, and the programmes office and careers service. Seek out school in-house publications, such as the SIMpact magazine at St Gallen, which provides insight into the masters in strategy and international management programme, explains Aschari. “It captures the students’ perspectives and one can get a feel about what the programme is about.”

It is essential to check the entry requirements of the programme in which you are interested. At the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), applicants with UK degrees are required to get at least a 2.1 degree in any subject, says James Browne, communications and marketing manager at the school.

Often, institutions insist on specific scores in either the graduate management admissions test (GMAT) or graduate record examination (GRE). The school will accept both qualifications, and the recommended GMAT score is 650 or above, Browne says. However, he points out that there is no strict minimum, as the GMAT or GRE only forms part of the picture.

At St Gallen, beyond the minimum GMAT score, profiles of candidates are taken into account to see if they can “enrich the programme”, Aschari says. “Their background must show that they are competitive and motivated, have a good grade average and have pursued other extracurricular activities.” The school has a “variety management” policy to ensure classes have a good mix of students, he says. This policy is only applicable to candidates outside Europe whose native language is not German.

If English is not your first language, you will be asked for a particular score from an approved English language test. There may also be in-house tests. For example, at ESCP Europe, which has campuses in five European countries, applicants from Europe have to take two language tests in English, French, German, Italian or Spanish, but not in their native language.

Once candidates are ready for the form-filling stage, some schools offer the choice of submitting a hard-copy application or an online submission via the school’s website. More than 90 per cent of prospective students apply online for the masters in management at LSE, according to Browne. The school’s online form can be saved in stages so it does not need to be completed and submitted all at once. Additional documents, such as a CV, can be attached.

Part of the requirements may include writing a personal statement or letter. This is not to be taken lightly, and candidates should not repeat what is on their CV, warns Aschari. At St Gallen, there are specific questions concerning the motivation for enrolling, what candidates expect to achieve, what their professional aspirations are beyond the course and how the programme will help them obtain their goals.

“The students’ responses offer a good indication of the extent to which they have investigated the programme,” he explains. “There must be evidence to indicate that applicants are thinking strategically about their application. Candidates should apply for a programme that is suitable for them, not just because it is an excellent brand.”

They should demonstrate self-awareness by acknowledging their strengths and potential areas for improvement, plus leadership ability, communication and writing skills, says Browne. Personal statements can also be used, for example, to explain lower grades on your record.

Claude Laurin, director of the masters programme at HEC Montréal, says candidates who opt for the thesis stream in the school’s master of science in administration course need to describe their research interests.

It is also important to submit appropriate references. HEC Montréal prefers two academic ones, but if one of these is from a previous employer, the school will accept it, says Laurin.

Work experience is regarded positively at LSE but is not required as most candidates will come straight from their undergraduate studies, says Browne. Ideally, applicants should have completed at least one or two internships while completing their first degree, he adds.

Internships are highly valued and “appreciated on the same level as a full-time job”, explains Aschari. He also says the types of internships will be scrutinised: a tough role in a small company with a good screening process will look good on your application, but working for a relative in an unchallenging job “will not get you ahead”, he cautions.

Once you have submitted your application, you may be invited for an interview. Usually, LSE only conduct interviews in exceptional cases. For instance, they can be used to reassure a selector that a candidate has good communication skills and is able to converse effectively in English, says Browne.

At ESCP Europe, on the other hand, it is compulsory for applicants to attend a face-to-face interview. Claudine Bertin-Lord and Maria Koutsovoulou, director and academic dean of the masters in management course at the school, respectively, say this is a way to assess candidates’ motivation for taking on the degree and their ability to study at a masters level.

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