A Master of Business Administration degree opens the door for higher-earning, more competitive jobs, and MBAs have many more choices and opportunities open to them than people with an undergraduate education. After 2-4 years as a full or part-time student, MBAs are poised to earn significantly higher salaries and take on leadership and management positions throughout the business world. As these jobs are high-level with a lot of responsibility, MBA requirements are often harder to meet than most expect.
According to U.S. News, it isn’t even necessary to attend an elite business school to reap significant financial returns on an MBA. Its 2018 annual report on U.S. programs showed that the average salary for MBAs was well into six figures, with even higher compensation for graduates from selective schools.
MBA programs can also provide a richer classroom and learning experience than undergraduate business degrees, since most students bring years of prior work experience – in a wide variety of fields – to the table.
Since choosing and getting into the right business school can make such a difference in someone’s career path and salary, it’s no surprise if the application process seems daunting. Because the degree is so versatile, the secret to getting into a great school can seem elusive. What does it take to get admissions teams to notice you? What if you didn’t study business in college, or if your work experience is different from the norm?
Entry MBA requirements vary widely by school and concentration; this means doing serious research on your target school(s) is a must before applying. However, there are several basic prerequisite categories that almost all business schools require. These include:
- Standardized tests, like the GMAT and GRE
- An essay or essays
- A bachelor’s degree
- 1-10 years of work experience
Prerequisites and Entry Requirements
Taking standardized tests for MBA admissions is often the most intense and time-consuming part of the general MBA requirements. However, there are many tools and strategies that can help take the stress out of testing. Knowing your options is the first one. The GMAT and GRE are the most commonly accepted tests, though in some cases the LSAT can make a good supplement or even replace the GMAT.
- The Graduate Management Admission Test is the most respected and universally-accepted entrance exam in the world of business schools. It tests on verbal, quantitative, integrated reasoning, and analytical writing skills. If you plan on applying to several schools and have limited time for test-taking, this test should be the one you prioritize.
- The GRE (Graduate Record Examination) is another option to distinguish yourself from other candidates during the admissions process. The GRE’s popularity – among candidates and admissions teams – has risen significantly in recent years. According to Forbes, it is now accepted by more than 1,200 schools, including those with the top-ranking business programs in the nation. The GRE assesses the same skill categories as the GMAT, but it can favor students with strong verbal reasoning and language skills.
The main common denominator between standardized business school tests is that they are difficult and time-consuming to study for. Once you decide to apply to business school, you will have to budget significant time in your life for test preparation. If you know the school or schools you want to get into, research their specific admissions requirements to see which exams they accept and prefer. This can give you direction for where to start and what to focus on.
MBA programs usually require 1-2 essays for admissions. For competitive programs, essays can be just as important as test scores. They should be strong, tight, carefully edited, and should clearly highlight what you’re most proud of in your career. Every school has its own essay prompts and recommendations for length, style, and content, so sending the same essay to multiple schools is not a good idea. However, though you should tailor your essay to the program you’re applying for, it should never sound bland or impersonal. The essay should never lose sight of your unique skills and what sets you apart.
A bachelors’ degree is almost always required for an MBA program. Typical undergraduate backgrounds include:
This being said, no degree type is one-size-fits-all. In recent years, MBA programs have trended towards favoring creative, nontraditional education backgrounds. Depending on the school, the program, and the field you want to work in after you graduate, an array of backgrounds can fit the bill.
Admissions teams often seek students with a diverse range of educational and work experience, since this strengthens their programs and alumni. Certain MBA programs will also look out for applicants with specialized backgrounds like technology or healthcare.
Experience and Recommendations
Standing out as an MBA candidate is about much more than just high scores. Most good business schools MBA requirements including looking for at least two years of experience from a candidate. Your resume doesn’t have to align perfectly with the arena you want to work in, but your work experience should be a solid foundation for your studies.
Glowing employer recommendations and proof that you’ve spent significant time in one position are pluses. Most schools will be looking to see more than just internships and part-time jobs on a resume, but don’t let this keep you from including them. If you can defend the value of any of your work experience, you should.
- Executive MBAs, or EMBAs, have a different lineup of entry MBA requirements, experience being the most important. In addition to standardized tests, essays, and other typical application materials, an EMBA requires years of prior experience in the business world. It is tailored towards working professionals who wish to rise into upper management and executive director positions, and students usually keep working while they pursue their degree.
- On an EMBA application, your experience profile, recommendations, and essays defending your skills will outshine test scores in terms of importance. However, you’ll still need to invest time into preparing for them, since your scores should match up to the quality of your professional performance.
- EMBA requirements also include some form of employer sponsorship. This means that the company fully approves of their employee’s decision to go back to school, and will support the process by allowing time for class and studying. Sometimes a company will also financially sponsor someone’s EMBA studies, paying for all or part of tuition and costs.
Tutoring and Advising
Even after you’ve thoroughly scouted your school(s) of choice know what you need to do, the application process can feel overwhelming. Fortunately, there are endless resources to help MBA candidates get through it.
There are a plethora of free, easy-access resources available online, and online and in-person coaches are also a great option. If you need help studying for entrance exams, it may be well worth the investment to hire a tutor. Private and school-affiliated advisers are also widely available to help build shining applications. MBA requirements expect a lot of you, but with help the process becomes much easier to realize.
Throughout the application process, always keep your end goals in mind. Whether you want to take on a new role in your current company or launch a brand-new career, remember that an MBA program is a tool and not an obstacle. Focus on breaking the process down into clear, achievable steps, and never be worried about seeking help or advice when you need it.