How to Apply to an Online MBA Program
The application process for an online MBA program can take anywhere from 3 to 8 months, depending on how much research students want to do and the application requirements that each school requests.
The following list of application materials includes what many MBA programs ask their applicants to submit. However, individual schools may ask for more or for fewer application materials than those listed below. Students should verify what materials they need to submit with the schools they are interested in.
Bachelors Degree and Transcripts
In order to apply for an MBA program, students must have graduated from a bachelors degree program. A student’s undergraduate major doesn’t need to be in business or in any business related field in order to be considered.
MBA programs will ask students to submit their transcripts from their undergraduate school and any graduate schools that they have attended. Transcripts are records of the courses that a student has taken and the grades that they received. Not only will a student’s transcripts give an MBA admissions committee a good idea of their strengths and weaknesses, they will also act as proof of graduation from a bachelors degree program.
Depending on a school’s application policies, students may be asked to submit their transcripts in 1 of 2 ways. Some schools ask that a student’s official transcripts be sent from their previous school’s registrar’s office directly to the MBA program. Other schools will ask students to scan and upload copies of their transcripts.
MBA programs want to make sure that applicants are competent working with numbers and quantitative analysis. They do this either by looking for advanced math and science courses on an applicant’s undergraduate transcript or by reviewing an applicant’s GMAT or GRE math section score. If an applicant’s prior coursework or exam score do not sufficiently demonstrate their abilities, they may be asked to enroll in an additional math class prior to enrolling in the MBA program. Students who are concerned about their quantitative proficiency should speak to each school’s admissions representative.
English Language Proficiency
Many MBA applicants speak English as a second language and must demonstrate their proficiency in speaking and writing in English prior to enrolling in business school. Students who speak English as their first language do not need to worry about demonstrating their proficiency. International students who earned their bachelors degrees from English speaking undergraduate schools will probably not need to take an English proficiency test.
For those MBA applicants who do not speak English as a first language and did not earn their bachelors degrees from English speaking schools, they will need to take an English proficiency test. The most commonly accepted exam is the Test of English as a Foreign Language, or TOEFL. The TOEFL IBT is the Internet based test version and is meant to test a student’s ability to understand and communicate in English at the university level. Different schools have different minimum TOEFL scores and students who need to take these tests should check with the schools that they are applying to.
Resumes and Experience
Most MBA programs are designed both for students who have minimal professional experience and for students who have several years of professional experience. These programs ask for students’ resumes listing work and volunteer experiences to gauge how well students can communicate their ideas and how much they can contribute to classroom discussions.
Letters of Recommendation
Most MBA programs will request that students submit between 2 and 3 letters of recommendation. These letters give admissions committees the chance to see applicants through the eyes of employers and professors who know the applicants in professional and academic settings. Students who are applying may ask for letters of recommendation from professors, employers, coworkers, supervisors or volunteer coordinators.
Requesting letters of recommendation isn’t a complicated process, but there are a few things students can do to make it go more smoothly. Students should consider:
- Choosing recommenders who know them well instead of choosing recommenders who have recognizable names or positions.
- Asking recommenders to write their letters as early as possible.
- Giving recommenders copies of their transcripts, their personal statements and information about what they hope to do in the future.
- Preparing envelopes with postage and the schools’ addresses already affixed, if the schools request hard copies of the letters of recommendation.
- Showing their appreciation by saying thank you.
Asking for Letters from Undergraduate Professors
Undergraduate professors often provide good letters of recommendation because they can speak to a student’s academic performances and abilities. Students should ask undergraduate professors for letters of recommendation only if the professor knows them well, often through small discussion-based classes, like seminars. It is especially important to request letters of recommendation early from undergraduate professors. They have many responsibilities and are often asked to write numerous letters of recommendation for other students.
GMAT vs. GRE
MBA programs typically require students to take a exam prior to applying. Some schools ask applicants to take the Graduate Management Admission Test, or the GMAT, while others request scores from the Graduate Record Exam, or the GRE. Some schools will accept either test score. Students should verify which exam they need to take for the schools to which they are applying.
The GMAT is a standardized exam used exclusively for students who are applying to business or business related masters degree programs. The GMAT includes Verbal, Quantitative, Analytical Writing and Integrated Reasoning sections.
The GMAT is a computer based adaptive test. What this means is that the way test takers answer questions affects the level of difficulty for following questions. When test takers answer a question correctly, the following question will be more difficult. When test takers answer questions incorrectly, the following question will be easier. This method of testing shortens the amount of time it takes for someone to take the test. It also gives a more accurate picture of a test taker’s abilities.
Students may register and sit for the GMAT all year round, but should be aware that test dates and times can fill up quickly. It is wise for students to register for the exam as early as possible. Regardless of a student’s location in the world, the fee for taking the GMAT is $250 U.S. dollars. There is a $50 fee to change the date or location of an exam, if the change is made more than 7 calendar days prior to the test date. If the change is made less than 7 calendar days before the day of the exam, the fee is $250.
The GMAT’s Verbal section has 41 multiple choice questions. Test takers have 75 minutes to complete the Verbal section, which has 3 types of questions:
- Reading comprehension
- Critical reasoning
- Sentence correction
On the reading comprehension questions, test takers are measured on their abilities to:
- Understand the meanings of words and statements.
- Understand the logical relationships between points and concepts.
- Draw inferences from facts and statements in reading passages.
- Follow and understand quantitative ideas when they are presented verbally.
On the critical reasoning questions, test takers are measured on their abilities to:
- Understand how arguments are constructed.
- Successfully evaluate arguments.
- Formulate and evaluate plans of action.
On the sentence completion questions, test takers are asked to produce:
- Correct expressions.
- Effective expressions.
The GMAT’s Quantitative section has 37 multiple choice questions. Test takers have 75 minutes to complete the section, which examines their knowledge of arithmetic, elementary algebra and common geometric concepts. The 2 main types of questions are:
- Problem solving
- Data sufficiency
The problem solving questions establish a test taker’s ability to:
- Use basic math and elementary math concepts correctly.
- Reason quantitatively and solve quantitative problems.
The data sufficiency questions establish a test taker’s ability to:
- Analyze quantitative problems.
- Determine what information is relevant.
- Find the point at which there is enough information to solve a problem.
The data sufficiency problems on the GMAT are different than most standardized exam questions. The problems are accompanied by pieces of information and 2 statements. Test takers are asked to determine if the statements have enough information to solve the problem. The answer choices to these questions are:
- Statement (1) ALONE is sufficient, but statement (2) is not sufficient.
- Statement (2) ALONE is sufficient, but statement (1) is not sufficient.
- BOTH statements TOGETHER are sufficient, but NEITHER statement ALONE is sufficient.
- EACH statement ALONE is sufficient.
- Statements (1) and (2) TOGETHER are NOT sufficient.
Analytical Writing Assessment
The GMAT’s Analytical Writing Assessment section gives test takers 1 essay prompt and 30 minutes to write a clear and effective essay. Students will be asked to:
- Analyze an issue
- Analyze an argument
Test takers who receive a prompt to analyze an issue need to explore the complexities of an issue or an opinion. If it is appropriate, test takers may include their opinion in the essay. Test takers who receive a prompt to analyze an argument must discuss the reasoning for the argument and then critique that argument. Test takers should not include their opinion.
The GMAT’s Integrated Reasoning section has 12 multiple choice questions and test takers are given 30 minutes to complete the section. The Integrated Reasoning section was recently introduced to the GMAT in order to evaluate a test taker’s ability to understand and critique information presented in multiple formats and from multiple sources. The 4 types of questions are:
- Table analysis: students sort a table to organize data and determine whether certain questions are met. Each question will have statements with opposing answers (yes or no, true or false, inferable or not inferable) and students select 1 answer.
- Graphic interpretation: students interpret graphs and graphical images and are then asked to choose an answer from a drop down list to make the statements accurate.
- Multi-source reasoning: students click on a page to reveal different data and discern what data is needed to answer a question.
- 2-part analysis: students are asked to choose 1 answer from 2 columns to solve a problem with a 2-part solution.
The GMAT produces scores for individual sections in addition to the comprehensive test score. The whole GMAT score is a combination of the section scores, and ranges from 200 and 800. Two-thirds of all test-takers score in the 400 to 600 range. The Verbal, Quantitative and Integrated Reasoning sections are scored between 0 and 60, while the Analytical Writing Assessment section is scored between 0 and 6 in half-point increments.
Along with their scores, test takers are also given a percentile ranking which evaluates their score in comparison to the scores of other test takers. Test takers are assigned percentile rankings for each section as well as for the test as a whole. A test taker who is ranked in the 75th percentile scored better than 75% of all other test takers.
Students have several options when it comes to preparing to take the GMAT. For students who prefer to study independently, the GMAT website provides free test preparation software. In addition to the free online software, there are also test preparation books available at bookstores and at libraries.
Students who are interested in having an instructor review each section and suggest strategies to approach the test can sign up for test preparation courses from companies like Kaplan and Princeton Review.
In 2011, the GRE General Test was redesigned as the GRE Revised General Test. The purpose of the redesign is twofold: to make the test more user friendly and to give an exam that is more indicative of a student’s graduate-level abilities. The new test still has Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning and Analytic Writing sections, but the questions in the first 2 sections are now designed to be more representative of the critical thinking that students are asked to do in graduate programs. A revised scoring rubric accompanies the GRE Revised General Test. Although GRE test scores are valid for 5 years, if a student took the GRE before the revisions were made some schools may request that they take the GRE Revised General Test.
The GRE Revised General Test can be taken 5 times per calendar year, or once every 60 days. The registration fee for the GRE is $160 for the U.S. and its territories. Outside of the U.S. and its territories, the registration fee is $190. Students can register late for an additional fee of $25. They can also change their location and reschedule the test for another date and time for additional fees of $50 each.
Students who wish to take the GRE Revised General Test may register to sit for the exam in 2 ways. If a student has disabilities, they may request accommodations for the exam, but should know that the accommodations must be agreed to before a student can actually register for the test. Students who are not requesting accommodations may register for the GRE Revised General Test online.
In the Verbal Reasoning section, students are tested on their ability to analyze and extract information from written material in order to craft arguments and conclusions. This section includes new multiple choice questions that require the test taker to choose all of the correct answers instead of only 1 correct answer. The 3 types of questions are:
- Reading comprehension
- Text completion
- Sentence equivalence
The Quantitative Reasoning section tests students’ abilities to use basic mathematical skills, understand elementary mathematical concepts, reason quantitatively and solve problems using quantitative methods. Just like the Verbal Reasoning section, the Quantitative Reasoning section includes multiple choice questions that require the test taker to select all of the correct answers instead of 1 correct answer. This section has 4 major topics:
- Data analysis
The Analytical Writing section of the GRE Revised General Test is the 1 section that didn’t change in the exam’s revision. Students are tested on their abilities to think critically, write analytically, discuss complex ideas in a focused manner and support these ideas with appropriate examples. The Analytical Writing section is scored separately from the Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning sections, so students’ writing abilities will be judged independently from the rest of the test. Test takers will be given 2 types of essays:
- Analysis of an issue.
- Analysis of an argument.
The new GRE Revised General Test also has a new scoring rubric for the Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning sections. These 2 sections are scored on a scale of 130 to 170 in 1-point increments. The scoring rubric for the Analytical Writing section remains the same: 0 to 6 in half-point increments. The company that writes the GRE tests provides a conversion chart for students who took the GRE prior to its revisions.
Because every school has a different set of ideal GRE scores, it is difficult to say what constitutes a good GRE score. To get a better idea of how individual scores compare with other GRE test takers, below are the average scores for each section from 2007 to 2010:
- Verbal: 456 (revised GRE conversion: 151)
- Quantitative: 590 (revised GRE conversion: 159)
- Writing: 3.8
There are several ways for students to prepare for the GRE Revised General Test, including studying independently and enrolling in test preparation classes. Students who are comfortable working on their own can use the preparation materials found at the ETS website. They can also purchase or borrow test preparation guides from bookstores or libraries. Students who choose to prepare for the GRE on their own should begin studying early and should make a plan for themselves and stick to it. Students who want a more structured approach to preparing for the GRE test can enroll in preparation programs offered by companies like The Princeton Review and Kaplan. Many community colleges and universities offer similar programs for a lower cost.
Most applications for online MBA programs will ask students to write essays, personal statements or statements of purpose.
The purpose of these essays is for students to introduce themselves to the admissions committee and discuss what they hope to get from the program and what their future plans are. Admissions committees want to see students who have thoroughly thought about what returning to school will mean for them and for their careers. In addition to that, admissions committees like to see that a student can effectively communicate their ideas in writing.
Students should keep the following tips in mind when they write essays for their MBA applications:
- Answer the question. Even if a student can write well, if they don’t answer the essay prompt, it will reflect poorly on them.
- Be honest. Students shouldn’t lie about their accomplishments or experiences. Admissions committees look for potential to succeed as much as they look for past successes.
- Be specific. Admissions committees want to know that students have researched the school and the program and that they have a clear idea of their future once they have earned an MBA.
Some MBA programs invite students to interview with their admissions committees. An interview is another chance for the school to get to know the applicant on a personal level. Students should practice for their interview, but not be overly polished. Their answers should be genuine and well thought out.
The process of applying to online MBA programs can take as long as 8 months and as short as 1 month. However, the more time students give themselves, the better.
6 to 8 months before deadline
About 6 to 8 months before MBA applications are due, students should research the schools and programs that interest them most and narrow that list down to schools to which they will apply. Students should also consider registering for a standardized test, either the GMAT or the GRE. They don’t necessarily need to take the test this far in advance of their application deadlines, but they should keep in mind that it takes about 3 weeks for official test scores to be sent to schools.
5 months before deadline
Students should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, as early as possible. It is important to note that the FAFSA cannot be filled out until students have completed their tax returns for the previous year. If interested, students should also begin researching other scholarship and funding opportunities. The U.S. Department of Education provides some helpful hints and search tools for scholarships and grants. In addition to these tasks, students should begin working on their essays and ask their professors, employers or supervisors for their letters of recommendation.
4 months before deadline
Around 4 months before applications are due, students should order official transcripts from all of the post-secondary schools that they have attended. It doesn’t take very long for transcripts to be sent out, but they can go missing in the mail and it is a good idea to order them early in case students need to order them again. Students should begin asking friends and professors to review their application essays.
3 months before deadline
With 3 months until the applications are due, students should finish revising their essays. They can also begin applying to various scholarship opportunities, confirm the receipt of their transcripts and check in with those who are writing their letters of recommendation. If the recommenders have not yet sent in or submitted the letters, students should confirm that the recommenders know the due dates.
2 months before deadline
In the last 2 months before the application due dates, students can verify that their recommenders have submitted or mailed in their letters of recommendation. Students who have finalized their applications should feel free to submit their applications.
1 month before deadline
Students should finish revising their applications and submit whichever applications weren’t submitted in the month prior.
What are admissions committees looking for?
The admissions committees for MBA programs are looking for students who have initiative, leadership skills and who have realistic ideas about their careers upon earning their MBA. These qualities are typically reflected in an applicant’s undergraduate grades, GMAT or GRE scores and work and volunteer experiences. MBA admissions committees want to see students who have thought about their future plans and who have realistic career goals upon graduating from an MBA program.