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How to get into business school: preparation is key

The Guardian
Meticulous research and taking time to show that you're an outstanding candidate are essential for securing a place on an MBA


When German master of business administration (MBA) student Karl Rabe was interviewed over the phone for business school, he was in relaxed mode: "It was 30 degrees; I was sat in a camper van by a beautiful lake in the south of France, no shirt, no tie." He received offers from four of the five schools he applied to and accepted a place atLancaster University Management School.

Despite appearances, Rabe's application was backed up by meticulous preparation. He listed institutions that met his criteria and whittled them down; he left himself time for two attempts at the graduate management admission test (GMAT) exam; he checked his English was up to scratch; and coached his referees. "Germans tend to be straight-speaking and critical. I explained they needed to keep the tone positive," he says.

With the benefit of hindsight, though, he'd have asked schools for guidance: "They know everybody applies to several schools at once and you'll be snapped up, so they want to help the process."

Chance to shine

MBA student Brandon Hallam believes there are three things every candidate should clarify before they apply: why am I doing an MBA, why choose this business school and what makes me outstanding? Keep your application statement concise, compelling and honest, he says, and use the interview as a chance to shine.

Business schools often talk about finding "the right fit" and want to know an applicant has looked beyond the ratings. So take time to tailor personal statements, says Jane Delbene, director of marketing at theGraduate Management Admission Council in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, which administers the GMAT test.

"Admissions professionals can tell a generic application a mile off, so take time to understand your audience's priorities and expectations," she says – and be clear how you can differentiate yourself.

It's worth looking at how schools select students. "Some place more emphasis on GMAT scores and some consider the interview process to be most important," says Susan Lawrance, head of marketing and admissions at Ashridge Business School. "Many candidates don't do well at interviews because they are unable to bring their CV to life."

Finally, say those who have been there, don't rush the GMAT – take plenty of time to practise. Don't leave asking for references until the last minute, and don't feel pressured into making a decision – an MBA is too much of a commitment to get it wrong.

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