The Top 5 Questions You Need to Ask When Considering An MBA

The MBA application process is a major life event. Whether it’s a wedding, a baby, job, move or pursuing an advanced degree, life events tend to raise the same handful of questions. These questions have several things in common, including expense, time, opportunity for growth, and lots of preparation.

While new trends in MBA admissions arise every year, the business school application process consistently raises 5 key questions you should ask when considering an MBA.

1. Where should I apply? Deciding where to apply for business school is an extremely important and complex question. Since each application can require dozens of hours and significant cost, think through which school is the right fit for you.

All too often, applicants focus on a limited number of schools, solely based on “the rankings” presented annually by top-tier media outlets. Although rankings are an excellent tool for several reasons, they do have a few challenges. Most importantly, rankings do not take into account YOUR individual goals or how you may fit at each school.

Decide what you want to gain from a business school education, how you want to put your MBA to use after school, and all the intangibles that make each school different from the others.

  • Three key areas to evaluate are curriculum, clubs and the school community or culture.
  • Think about whether or not the resources at a particular school will move you towards your unique post-MBA goals.
  • Ask yourself whether the learning environment and student population match your personal style and learning needs.

Assess your chances of gaining acceptance to each school by comparing your profile to the school averages.

  • Look at how your GMAT, undergrad GPA and work experience stack up against the class profiles to determine which schools will be a reach, target (schools that should result in admission) and likely (schools that are nearly guaranteed to result in admission).
  • We recommend that applicants apply to 2-3 stretch schools, 3-4 target schools and 1-2 likely schools.

2. Can I get in? While Admissions Committees look at applications holistically, test scores, undergraduate GPA and work experience are the three sides of an influential triangle. Strong performance in at least two of the three areas is a must. If your GPA and GMAT scores are below the 80% range, gaining admission to top full-time programs could be quite difficult.

Don’t underestimate the time it takes to research each program to which you are applying and to develop compelling MBA application essays. Your essays must demonstrate your understanding of how the program can help you reach your career goals and how you will contribute to each program. In many instances, essays will sway an admissions committee to consider an applicant for a merit scholarship.

3. When should I apply? Many business schools offer prospective MBAs three application deadlines by separating the admissions season into rounds. Round 1 usually begins in September and runs through October. Round 2 applications are due in early January, and round 3 in early April. However, some schools have as many as five rounds. And other programs review applications on a “rolling” basis. If either Columbia or Duke Fuqua is a top choice, consider applying in their binding Early Decision rounds.You will want to submit your applications in the round in which you can present the strongest application.

  • Think about your schedule for test prep, taking the GMAT or GRE, researching and visiting schools, asking for recommendations and writing essays.
  • We recommend you begin preparing for the GMAT in March and take the exam in June. This would allow you sufficient time to focus on the other parts of the application and be able to submit in round 1.

4. How much will it cost? During the application process, budget for the expense to travel for standardized tests and for application fees, school visits and interviews.

  • The cost to take the GMAT is $250, plus $28/school for score reports to be sent to schools after the test date. If your test score is not where you want it to be you may want to invest in test prep classes or tutoring.
  • Application fees for each school are around $250 but some schools will waive application fees for candidates who visit campus or attend a school event.
  • Many schools waive application fees for military/former military or Teach for America applicants.
  • Travel to visit prospective schools and to go to interviews can add up.
  • The opportunity cost — time spent to prepare for standardized tests, write essays and prepare applications are significant.

U.S. News & World Report reports the average price tag for tuition at the top 10 U.S. business schools is more than $125,000 for a two-year MBA program. You must also take into account foregone income while earning your degree.

Keep in mind living expenses, which can vary greatly across top MBA programs and the cost of relocation to new city to pursue your MBA.

5. How will I pay for it? In addition to financial aid packages, there are financing options that applicants can pursue, including merit scholarships and loans. Most MBA programs offer merit based scholarships that are granted based on the strength of the candidate’s application.

Some schools, including Berkeley-Haas, encourage admitted students to apply for a variety of scholarships and fellowships. Business school programs wish to attract the most compelling applicants. Diversity organizations offer fellowships to finance education to applicants who have been admitted and meet specific criteria.

  • The non-profit Forté Foundation provides women with access to business education opportunities through Forté’s partner schools and a community of successful women.  Partner MBA programs offer merit scholarships to a select group of women identified as Forte Fellows.
  • The Consortium, the nation’s largest diversity network, connects top students, business programs and corporate partners to enable merit-based scholarships.
  • University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business invites candidates with exceptionally high GMAT scores to apply to the Jefferson Scholars Foundation, which offers a fully-funded MBA fellowship.
  • Loan programs for U.S., international and veteran students are available as well.
  • A Free Application for Student Aid is available through the office of Federal Student Aid, which provides more than $120 billion in grants, loans, and work-study funds for college or career school each year.
  • Prodigy Finance, offers loans to international postgraduate students attending top universities, with no penalties for early repayment.
  • offers federal and state level loans to graduate students include
  • If you have served in the United States military, you may have opportunities through the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and it’s Yellow Ribbon Program, so visit the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs for details.

As with many of life’s major events, applying to and attending business school can become overwhelming and unduly expensive without proper planning. Ask yourself the above questions when contemplating an MBA.

About Stratus

Stratus Admissions Counseling is a full service admissions counseling firm distinguished by its team based, multi-step process ensuring each application is crafted for optimum impact. Our MBA counseling team has a representative from virtually every top 20 MBA program, enabling us to provide school-specific guidance.


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