Getting into business school at any time can be a challenge. But in 2021, with applications expected to spike even more than they did in 2020, competition is likely to be fierce.
The secret to your 2021 MBA application may be thorough preparation – let’s get started.
MBA Admissions in 2021
Most US business schools have set the first round of MBA application deadlines for the Class of 2024 for September 2021. The exact dates vary, as do the dates for the second and later rounds. So, if you’re aiming to apply in Round 1, you will likely need to do so soon.
While some schools have a Round 2 deadline in October 2021, many others, including Stanford and Harvard, set this date for January 2022.
Is 2021 a good year to apply to business school?
The answer may well depend on how badly you want to start studying for your MBA. With competition for MBA places on the increase, if you leave it until 2022, it might be a lot more difficult. Here’s why:
According to the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), applications for full-time MBA programs in the US rose by 74% in 2020, and they are likely to spike again in 2021.
That means competition for places is on the increase despite all the challenges of the ongoing pandemic.
According to Application Trends Surveys published by the GMAC for five years before 2020, applications for full-time MBA programs were down compared to previous years.
Reasons they mention include:
- Competition from international MB programs
- US immigration policies
- A bullish economy
Ironically, one of the reasons for the increase in interest internationally is COVID-19. Indirectly, the weakening of the economy – as a result of COVID – may lead to increased applications. While a strong economy typically reduces demand for MBA programs, an economic recession can have the opposite effect.
That said, since most business schools offer three application rounds for MBAs, you may still be able to apply in 2022 and get into the Class of 2024.
Will 2021 be a particularly competitive year for MBA admissions?
US business schools and MBA consultants have reported widely that 2020 admissions cycles have been the most competitive in recent memory. With the likelihood of fewer opportunities in the next series of MBA rounds starting September 2021, competition is set to only increase.
GMAC research shows that 67% of business schools received significantly more applications for their graduate programs in 2020 vs 2019.
Nobody could have predicted the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on our lives, let alone the effect it would have on postgraduate study.
One particularly unexpected issue is that 65% of the students – predominantly international students – accepted by business schools opted to defer to the next year’s class because of the uncertainty of the ongoing pandemic. By comparison, the deferral rate reported by GMAC for 2019 was a mere 3%.
Most business schools continue to allow international students to defer enrollment due to virus-related travel restrictions and other COVID-related issues.
How to approach your MBA application in 2021
While the process is relatively simple, it does take time, and can of course be stressful. Awareness of the high level of competition this year may be in turn raising stress levels among applicants.
However, with the right preparation, you can likely compile an application that will stand out from the expected competitive pool of applicants.
A step-by-step guide to applying to business school in 2021
Applying for admission to any business school takes time, especially for an MBA. Here are some tips to help you ace your application.
Making sure not to rush, and being thoughtful and thorough to ensure a complete application, can help to avoid your application being overlooked.
Researching your school and/or specialization
There are lots of MBA opportunities offered by a host of excellent business schools that each have something different to offer. This is why it’s so important to research which schools offer programs that dovetail with your interests and specialization.
In addition to the business schools that interest you, you may also have a choice of MBA types. And in some cases, you might have an option between full-time, part-time, and even online MBA programs.
While the vast majority of MBA courses are full-time and in-person, the pandemic has led to remote learning options becoming increasingly mainstream.
Different MBA types
Before you apply to sign up for an MBA you’ll need to decide which type of MBA best suits your needs. While factors such as location and cost are likely going to play a role, the type of MBA that you want to pursue may be one of the first decisions you make.
The options usually include a general, an executive, or a specialist MBA.
A general MBA is the most common option and one that gives students a broad knowledge base in business administration. Most full-time general MBA programs take two years to complete.
A specialized MBA will give you an in-depth view of your chosen field of business administration. Many specialized MBAs are one-year programs that allow more flexibility, but you’ll often need experience before they will accept you. One example of a specialized MBA is a tech MBA.
An executive MBA tops the price tag and is often the shortest MBA course you will find. For example, a full-time executive program at Stanford Graduate School of Business will only take you six weeks to complete. It’s intense but promises long-term results.
The importance of work experience
While some graduates might gain acceptance into MBA programs straight after college, this isn’t that common. It’s also often not a great idea because work experience can provide the necessary leadership experience, skills, knowledge, and expertise to help you to thrive during your MBA.
In reality, when business schools assess applications for MBA studies, they look for evidence of leadership and strengths in certain areas, which can be tough to demonstrate without work experience.
That being said, there is no magic number here. The right amount of work experience for you and your school/s of choice may vary from what suits another applicant. In addition, requirements may vary depending on the type of MBA that you choose to apply for.
Depending on numbers surveyed, average work experience pre-MBA application is hugely variable:
- Full-time: 4 years and 1 month (127)
- Part-time: 6 years and 9 months (15)
- Executive: 13 years and 6 months (25)
Assessing your academic profile
Business schools specify their requirements in terms of academic qualifications, so you will need to show that you qualify. But don’t leave it at that. If you can show that you have done additional courses – better still excelled in these – include transcripts that prove completion.
Accomplishments mean a lot. If you won any awards at college, proof of these will also likely increase your chances of acceptance even further.
Evidence of your Grade Point Average (GPA) is another element that will help business schools assess your academic profile. However, many highly-ranked schools don’t expect students to have straight As. As the U.S. News Best Business Schools rankings show, average GPA rankings are around 3.5.
The reality is that MBA applications are not just about academic performance. The assessment process of business schools is much more comprehensive because, ultimately, they are looking across the board for dedication, ambition, academic readiness, professionalism, and leadership qualities.
The GMAT, the GRE, and standardized testing for US universities
Standardized tests are an established prerequisite for general MBA applications.
The GMAC owns and administers the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) which is a traditional admissions tool used by nine out of 10 new MBA enrollments worldwide. The standardized Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) test is an option that some business schools accept.
While the GMAT is designed to measure your understanding of grammar and basic math, in addition to your ability to analyze multi-source data, it also tests your ability to solve complex problems and to think critically.
The GRE includes analytical writing in addition to both verbal and quantitative reasoning sections, and is used for various graduate programs and therefore is not MBA-specific.
Because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a large number of US university business schools currently accept remote versions of GMAT and GRE standardized tests, with some going so far as to waive it altogether.
Many that still require GMAT or GRE scores for admission will consider waiving the need for testing altogether if applicants can’t access a test, but this will often require you to request a test waiver.
Standardized test results can make a big difference to acceptance vs rejection, so don’t automatically give it a miss just because you can.
The statement of purpose, essays, and writing samples
Written essays and writing samples also play an important role in MBA applications. Essay topics vary, but many hinge on the idea of a statement of purpose (SOP) even if they don’t ask for one directly.
Remember that this is not an essay writing competition where language skills are paramount. Also, there are no right or wrong ways of tackling essays and SOPs. Rather, it’s your chance to illustrate your authenticity and uniqueness. Essays in general, and the SOP in particular, provide you with an opportunity to share your aspirations and goals.
Your cover letter is also incredibly important. Unlike essays, it should be in the standard format of business correspondence, and short. For example, the MIT Sloan School of Management asks for a cover letter that is less than 300 words long.
Application rounds and deadlines
Business schools typically offer three, though sometimes two and sometimes more than three, rounds for MBA applicants. Some of the top schools offer rolling admissions that speed up the application process.
The round-based admissions cycle is the most common method that business schools use. Those that offer two or three rounds commonly open Round 2 in January the following year. A few, like NYU Stern that has four rounds, slot Round 2 before the end of the year, in October 2021. Round 3 is typically in April.
Rolling admissions usually work within admission rounds and enable students to access early action deadlines. But some schools accept applications throughout the year, which can be a huge advantage.
While the first application rounds are typically in September, rolling admission business colleges often accept applications mid-year, as early as July. Because the specific requirements of rolling admission schools differ, be sure to check out what they need before choosing the rolling admissions option. And make sure you know whether or not this option is binding.
The interview and decision process
Your business school application is just the first element of getting an MBA spot. Once you are invited to the all-important interview, you’ve got your foot in the door.
COVID has affected the interview process too, and most business schools currently conduct virtual interviews. You may be asked to respond to additional questions in writing before the interview. Don’t be alarmed, this is all part of the normal decision-making process.
Need an extra hand with your application?
Whether you’ve started your application and are stuck or you simply don’t know where to begin, our experienced Admissions Roadmap team can help you.
We have loads of experience and an exceptionally high success rate in getting students admitted to general, executive, and specialized MBA programs.
We can also guide you in terms of suitability, matching your abilities and skills with the requirements of different business schools. Make contact with Admissions Roadmap today and we’ll help you get into your dream program.