Top tips for a standout MBA application

Getting your MBA application right is vital.

Our How to apply pages give you the nuts and bolts of making an MBA application, but you might be wondering how to put together a “great” application. We asked Phil Carter, Head of MBA Marketing and Recruitment, to give some top tips to make your application stand out.

Create an MBA timeline

  • What are the deadlines and differing requirements of your target schools?
  • What does each school require in terms of GMAT, English? Do your target schools require those upfront, or will they make conditional offers?
  • GMAT study time – the average applicant is said to spend 100 hours on study time. How are you going to fit this in, and over what period?
  • Are there any additional requirements you need to consider e.g. submitting an essay?
  • Any other requirements, e.g. at Imperial, you can also submit an optional video pitch to support your application.

One size doesn’t fit all

We often get asked ‘What does the ideal candidate look like?’ and ‘How do you weight each of the admissions criteria?’ There is no ‘one size fits all’ answer to these questions. We do look for leadership potential, motivation, and a fit with our collaborative and innovation-focused culture, but this comes in many forms.

What do we mean by ‘diversity’?

It’s well known that MBA programmes value diversity, but this is often thought of in terms of nationality and perhaps gender. We do value this at Imperial, we are proud of our nationality spread and that our Full-Time MBA program is 45% women, and it’s even more important when you seek to foster an innovation-led environment.

But it’s wider than that – aspects that some MBA applicants fear makes their application weaker; because they are not the ‘typical MBA profile’, are other dimensions of diversity. The younger student (provided they meet core entry requirements) – brings a slightly different outlook, as does a student with an Arts education background, or someone with Not-for-Profit sector work experience. Provided you bring the motivation to make the most out of the MBA, and the confidence to interact and contribute to the experience, then you can be an asset to our cohort.

Engage with us

It surprises me that many people are prepared to invest so much in their education, with minimal interaction with the Recruitment team.

We are there to help and advise. You can request a personal consultation for example. This can help you with fine-tuning your application, but also to assess whether our MBA (or indeed any MBA) is the right one for you. A good MBA Admissions advisor should not be afraid to recommend another School, or another qualification altogether; it is not in our long-term interest to convince you to enter into an ill-fitting programme.

Do we ‘fit’ you?

Just as we are assessing your for fit to our ethos and values, you will be doing the same with us. Try to visit the campus if you possibly can. We allow you to experience a class*, speak to students and/or alumni, and get a feel for what it’s like to be a student of Imperial College Business School so you can make a fully informed decision.

If you can’t visit campus, I strongly recommend availing yourself of the opportunity to speak with an alumnus – we will do our best to match important aspects your profile – be that nationality, sector background or desired post-MBA outcome.

* This is subject to pre-screening of your CV.

Tell us your story

What really makes you stand out is your story, what you’ve achieved and plan achieve with your MBA experience under your belt.

Be engaging yet relevant. The entry requirements are the base line. Be yourself – don’t try and be what you think we want to see and hear.

Why Imperial?

Do your research. We’re not simply looking for you to tell us how good our reputation and rankings are, but why have you chosen Imperial out of the many MBA programmes out there, as (one of) the school(s) for you?

We know the features of our programme, but what really appeals to and excites you about the prospect of joining our next cohort?

This will demonstrate the depth of your research into your understanding of why an MBA really is the right next step in your career, and will also help us assess the ‘fit’ I have previously mentioned.

Share your sources

How did you discover Imperial College Business School? Did someone recommend our programme to you? What drew you to our programme in particular?

Understanding what drew you to apply for our MBA programmes will always go down well with me – you are helping me to do my job well – to understand how best to reach candidates and meet their needs during the admissions journey.

But also … explaining what you’ve done to research the School also demonstrates the effort you have made and adds credibility to any statements you have made relating to passion for the programme and Imperial College Business School.

Career Planning

But I don’t know exactly what I want to do … isn’t that what an MBA is for?

We know that most candidates haven’t firmly and finally decided on a single career path for them. However, we are experienced in assessing the difference between those who are undecided and exploring options with those who are totally lost. You probably have an idea of the two or three paths you may want to follow. A sensible explanation of such a path (or two) will demonstrate your approach and research – and separate you from those applicants who really don’t know at all.

Referees

Talk to your referees early and prepare them, where possible.

Although you current, direct supervisor should certainly be on your short list of possible references, do think carefully about the consequences if you are consulting direct line manager. We understand the potential pitfalls with this, and especially why you might not want to contact them early.

A senior referee of course carries some clout, but try to balance this with direct knowledge of your contribution to the organisation and choose your most enthusiastic advocates. Try also to identify a referee who is “pro-MBA” and believes in the value of an MBA.

Interview

We are not trying to catch you out or put you through an unpleasant grilling. We want to bring out the best in you, after all. But this friendly approach should not be mistaken for encouragement to lower your guard or be casual.

Treat it professionally. Although ‘one size doesn’t fit all’, and the interview will not be probing for a specific job description match as a job interview would, there is no reason to treat it in a less professional manner. Preparation, practice, good listening skills and finding the right tone are all essential.

Practice ‘out loud’. You may be a seasoned interviewee. But if not, or you are modest when talking about your strengths, it can be very helpful to practice this out loud with a friend or colleague.

And, don’t forget that the interview is a two-way process. This is your chance to find out more about us. It’s a great opportunity for you to get our ‘take’ on studying at Imperial. Of course; an intelligent question or two can also add to the overall impression you make.

Your CV

When discussing your achievements – be specific, not vague and general. If you raised revenue, mention by how much. Be explicit about timeframes if you completed a project on time. I also find that it can be difficult to separate some candidates’ personal achievements from the wider organisational achievements. In the worst cases it can look like gross exaggeration, so do think carefully about how you express this.

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