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Competition for admission to top MBA programs is intense. What gaps might exist between you and your admission?

May 8 2011 By The MBA Exchange
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In recent posts we have highlighted some of the gaps that you might be facing. Here, we take a look at two more.

The gap between you and the next few-hundred-thousand new MBAs

Each year, about 200,000 individuals worldwide earn an MBA degree. In education as in business, some investments deliver a far greater return than others do. Earning a diploma from one of the top business schools can help bridge all described in this and recent blogs.

One CEO advises, “Go to the very best school you can. There’s an aura there that means something. When interviewing management candidates for our company, all things being equal, I look at what business school a candidate attended. If it’s a top school, we usually say, ‘This person must be something special.’”

The retired vice chairman of worldwide manufacturing company observes, “A top-notch MBA is always highly prized. Our CEO, and most of our top officers, had business degrees from Harvard, Wharton, Chicago, the better schools. If you can swing it, it’s worth doing.”

Another senior executive expresses his view more bluntly. “As a hiring manager, I always looked askance at someone whose MBA degree was from ‘East Snowshoe U.’”

The economic case is quite compelling. Although annual tuition may cost $5,000 or even $10,000 more at the highest ranked of the top 50 schools, the average annual starting salaries are substantially higher for grads of those leading programs. Assuming a 20-40 year post-MBA career, that income differential can really add up. The bottom line? Despite similarities in course content, apparently employers do not consider all MBA programs equal.

The gap between you and getting accepted by a top MBA program

Ironically, the most difficult aspect of earning the degree may be getting accepted to the school of your choice. At the perennially top-ranked programs, for every ten individuals with the credentials and confidence to apply, fewer than three are admitted. Even at schools ranked lower on the top-50 list, acceptance can be limited to less than half of all applicants.

All is not lost for the majority of applicants who, calculating those stiff odds, eschew the elite schools to seek openings elsewhere. Of the nation’s approximately 300 accredited MBA programs, there are about 25 private and public business schools with a national reputation for excellence. The next tier of 25 includes many fine schools with well-deserved regional notoriety. Although national rankings change from year to year, due to innovations by the schools and new demand for their particular specialties, the top 50 offer broad choices to those who want to bridge the gaps. As an applicant, you must evaluate which program is “best” for you in its teaching methodology, academic focus, faculty credentials, placement success, alumni network, location, price and admissions criteria.

MBA admissions committees typically use four selection measures: academic ability, personal character, management potential and professional goals. Excellence in one, or even all, of these is not enough. Schools weight these criteria as they strive to diversify the incoming class. They want some balance in age, gender, nationality, academic strength career profile, etc. And the model can change suddenly. So, awareness of current admissions priorities at a given school can help give you the inside track.

So, what must one do to win the admissions game? Ideally, preparation should start while you are an undergrad. Stretch your mind with Liberal Arts and challenging quantitative courses. Get involved as a leader in student and community activities. Seek summer internships that let you show you’ve really accomplished something. Earn your bachelor’s degree, and get at least two years of solid business experience. Then, at that point, you’ll know why you want– and need– an MBA degree.

For mid-career MBA applicants, the advice is similar. Seek and document work assignments that demonstrate leadership skills and quantifiable results. Share your know-how with not-for-profit organizations through pro bono work. Gain visibility as an officer with professional associations. Fill in any significant gaps or weaknesses in your education with local college courses. And don’t forget to stay in touch with former professors and bosses who you might need as future recommendations for your MBA applications.

Once you decide to “market” yourself for admission to business school, your next decision is whether to go forward alone or seek help. While some people rely on the vast array of “how to” books and software programs on the market today, these can be oversimplified and outdated. Furthermore, such tools are used widely by the very people who are competing against you for the same MBA openings. Remember, one key is to admission is to differentiate yourself from the pack, not follow it.

Given the benefits of attending the best possible schools, the arguments for seeking professional assistance can be compelling. An increasingly popular strategy is to work with an admissions consultant. Qualified experts can help you evaluate your options, target schools, customize your application, strategize for interviews and recommendations, even select the right courses and best jobs.

How and when will you get past the gaps? As soon as you believe that an MBA degree could help you move faster and higher, it is time to get started. The gaps in your future will not get any smaller when rationalized or ignored. And there are more than 90,000 other people going through the same process, with the same motivation and goals, as you. So, what is your next step past the gaps in your future?

At The MBA Exchange, we have helped thousands of applicants bridge these and other gaps. Contact us for a free evaluation of your potential as an applicant.