How do you start the MBA application process?

This is a very interesting thing to think about and talk about, because in my experience candidates very often start the MBA application process with the wrong question. The reason this happens is because they often start with the thing that they find most intimidating about the application process. (01:09)

So if it’s the GMAT, they start thinking: “What GMAT score should I aim for?” – though that’s not a bad question in itself. Or they start asking: “Do I have a chance to get into one of the top 10, top 15 business schools?” That’s also not a bad question, but in my opinion these are not the questions that they should start with. (01:29)

The very first question that you as a candidate should start thinking about is really determining what your “why” is. Why do you need an MBA? What’s your motivation? What will the MBA change about your professional and personal path? Why do you want to spend a considerable part of your life – and income – getting an MBA? (01:52)

An MBA is proven to lead to professional advancement, personal development and increased income – but there’s always more to the story than that. So it’s really important to start thinking about your “why.” (02:21)

Why your story is so important

Your overarching story is the most critical component of your MBA candidacy. It’s much more important than your statistics – GMAT, GPA, and years of work experience. It’s your opportunity to distinguish yourself in a pool of talented and driven MBA candidates. Defining your story happens through introspection and asking yourself deep, important questions.

I have a favourite question that a mentor once asked me: “How does the story end?” In an exercise that some management consulting firms use, it’s a little bit more dramatic than that – it’s about writing your own obituary. (03:08)

At the heart of these questions are several layers. What do you want your impact to be? How do you want to be remembered? I don’t necessarily want candidates to write their obituary, but I think “how does the story end” is a powerful question that helps you understand what matters to you and why it matters to you. (03:34)

So candidates should start the MBA application process with their story. This is because it’s going to help them make better decisions along the way: what school to apply to, what kind of program, what kind of community. Your story will help to clarify your career goals. Your story will go into all parts of your application, so knowing your story is going to help you put together the different pieces of your application puzzle. (04:00)

However, remember that it’s an exercise that can’t be done quickly and will require some serious thinking. (04:53)

How to choose the right business school

Choosing the right school is definitely a difficult task for candidates, because there is so much information out there and also so many programs. We all know the names of the most renowned schools around the world, but they’re not necessarily the best fit for everyone. I generally advise candidates to use a simple framework that I call “The Three R’s.” They stand for Reputation, Reach and Relevance. (05:28)

When it comes to reputation, candidates often think about rankings. Rankings are definitely a good way to get a sense of different programs, but it shouldn’t be the only thing that candidates look at. To assess the reputation of a school, they should really be speaking with alumni and students to get an idea of how the school helped them meet their goals. (06:14)

When it comes to reach, you should know where you want to start your post-MBA career after you graduate, and you want to make sure that your program has a certain reach in that area. 

Relevance is to do with your career – does the MBA have the right specializations for your career goals? – but also: does it have the features that will provide the best environment for you? Some programs are large, some are more intimate, and really there’s no “one size fits all” solution. Relevance also refers to the location of the program and the culture – whether it’s competitive or more collaborative, for example. (07:42)

It’s important to compare that relevance to your preferences and to the environment where you thrive.