MBA Application Process Do’s and Don’ts

MBA programs in Canada have multiple rounds of admission per year – some with as few as two, such as the Ted Rogers School of Management, and some with as many as six, such as the Ivey Business School. MBA programs are on the lookout for unique, business-minded individuals who can add value to their program. But how do you make it clear in your application and interviews that you are one of these candidates? While it’s a delicate balancing act that gets more difficult to manage with each passing round of admission, we’ve got some MBA application do’s and don’ts that will support you through the process. Let’s get started.

Don’t Apply to an MBA Program Based Solely on Their Reputation

There are MBA programs that are more widely recognized than others. While admission to such programs might make for an impressive credential, avoid applying to a program on the basis of reputation alone. It’s more important to find programs that are suited to your skill-sets and learning styles. These are the factors that will allow you to excel both within the confines of the program as well as post-graduation. 

So, before applying, ask yourself what you want to get out of an MBA program. Are you looking for one with plenty of networking opportunities? Are you more interested in one that focuses on skills development? Are you more suited to learning through case studies? Does travel interest you? Is class size an important factor for you? 

The only one way to find answers to these important questions is through lots and lots of research. 

Do Your Research

Take the time to scour each program’s website to identify which is more likely to help you achieve your career goals. Combing through their curricula, understanding their mission, and identifying their values will provide a lot of insight into whether or not a program is right for you. 

For example, The University of Toronto’s MBA program places a lot of focus on skills development (how to give feedback, delivering presentations, leadership skills, etc.) through labs with very small class sizes. However, Ivey’s MBA program places a large emphasis on networking, facilitating plenty of opportunities for you to make important connections to launch your career post-graduation. Is there one focus that you prefer over the other? Or do both of them interest you equally? 

When making these decisions, keep in mind that just because one program places emphasis on one aspect, such as skills development, it doesn’t mean that it renders other aspects, such as networking, as insignificant. You’ll still learn to develop those important skills, just through different means. 

Do you still have questions about a specific program after doing your research? Depending on the question, there are multiple ways you can find answers. If your question is about…

  • the admissions process, then email the admissions office 
  • student experiences, then reach out to alumni
  • the program’s structure or student and/or faculty experiences, then ask your interviewers 

Asking questions during your interviews is a particularly great way of getting these answers. Not only does it help you get all of the information you need to make an informed decision about which program you’d like to attend, it also makes it clear to your interviewers that you are invested enough in the program to have done your research and still want to know more. This leaves a great impression that committee members are likely to refer to when making their decisions.

Do Attend Recruitment Events

Networking is incredibly important, even before you start your academic career at a given institution. There are two particularly important networking methods that you should consider during your application process: attending MBA recruitment events and speaking with alumni. 

Attending recruitment events offers you plenty of opportunities to initiate contact with alumni and other applicants, as well as to speak directly with admissions officers. Once your application crosses their desk, there will be a face and an interaction associated with it. This gives your application a personal touch that is likely to positively impact the decision of admissions officers. Attending these events also makes it clear that you’re invested in their program. 

You can also use these events to gather the contact information of a few  alumni members to later ask them further questions about their experiences in the MBA program. This will help you make a more informed decision once acceptance letters start rolling in. But remember: treat them as an extension of the university and of the admissions committee. 

It’s important to know how to present yourself at these events in order to make a solid first impression. Public speaking workshops or classes such as Toastmasters are a great way to develop impressive communication skills and the confidence necessary to put your best foot forward at these events. 

If they have previously announced which alumni, faculty, or admissions officers will be attending these events, take the time to do a bit of research into their backgrounds. You can then develop a list of relevant questions based on what you learn about them. What are their specialties? Are these industries related to your career goals? Preparing any questions in advance will be a helpful guide and conversation starter. 

You also need to dress appropriately and professionally at these events. The dress code is typically business formal (slacks, button-down shirts, ties, jackets) or business casual (slacks, button-down shirts, optional tie and jacket). If you’re unsure of how to dress, take a look at the University of Toronto’s guide to dressing for success

Don’t Be Unprofessional With Alumni

There’s a certain etiquette with which you need to treat alumni. Be prepared with a list of specific questions regarding their experiences and avoid asking them anything that you can learn through the program’s website. Although you’ll likely be excited to hear back from them, be patient with their response times and avoid sending too many follow-up emails. This shows that you respect their time and that you’ve done the research to find answers that are easily accessible. 

It’s also important to interact with alumni in a professional manner. Although they were previously in your shoes, they’re still trained and skilled in the field that you’re pursuing. Maintaining a professional and respectful relationship will demonstrate that you’re serious and  will help you build a strong network early on. Once you hear back from the program on their admissions decision, it’s important to reach out to the alumni who patiently answered your inquiries to update them and to thank them again for their time.

Don’t Submit Your Application in the Final Round (If You Can Avoid It)

As we mentioned earlier, Canadian MBA programs conduct multiple rounds of admission per year. But they don’t reserve a certain number of spots for each round. In the first round, they might admit 50 candidates into the program, while in the second round, they might only admit 10. It depends entirely on the calibre of candidates who apply during each round. 

It’s a lot harder to gain admission in the later rounds. Most of the available spots are already filled by that point and admissions committees are looking for the absolute best candidates to fill the remaining spots. They want to round out the class with interesting individuals who do more than merely meet the minimum admissions requirements. So, to increase your odds of admission, aim to apply in one of the earlier rounds.  

This isn’t to say that it’s impossible to gain admission in the final round. It’s definitely not! Especially if you have competitive grades, GMAT scores, and relevant life experiences.  You just might face greater competition at this stage. 

Do Include Specifics in Your Applications 

Canadian MBA programs receive hundreds of applications at a time. Most of them are from high achieving applicants with a high GPA. You have to stand out. And you won’t stand out by just writing what you think admissions committees want to hear. 

Ultimately, admissions committees are on the lookout for candidates who can bring a unique perspective to their program. So, in your supplementary essays and interviews, talk about the experiences that make you unique. 

For example, if you are particularly concerned with environmental conservation, talk about your experiences working to conserve the habitats of endangered species in the Galapagos islands! Use that experience to highlight the leadership skills you developed and how you intend to apply them during your MBA education as well as throughout your future career. In this way, rather than making a general statement about your leadership skills, you’re giving a specific contextual example that demonstrates the depth of your abilities and life experiences.

You may have experiences that initially seem unrelated to the program and career you’re pursuing. However, such experiences could have allowed you to build transferable skills that will continue to benefit you personally and professionally. This makes it worth mentioning! 

At the same time, you need to pay special attention to the mission and values of the programs you’re applying to and relate them to your answers. Take a look through the programs’ websites. What principles drive their mission? What does their curriculum look like? What extracurricular experiences do they offer? What kind of a student do you think would thrive in this environment? Which of these elements are you best suited for and which of your experiences make you well-suited to them?

Don’t Do It All Alone

If you’ve been working on your application for a long time, eventually it starts to blur together and you can miss some really simple and avoidable mistakes. So why not ask for help? 

Before tackling the writing process, consider brainstorming with someone who knows you well. You can bounce ideas back and forth and get their input on the examples that you plan to use to highlight your characteristics and strengths. Perhaps they’ll be able to suggest alternative experiences that better highlight your unique qualities and directly address the questions being asked. 

Once you begin writing, ask someone to assess your application elements for essay structure and flow, as well as for spelling and grammatical errors. When doing this, make sure to allocate plenty of time before the application is due! Leave time for them to review your application and for you to go through and make all of the necessary edits. If time permits, send it back to them for more rounds of edits. 

Whenever asking for help with any stage of the MBA application process, it’s crucial that you stress the importance of critical and honest feedback, even if it may be difficult to hear. This will ensure a more productive process and it will give those helping you the space to be open and transparent, knowing that their honesty will help you succeed and won’t hinder your relationship. 

Do Take the Time to Prepare for Your Interviews

Interview preparation is vital. Anything you included in your application is fair game for your interviewers to ask about, so make sure to review your application as well as any supplementary content (essays, video essays or interviews, etc.). 

Interviews are also your opportunity to bring up any experiences that you didn’t have the chance to include in your application. Identify these experiences beforehand and determine the key points that are worth mentioning. However, you should only discuss experiences that you can relate to the program and that you can discuss in a succinct, compelling manner. 

Then, it’s time to practice! 

Practice helps you determine what you want to mention in your interview and it gives you the opportunity to assess your delivery. Are you frequently using filler words? Do your responses consistently run for longer than two minutes? Do you have a habit of fidgeting or avoiding eye contact? These are all things you can monitor and correct through practice. 

You can assess these tendencies by practicing on your own. Record yourself while responding to a list of MBA interview questions (such as this one). When you watch the recording, make note of how many filler words you use, how often you look into the camera, how often you touch your face, etc. Then try again, over and over until you feel confident in your responses. 

This is another area in which asking for help can be beneficial. Having someone such as a friend or family member ask you some interview questions will feel more natural as it mimics the set-up of an actual interview. Ask them to pay attention to every aspect, including your body language, use of filler words and whether or not you’re effectively addressing the questions. 

You could even make a game out of it if you have enough people! Split into teams and have one person acting as the interviewer. They pose a question to a member of a team and, if the team member uses a filler word or they take more than two minutes to reply, the “interviewer” hits a buzzer and asks a member of the opposite team the same question. 

Don’t Stop Building Your Profile 

If you apply and don’t get accepted into an MBA program, don’t worry! It’s not the end of your journey. At this point, you need to reassess your applications. Were you lacking work or extra-curricular experiences? Were your GMAT scores relatively low? Could you have selected more relevant experiences to discuss in your supplementary essays? 

Once you’ve identified these gaps, it’s time to determine the best path towards rectifying them. This is definitely a case-by-case process. For some, retaking the GMAT would bolster their application. For others, their time would be better spent reworking their supplementary content or working to improve their interview performance. 

I Got In offers pre-application planning to identify relevant opportunities (academic, employment, volunteer, etc.) that will make you an outstanding candidate and fill any gaps in your application. We’ve even got application support, as well as interview preparation to teach you how to effectively market yourself through both the application and interview processes. We’re ready to support you however we can to get you into the program of your dreams. 

Now, let’s briefly review all of our do’s and don’ts: 

Do you have any lingering questions about this process? Contact us today to speak with one of our experts and get all your MBA application questions answered.

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