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Stacy Blackman’s 7-Step Plan for Building Your Strongest MBA Candidacy

After much research and planning you’re taking that next step and applying to business school. Your education, career, and personal achievements will all come into play, so what exactly will admissions team look for in your candidacy? 

“Candidacy isn’t any one thing,” says Gavin Gandulla, associate director of Graduate Recruitment at Hofstra University’s Zarb School of Business. “It’s a combination and balance of traits, experience, and education. Schools also want to know that you are a professional of high character. Those things taken together indicate how successful you will be in the program.” 

Whether you’re considering applying to business school in the next few months or in a year or two, you can increase your chances by taking steps now to improve your candidacy. 

Highly-ranked MBA admissions consultant Stacy Blackman shares her seven-step action plan MBA applicants can use at any stage of their admissions cycle.

1. Show Career Progression.

MBA programs want to admit successful candidates with a strong performance trajectory. If you recently made a move up, then you can check this box, but if your title and responsibilities say “flat line” vs. “rising star” then consider the following:

  • Evaluate the growth opportunities in your company and propose to take on additional responsibilities with a change in title that reflects your expanded purview.
  • Volunteer for a stretch assignment that reflects your drive to assume a leadership role and take on responsibilities—extra points for volunteering.
  • Seek out new opportunities at other companies and show a sense of urgency in meeting your long-term career goals.

2. Build Your Extracurricular Activities.

Make  community service a priority. Just like career progression, community service should reflect your leadership qualities and serve as a record of the impact you are able to make on a given project, community, or organization. Quick tips:

  • Already involved? Be sure you can show a record of impact that will help you stand out from other candidates with more passive involvement.
  • Too busy? Check to see if your company has a community service department or volunteer programs that fit into work schedules.

3. Get the Strongest Recommendations.

Creating a “recommendation package” is a great way to help associates, managers, and former faculty write the strongest letters possible on your behalf.  Your package should include:

  • An outline of your short- and long-term career goals
  • Key career accomplishments
  • Why you selected your target schools

4. Objectively Assess Your GPA.

You can’t go back and retake your old courses, but you can identify where your GPA reflects poor performance and take courses now to mitigate concerns about your candidacy. Consider taking an extension course at a local college to show that you can achieve an A, especially in quantitative coursework. Plan of attack:

  • Be sure courses like calculus, microeconomics, or statistics round out the quantitative part of your academic profile.
  • Submit an optional essay that puts your undergraduate transcript in context, and tell the story of how you have improved by bridging to career achievements.

5. Take the GMAT… or GRE?

Many business schools take the GRE, but the determining factor should be, on which test do you perform better? Take practice tests for both and see which gives you the higher score, but keep in mind your overall quant profile. The GMAT gives you an opportunity to prove those skills if, for example, they don’t shine through on your GPA. Quick tips:

  • Quant score is generally easier on the GRE, but the verbal can be more difficult
  • If you received a below average score on either test, consider retaking it

6. Find the Right Fit.

You want to select schools that are the best fit for you, which is what schools want as well. Your enthusiasm, familiarity with the school, personality, and aspirations will all indicate the likelihood of success in the program you choose. Here are a few ways to research schools and make a good impression. 

  • Look beyond the rankings and expand your research by using your network to connect with students and alumni of each program if possible
  • Attend information sessions and ask about culture, the recruitment process, faculty, professional networks, and post-MBA careers

7. Start Early on Essays.

Along with recommendations, essays reveal your character as well as your career goals. It’s never too early to start thinking through your story for the essay section. Typical questions ask why you want to pursue an MBA and your leadership experiences. Make a memorable impression:

  1. Talk to friends, family, colleagues, and mentors about the strengths they see in you
  2. Think of the formative moments in your life and how they contributed to your resilience, character, and drive for achievement

Finally, remember that nationally recognized MBA programs like Hofstra view applicants in a holistic manner. If you are able to target the right programs for you and communicate clearly who you are and why an MBA is the right next step, you will be successful.