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Are you planning to take an MBA online instead of in a traditional brick and mortar setting? If you are, don’t think for a moment that you’re going to get off easy when it comes to the application process to online MBA programs or business schools.

Experts warn that the admissions process and application procedures for the best online MBA programs, and indeed any school of business requires the same amount of planning and effort as that of traditional on-campus MBA or master's degree. In both settings, a candidate's admission to graduate programs depends on many things including GMAT scores or GRE scores, strength of your MBA admissions essays in response to essay prompts, your personal statement and proof of personal growth, professional growth and career aspirations, letters of recommendation, which particular program you're interested in, undergraduate studies transcripts or academic record from any previous college or university attended (bachelor's degree or other undergraduate degrees), and meeting the deadlines to get this and other required items to the school of business or MBA admissions committee. Who is on the business school's admissions committees could even affect your chances. One main difference between the two programs is that online MBA or other graduate students tend to be older and therefore often have more professional development and experience before sending in their MBA applications. They may also require a more flexible education path (aka an online MBA degree) to meet their career goals since they are often already employed. Still, online MBA admissions are pretty much exactly the same as requirements for in-person graduate degree programs.

In a traditional, full-time MBA, students dedicate all of their time to furthering their education while on campus. Time spent in classes, activities, events, and internships is often under the watchful eye of faculty. Online students have the freedom to start and complete their program on their terms, with much more flexibility, and their decision doesn't have to impact their current work, family, or social obligations.

For the best chance of success, keep these tips in mind when going through your online MBA application process.

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Don't Rush Through Your Application

Since remote students may be attracted to the online education model for the sake of schedule flexibility, they may be especially prone to making the mistake of speeding through the search for a specific MBA program and then the application packet.

Make sure to set aside a suitable amount of time aside to fully read and give the application your undivided attention. Experts say that applications are more likely to be accepted when it’s clear that the applicant took the time to thoroughly review every part.

Find out when the deadline for submitting your application is and plan milestones in advance. This way, you won’t find yourself rushing at the last minute to make sure you submit everything on time.

Carefully scheduling the time spent on your application won’t just result in a stronger overall submission. It will also prepare future students for the time they’ll need to take out of their schedules to focus on classwork. Academics are going to take time out of your schedule.

Focus on Real Work Experience

Too many students make the mistake of prioritizing their previous educational ventures over relevant real-world work experience. They focus on their academic resumes instead of the job experience that will work better to catch the eye of a business school admissions officer who has likely already gone through a list of options for the school who have touted their extracurricular topics and a profile with a high GPA.

While academics and test grades are impressive, MBA programs are more interested in a resume that really show off your business savvy. Instead of focusing on the presentations or papers that you aced, discuss in detail the responsibilities you handled during the coveted international business or finance internship you scored the last year of college. This will show admissions committees that you can apply your knowledge in real world situations while you work on further honing your business instincts.

Not sure how to best highlight and share what you learned from your practical work experience? Try tying it into your application essay writing. You might have to focus on MBA essay questions or essay prompts, but that doesn't mean that you can't make it your own.This is a great opportunity to expound on what you learned and ways it will benefit you as a student in your MBA story. You should also make sure that you review what a successful MBA essay looks like and pay attention throughout the essay writing process. A business school may offer several MBA application essay prompts and you might find that, during the essay editing process, you need to go in a different direction or answer a different prompt to get the most compelling essay possible.

Know Why You Want to Study Online

Prospective students should be prepared for the possibility that reviewers or MBA admissions committees may want to find out why they’ve chosen to earn their MBA online rather than in person at a local business school.

This can happen for a number of reasons. Admissions directors want to know that the students they admit will succeed in the program. They want to make sure that students have a realistic understanding of the time commitment that the program will require, and that they’re planning to arrange their schedules accordingly and are focused on their achievable future ambitions.

Be prepared to explain how you plan to balance school, work, and home responsibilities. Bonus points if you can think of a reason why a specifically technologically-based MBA would be beneficial for your chosen future career. If you work in a company that supports you, you may be able to ask a supervisor for feedback or advice on how you can include this in your application. You could also ask alumni about this if you have any connections with those from this specific program.

Define Your Goals

When preparing your business school application, make sure to spend time contemplating your future career plans in a productive and actionable way.

Admissions officers want to see prospective students with a clearly defined idea of what they plan to do with their careers after earning their MBA. They need to be able to understand both short-term and long-term goals in order to get a full view of whether the school and student will be a good fit for one another before they sign you up.

It may take some soul searching to identify exactly what your ideal career trajectory looks like. Consider your likes and dislikes, and the threads that run throughout your hobbies and interests. Think about how your career can fit you as an individual, and craft your plan accordingly.

Once you do identify your plans, it’s not sufficient to simply say “I want a career in business management.” You should be able to provide a detailed account of what your ideal future position looks like, down to the day to day functions. Show the school’s representative exactly how their online MBA program fits in and how you’ll keep working to set yourself up to reach your career goals. Be as thorough as possible rather than creating a list of unconnected ideas, and plan for success.

Prepare for Your Interview

Even for their online programs, most top business schools will require applicants to participate in an interview prior to entry.

Most online MBA programs allow for interview to be completed remotely, often using the same technology that will be used for classes.

You should be prepared to answer questions about why you’re pursuing an online MBA, what your career goals look like, and why you’ve chosen to apply at each particular school. Be ready to give examples of how you’ve enriched the communities you’ve been a part of, including any business-focused social media where you might post for yourself or your business, as well as reasons why you would be the perfect candidate for future leadership and management positions. You should also be prepared to spend a couple of minutes walking your interviewer through your resume in detail if requested.

Find a friend to help you by putting you through a mock interview. Practice pacing yourself while answering each question, and jot down notes as you go. You can even videotape yourself and look back on it to assess after. Being able to get as much productive practice as possible prior to the interview can be the key to remaining comfortable enough to make a great first impression when it counts.

Don’t be afraid to put the ball in their court during your interview. Preparing a few thoughtful questions to ask your interviewer shows that you’re an engaged candidate who wants to make sure the program is a mutually good match.

Choose References Carefully

Since most letters of reference are sent directly to the school, applicants don’t typically get to see the recommendations written on their behalf and have very little control over the contents.

Make sure your entire application is cohesive by having a discussion with your references ahead of time. Show them your application (think of it as a portfolio) so they can get a feel for the tone and message you’re trying to convey, as well as your education and career goals. Talk about what kinds of anecdotes and examples they may plan to include in their letter, and don’t be afraid to respectfully offer input if you have ideas that could strengthen your overall application.

It may be useful to get references from sources in differing paths of life. For example, a student applying to an online MBA program may seek a reference from an undergraduate business professor as well as a supervisor during an internship program. This will give the admissions officers reviewing the application extra diversity of insight into aspects of your business skills and knowledge.

Though it should go without saying as a common courtesy, be sure to give plenty of advance notice when asking for a reference. Get in touch with your professional contacts as soon as you begin the application process and let them know exactly what you’re looking for. Communication is key when asking for letters of recommendation.

Make Your Essay Count

The essay is one of the most personal parts of your MBA application. This is the section that ties together your entire application and shows off your personality-not just numbers and achievements.

In your essay, focus on highlighting the characteristics and accomplishments that would make you a unique addition to your school’s MBA program. Talk about the experiences that shaped you, and the background that brought you to aim for the goals you have today. If you’re on an unorthodox path to your MBA, embrace it! Admissions officers want to learn what makes you stand out as an individual, not necessarily what makes you the best and brightest.

On top of assessing your writing ability, admissions officers will want to see evidence of qualities like community enrichment, leadership skills, communication ability, a strong ethical foundation, and the ability to follow through on the goals you set for yourself.

When it comes to conveying these characteristics through your writing, show, don’t tell. Give specific examples of real-life situations that either tested your mettle or molded your future. Write with a passion that admissions officers will feel just by reading your words, and feel free to add an appropriate dose of humor into your narrative to put your personality on display.

Learn more about how to pay for an MBA program

Frequently Asked Questions

Can international students apply to US MBA programs?

Yes. Of course, international students can apply to MBA programs wherever they like. However, you are going to need to be aware of certain requirements and provide some things that more local students would not need to provide. One of these is TOEFL, IELTS, or PTE scores, though some programs are now accepting Duolingo scores, making that an easy way to prepare yourself for a US program. And, since you are considering a much bigger move if you are thinking of attending a program in person, it may be an even better idea for you to attend online. Though, if you are looking for an online option, you may want to specify that you are looking for asynchronous courses. Depending on how far away from your US program you are, you might end up having to wake up in the middle of the night to attend a synchronous course.

Are there standardized admission deadlines for MBAs?

There are not a standard set of deadlines for any school admission in the US. Some schools use the same dates, but that’s more happenstance than planning. This is why some people suggest that you plan to apply to the MBA programs you wish to attend as much as a year in advance, or two! But you’ll want to track the deadlines of every separate school you are considering, including early application deadlines, if applicable.

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