To test or not to test – that is the question for many prospective students when they consider whether to apply and how best to prepare for MBA courses.
Overwhelmed by the stress and distractions of college studies, many may feel even more unenthusiastic about exams. But the extra effort can pay off with a significant number of business schools.
Admissions officials say it’s one of the first in a series of decisions that can pave the way to a successful application, from scrutinizing different courses and mulling over résumés and motivations, to carefully planning interviews.
Some tests are country-specific, such as India’s Common Admission Test or France’s Tage Mage. Others are international in scope, including the US graduate registration exams. One of the most widespread is the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), which assesses aptitude rather than knowledge by testing quantitative skills and verbal reasoning , critical and integrated.
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GMAT is often not required for pre-experience master’s courses and requires additional preparation time and costs, ranging from registration fees to, in some cases, tutoring. However, the results help provide schools with a standardized benchmark, especially for international students from systems with which admissions staff may be less familiar. Michelle Sisto, associate dean of graduate studies at Edhec Business School in France, says, “We see the GMAT as a sign of commitment.”
Sangeet Chowfla, outgoing director of GMAC, which administers the GMAT, says that one of the benefits of the exam is that students test their own abilities. “It’s a proven predictor of classroom performance, so it’s useful for them to gauge their own readiness. It’s a significant investment to go to business school, so your score can tell you something about your experience and how comfortable you’ll be.”
Deciding whether to take a test is one of several steps for applicants. Sisto highlights the importance of research, to explore the characteristics of different business schools and degrees through readings and conversations with former students. She warns that some institutions or individual courses are not accredited by national educational authorities, limiting the ability of foreign applicants to obtain a work visa and remain in the host country after graduation, for example.
Like his peers at other schools, he says that in application letters and interviews, candidates should be clear about their motivations for studying and their career plans, and be prepared to back up their claims with ideas and examples. “A very common mistake is trying to say things you think the interviewer wants to hear instead of what you really think,” she warns.
Ciara Sutton, director of the Master of International Business program at the Stockholm School of Economics, warns that an application that is too perfect or too generic can “result in the applicant not revealing enough of their own individual personality. We need to see how a candidate differs from his peers and what he will bring to the cohort.”
“A strong desire to join our specific program must be shown by disclosing that the applicant has read about what we offer, spoken to current students or graduates, and actively chosen our program,” it adds.
Filipa Luz, head of marketing at the Nova School of Business and Economics in Lisbon, says: “We want applicants who have different points of view and mindsets for their future life: we are looking for students who want to change the world, make a difference, be future leaders. ”.
While Covid-19 has accelerated the trend to reduce in-person interviews, especially for applicants from remote locations, some schools are still using them. Many more have switched to online variants.
If Zoom has reduced the risk of the weak handshake leaving a bad impression, online discussions bring other dangers. Sisto advises candidates to conduct practice interviews. “You need to be able to convey your enthusiasm online so you can connect: really look at the camera instead of the screen, sit up straight, and make sure the foreground is more striking than the background where you are,” he says.
Andrew Keating is Associate Professor who oversees the Master of International Management at the Michael Smurfit Graduate School of Business at UCD Dublin. “We’re looking for critical reflection,” he says. “Give an example of how and why you were successful with something; and what he learned when something went wrong and how he would approach it again. If you said you want to work in technology, explain what you will be doing specifically; or quote a company and explain why it has been successful, to show that you are capable of analysis”.
Appearance matters too, even online. “Don’t show up in a T-shirt and a pair of shorts,” says Keating. “You don’t have to wear a suit and boots, but at least be smart. You must look into the eyes of the person asking you the question, and at the same time take into account the others in the room.
Eye contact does not simply demonstrate trust. It can also help focus on what interviewers are looking for. “Often candidates don’t hear the question, they get nervous and start thinking about something,” she says. “Listen to what is asked.”
Secrets of successful applications
Do your research: identify the specifics of each school and course
Talk to alumni to gather more information.
Internships and work experience demonstrate commitment
Volunteer work, sports or activities in other student activities show commitment
GMAT is not always required, but it shows commitment and tests aptitude. The test costs £225; practice test £41; official guide £40
Be authentic and not generic in your app
Reflect on your achievements and challenges overcome
Be professional in interviews: look smart, maintain eye contact, answer the question