With graduate business school admission numbers climbing every year, students are constantly in danger of being lost in a sea of applicants. Yes, a killer GMAT score and recommendations with effusive praise are essential, but what classes will put you over the top? Which internships will be most impressive? How do you make yourself an attractive candidate beyond the obvious stuff? The answer lies in these 7 expert tips:
1. Look beyond the MBA.
Instead of only focusing your sights on a master’s degree in business administration, broaden your search to other master’s programs. These programs may involve unique consulting projects or internship opportunities that an MBA doesn’t necessarily offer. “While an MBA program prepares you to become more of a general manager, it doesn’t give you as much working experience,” says David Gautschi, Dean of the Graduate School of Business Administration at Fordham University. “You need to find a program that will not only teach you business skills, but experience the context in which business is conducted.”
2. Let your Liberal Arts degree shine.
Don’t shy away from broadcasting your liberal arts degree. “Schools are looking for students who are critical thinkers, have strong and effective verbal and written communication skills, and are creative,” says Gautschi. “And since these skills are not the focus of many undergraduate programs, many applicants are lacking in these areas.”
3. Commit to one internship.
“While we are looking for internship experience in a related field…we are also looking for commitment,” says Gautschi. “We want a student who has found an internship that really meant something to them, and was completely dedicated to it.” Banking internships for finance majors are a dime a dozen, so think outside the box; perhaps offer your finance skills to a start-up tech company. “The more real word experience you have, the better.”
4. Don’t collect clubs.
Quality, not quantity, is the golden rule here. You don’t want your resume to showcase an endless list of activities. Instead, pin down a few organizations that align with your interests and take on a leadership role or seriously contribute your time. It’s more impressive to say you led the fundraising committee for Relay for Life and brought on 10 student groups that each raised $5,000 for the cause. “We want someone who gets involved in activities that demonstrate his or her passions. There’s no point to getting involved in clubs that have nothing to do with your interests,” Gautschi says.
5. Diversify your undergraduate courses.
While math classes are critical to business skills, communication and interpersonal skills are just as important. Take classes that teach you to be a critical thinker or help improve your writing skills. Don’t be afraid to branch out into the journalism, philosophy or political science departments to make these skills a reality.
6. Focus your admissions essay on your passions.
Cater your essay specifically to the program to which you are applying. Demonstrate that you understand the purpose of the program within the context of the business world, and explain your desired career path.
7. Get Connected.
Connect yourself to the university in some fashion, whether it’s reaching out to admissions advisors, current students or alumni. Consider attending an information session or event at the school such as a guest lecture series or an entrepreneurship competition. Business schools want to see that you’re actively seeking them out. Last but not least, apply for their scholarships. Right now, Fordham offers a free ride to grad school with their Business Challenge—entering is a major step in the right direction.
When you’re looking at business graduate programs, don’t just ask what they want from you, but also ask what you want from them. Find a program that aligns with your career goals and then prove why you’re their ideal candidate.