Understanding The Admissions Process For An MBA Abroad | InsideIIM MBA Abroad Series

With an introduction to the scope of management education abroad, we now take a look at the most crucial element of studying abroad – admissions. In India, the admissions process for B-schools begins with the entrance exams, the personal interview, academic writing test and group discussion round, followed by an admission offer. However, the process for mba admissions abroad is somewhat different.

Here are some important pointers to keep in mind while applying to a business school abroad:

‘Why MBA’ & ‘Which B-School?’

Before you embark on your journey to preparing for competitive exams, it is important to know why it is that you want to pursue an MBA. Not only will this bring a certain amount of clarity about the future of your career, but this information will also be useful in the later stages of your application process, so it is important to get it right now. It is also important to identify your target business schools and why you would be a good fit for that institute. Only then can you move ahead with scheduling your GRE/GMAT.

Scheduling & Taking Exams

You can schedule your GMAT at the official GMAT website, and you can schedule your GRE at the official ETS website. Find a suitable date and schedule the examination at your nearest test center.

Once you have appeared for GMAT/GRE and have received your scores, you can begin your application process to business schools abroad. It is important to take the tests as soon as possible in case you need to re-appear for the tests multiple times. Ideally, by July, you should have achieved your final GMAT/GRE score, and must be ready to begin the applications process. Find out more about the GMAT and GRE paper pattern here.

Admissions Process

Usually, business schools begin the admission process in the month of July-August, and accept applications in 3-4 rounds, the deadlines for which are usually in the months of September (Round 1), December (Round 2) and January (Round 3), with November as an additional deadline for certain business schools like Johnson Business School at Cornell. The results of the interview process are released approximately 1-2 months after the registration deadline, when the admissions team sends out final admission offers.

Once the applications process begins, you are required to register and log-in to the official website of the institute you are applying to. You will then be re-directed to the applications page, where you can begin your application process. The main task while applying to a business school is to fill out the application form – a tool for the admissions team to assess the quality of your application and your fit with the business school. Once your application form has been submitted, the admissions committee will, based on the quality of your application, shortlist or reject you for the interview round.

Application Form

The application form is one of the most crucial parts of the MBA admissions process abroad. The following is the information that an application form requires:

Basic & General Information – This includes your name, date of birth, and a brief description of yourself.

Academic Grades & Exam Scores – This includes your past academic scores, which may need to be converted to GPAs as per the requirements of the business school. You will be required to provide the business school with your academic transcripts for the admissions team to verify.  You also need to fill in your GRE/GMAT/TOEFL/IELTS score, along with details of your work experience. You may also be required to upload and attach your Resume.

MBA Essays – Within the application form, a business school requires you to write 2-3 essays on generic and open-ended questions on your career ambitions, your decision to pursue an MBA, what your contribution will be to that B-school classroom, your personality, your work ethos etc. The topics for the essays are not a surprise but are actually mentioned on the B-school’s website. There is, of course, a word limit.

For instance, at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern, the following are the essay questions:

  1. Kellogg’s purpose is to educate, equip & inspire brave leaders who create lasting value.  Tell us about a time you have demonstrated leadership and created lasting value. What challenges did you face, and what did you learn? (450 words)
  2. Pursuing an MBA is a catalyst for personal and professional growth. How have you grown in the past? How do you intend to grow at Kellogg? (450 words)

Statement of Purpose – The Statement of Purpose, or SOP, is a series of questions that can be found in the application form specific to your career goals, background, personality, etc. Re-applicants may also be asked questions such as, “How have you strengthened your profile since the last time you applied?”. SOP questions are essentially generic MBA Essay questions broken down into specific questions. A business school may not provide a specific word limit, so it is advisable to stick to a 800-1000 word limit and not beyond that.

Video Essay – Some business schools also require a video essay from the applicants, wherein after the completion of the application form, you are re-directed to a set of 2-3 questions which you must answer to the best of your abilities. This allows business schools to get to know you in a more personal way than they would through your essays and SOPs. Video Essay’s last between 20-30 minutes.

Letters of Recommendation – Usually, business schools require at least 2 letters of recommendation from your employers/supervisors/senior colleagues who can verify that you are a competent employee and a dedicated individual.

The process of submitting the LoR can be different for each business school. For instance, institutes may send your recommenders a link to fill out their recommendations form to answer specific questions about your work, or you may have to upload the entire letter from your recommender in the application form itself.

It is important to understand that an MBA application form is a chance for you to put your best foot forward and impress the admissions team. Therefore, your form filling process cannot be precipitous and must be done meticulously and cautiously. After all, there is a reason why hundreds of SOP, Essay and LoR editing companies exist and charge a whopping amount.

Interview Round

If your application form impresses the admissions team, you will be shortlisted for the interview round. Once shortlisted, you will be prompted to schedule an on-campus or off-campus interview, or will be assigned an interview date and time. Off-campus interviews are conducted via Skype or telephone, and require you to be groomed and formally dressed. The interview may be conducted with a panel comprising B-school faculty, alumni, admissions committee member etc.

The interview round is one of the most crucial rounds in the admissions process. This is your chance to build upon your already impressive application, and convince the interviewer/panel of your ability to bring something new to the table. Here are examples of questions asked in an MBA interview:

  • Why MBA?
  • Walk me through your Resume.
  • Why XYZ business school?
  • Where else have you applied?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • Why not apply for our other specialisation programmes?
  • What are some challenges you have faced and how have you dealt with them?
  • How do you cope with failure? Give an example.

Each business school will have its own set of leading questions, following which your answers may be further scrutinised and you may drilled further.


Within a month or two from the application deadline, you will receive the results of your application, unless your application form itself has been rejected.

This concludes the admissions process that one must undergo in order to be shortlisted for prestigious MBA programmes at top business schools across the globe.


Understanding The Various Rounds of Admissions At Business Schools Abroad

Business schools abroad admit students across 2 or more rounds, and depending on which round you apply in, your chances of admission are affected.

Round 1 and Early Decision

This round sees the maximum number of applications across most business schools abroad, simply because it is a calculated assumption that the probability of getting into a business school is much higher if you apply in Round 1. This is based on the assumption that applications in the first round are perceived to be more serious applications that reflect on your commitment to the getting admission to a business school, and therefore boost your chances of selection.

The MBA admissions team across business schools do not agree with this and claim that all rounds are equally competitive. INSEAD clearly mentions this on their website, though also quoting the advantage of applying as early as possible in terms of financial readiness and logistics.

Usually, those applicants that have a solid profile and great GMAT/ GRE scores by September are the ones that apply in Round 1. The rest, who are looking to improve their profiles or GMAT/GRE scores, apply in later rounds. However, one must not rush their application and risk elimination.

Early Decision is an option offered by business schools like Columbia Business School (CBS), wherein the applicants opting for Early Decision, if accepted, commit to the institute and pay a deposit, and agree to not join another business school. They are also prioritised over normal Round 1 applicants.

Round 2

Usually, the 2nd Round of applications have the largest pool of applicants, therefore making the competition very tough. Additionally, the number of seats available also reduces due to the applicants selected in Round 1, therefore, experts suggest that the competition is for a lesser number of seats reducing your probability of selection, though marginally.

Round 3

It is not recommended by experts to apply in the 3rd Round, as the probability of getting in reduces significantly and you will be ranked against the previous candidates accepted in Rounds 1 and 2. Unless you have a stellar and unique profile, experts suggest that applying in Round 3 is a strict no-no.

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