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Starting Your MBA Application: Six Big-Picture Tips

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Cartoon illustration of an enthusiastic young professional standing at a crossroads, facing a signpost with blank direction signs, symbolizing the start of the MBA application journey. The character, depicted with a bright smile and holding a briefcase, exudes optimism amidst a colorful backdrop that blends elements of professional and academic success, like books and a laptop, under a vibrant dawn sky, representing new beginnings and endless possibilities.
Be thoughtful about this important crossroads!

March is our transition month here at Gurufi. Most of our 2023-24 cycle MBA clients have submitted their applications, and many have already gotten great news. We are beginning to think about next year’s cycle. Though most schools won’t be releasing their application formats, essays, and deadlines until much later in the year, for people looking to apply in the 2024-25 cycles, the time to begin planning is now.

This is an immense decision, and in the coming months, we’ll have a lot of updates, strategies, and insights on specific schools and general application areas. But to start with, I wanted to give some big-picture things to keep in mind on this journey. The MBA journey is a significant decision that can propel your career to new heights. The application process can feel incredibly intimidating at the start, and as you begin, here are some critical things to contemplate that can enhance your application and set you on the path to success.

  1. Self-Reflection and Clear Career Goals

The best MBA applications convey a sense that the applicant knows themselves: their motivations, strengths, weaknesses, and, most importantly, career aspirations. Business schools are not just looking for candidates with impressive resumes; they seek individuals with a clear vision of how an MBA will catapult them toward their career goals. Start by asking yourself why you want an MBA and how it aligns with your short-term and long-term objectives. An exercise I like to do with new clients is to ask them to write, in under 50 words, why they want to earn an MBA. At the start, many people have two answers: an answer they give themselves (more money, promotion, etc.) and an answer they would give to someone on the AdCom. Think through this answer deeply and work to produce a short, direct, and compelling answer that is both personally resonant AND would be compelling to someone on the Admissions Committee.

This introspection will strengthen your application and ensure that you choose programs that align with your aspirations. Articulating your goals convincingly in your essays and interviews demonstrates purpose and direction, qualities that admissions committees value highly.

  1. Involve Your Loved Ones


If done right, an MBA will transform your career and your life. It’s a big deal. So, talk to your family and close friends about it. Ask for their support beforehand, tell them the dates when you’ll be in the thick of GMAT studying or will be overwhelmed with the combinations of work and applications. This will let them know when you need extra help and encouragement. When it comes to your personal statements, ask them, “How would you describe me to somebody who’s never met me?” Have conversations about your strengths and weaknesses with people you trust. This outside perspective is invaluable, especially as you prepare your personal statement. The more you can build a support system for this process, the better it will go for you.


  1. Research and School Selection

Too many applicants look at the rankings and nothing else. Instead of just trying to contort your application into only the M7 schools, do real research to find programs that are a good fit. Yes, with so many MBA programs out there, selecting the right ones to apply to can be overwhelming. But we’re talking about two years of your life, a massive chunk of money, and a decision that will alter the trajectory of your career. Taking three weekends to do extensive research on many programs is time well-spent and intelligently invested. Thorough research into each program’s culture, curriculum, specializations, and networking opportunities is crucial. Look beyond rankings; consider how each program aligns with your career goals, learning style, and personal preferences. Engage with current students and alumni, attend information sessions, and, if possible, visit campuses to get a sense of the community and resources available. Tailoring your application to reflect how you fit with each program’s unique offerings shows the admissions committee that you have done your homework and are genuinely interested in what they offer.


  1. Academic and Professional Preparedness

Business schools assess your academic readiness through your undergraduate GPA, GMAT or GRE scores, and other relevant coursework or certifications. While these metrics are important, your professional experience carries substantial weight. Highlight your leadership experiences, problem-solving skills, teamwork, and any impact you’ve made in your roles. Remember, it’s not about the quantity of your experiences but the quality and relevance. Showcasing a growth trajectory and the ability to overcome challenges can significantly strengthen your application. As you put together a list of schools, the place to begin is by asking yourself whether it’s vital that you attend any business school (or the best one you can get into) or whether you’re only interested in attending a top school. If it’s the former, then be sure to apply schools from across the range of selectiveness. The old college application rule of “three safe schools, three solid schools, three reaches” isn’t a bad one to follow.


  1. Recommendations and Networking

Letters of recommendation are a critical component of your MBA application. A few years back, we made this detailed breakdown of how to get a great letter of recommendation. In fact, we’ve done a lot of content on this! Check this, this, and this out! (and see how my hair has changed over the years!  ) Letters are so important because they provide insight into your professional accomplishments and potential for future success. Choose recommenders who know you well and can speak to your strengths, leadership abilities, and how you’ve contributed to your workplace. It’s essential to brief your recommenders about your MBA aspirations and discuss specific instances they might highlight to support your application.

Networking with alumni and current students can provide invaluable insights into the program and can also enhance your application. These interactions can offer you perspectives that you can incorporate into your essays, making your application more robust and personal.


  1. Authenticity and Personal Branding

In a sea of applicants, standing out is paramount. Your essays, resume, and interview are opportunities to showcase your unique story, values, and what you bring to the table. Authenticity is key; admissions committees can discern between genuine narratives and those crafted merely to impress. Reflect on your experiences, passions, and the challenges you’ve overcome. How have these shaped you and your career aspirations? Building a cohesive narrative that ties your past experiences with your future goals while highlighting how an MBA fits into this journey is crucial.

Your personal brand is the amalgamation of your professional experiences, personal values, and the unique perspective you bring. Consistency across all elements of your application in presenting this brand can make a significant impact. Whether through your essays, your recommenders’ anecdotes, or your interview responses, ensuring a coherent and authentic representation of yourself is vital.


As you’ll learn, your MBA application isn’t just you writing about strengths and stories that you already know. There’s a sense of self-discovery that this process entails. As you think about your life, aspirations, strengths, and weaknesses, keep an open mind, and remember that this is a two-way process. Just as the AdCom will be exacting in their assessments of you, you should think carefully about whether, how, and why various schools would fit your vision for your future.

By reflecting on your career goals, conducting thorough research on programs, demonstrating academic and professional preparedness, leveraging recommendations, and maintaining authenticity, you can craft a compelling application. Remember, the goal is not just to gain admission but to ensure that the program you choose is a stepping stone toward your envisioned future. Embrace this process as an opportunity to introspect and articulate your aspirations, and you’ll find that your MBA application is not just a formality but a pivotal chapter in your career narrative.

For more help with your personal statement, check us out at Our personal statement editors and consultants have decades of experience helping clients get into top Masters and Ph.D. programs in STEM, humanities, fine arts, and social sciences. Our specialty is helping you craft compelling personal statements that move the needle in your admissions process! For questions, shoot us an email at Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.