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How do I get into a top MBA program?
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I am an IIT graduate. I am currently working for a foreign multinational. I am seriously thinking of going for an MBA in the US. I would like to know the qualifications of the prospective student at a top-tier MBA program in the US. Are there any tips for enhancing my chances of getting in? Your advice would be very helpful as I make my future education and/or career moves. Thank you.

Iftikhar, New Delhi, India

Dear Iftikhar:

The top-tier MBA programs in the US admit students who they believe will be highly successful and become distinguished business leaders of tomorrow. Having the alumni become the who's who of the business world, in turns, enhances the reputation and prestige of the MBA school. It is no coincidence that some of the world-renowned business and government executives come from the Harvard Business School, and some of the world-renowned entrepreneurs come from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

These schools admit students who have a record of demonstrated success in progressively challenging situations in the past, and who also have the vision and motivation for extra-ordinary success in the future. The schools use many data points to perform this assessment. It is up to you to provide all the necessary information and documentation in your MBA school applications.

Let us now look at the information required by the MBA schools, the purpose of such information, and what can you do to improve your chances of admission by focusing on the relevant issues.

Item Purpose What you can do to improve your chances
The application Learn the basics of your background Provide complete and precise information
Official Academic Transcripts
(Academic Grades/Marks)
Assess you past performance in the academic environment Provide complete and precise information
Essays on Specific Questions/Issues Learn about:
- Your ability to make precise, articulate, and analytic arguments
- Your abilities, skills, thinking, and experiences that would make you a successful business leader
- Your ambitions and their legitimacy
- Potential contribution you can make to the learning of fellow students
- Make sound, rational, and credible arguments, using precise language
- Demonstrate your abilities and skills in achieving successful and meaningful outcomes in past, both in adverse as well as in favorable conditions
- Demonstrate that your ambitions are extra-ordinary but credible, given your background, abilities, and the rationale (the game plan)
- Make the responses unique to your own experiences and ambitions
- Write answers that specifically address the question/issue posed; i.e., do NOT copy and paste from responses for one school to the other
Letters of Recommendation Learn what others think of you and your potential for success, based on their close professional interactions with you Get letters from:
- A diversity of individuals who have interacted with you and observed you in different environments; e.g., college, work, volunteer organizations, and so forth
- Those highly successful individuals who have an impressive track records of personal success
- Those who think that you are and will be extra-ordinarily successful
- Those who will take the time write a personal, descriptive, and precise recommendation, citing specific examples, for you, and NOT write a generic brief recommendation
- Those who have done MBA from the school that you are applying to, if possible
GMAT (General Management Aptitude Test) Scores Determine how you performed relative to all prospective MBA students on a standardized aptitude test designed for prospective MBA students - Take this test seriously and prepare rigorously
- Take coaching or preparatory classes, and use test preparation guides

These are typical requirements for consideration. There is no magic formula for picking the dimension on which you should focus the most. You must demonstrate extra-ordinary performance on ALL these dimensions. Depending on the school, there may be additional requirements. We recommend that you research carefully the specific requirements of the schools of interest.

As we mentioned in the beginning, with respect to Harvard and Stanford, these schools have varying visions of what they want to be recognized for in the academic and business worlds. You would be well advised to craft your essays and perhaps even influence your Letters of Recommendation to align yourself with the visions of respective schools.

Beyond your record of demonstrated success and potential for success, these schools are most interested in students with a few years of work experience. Although there is no stated age range, most suitable candidates would be in the 25-31 age group. You need not have any prior formal education in business, but just a Bachelors degree in any program from a highly regarded institution.

Iftikhar, applying for MBA programs is a considerable effort, but it is worth every bit in its rewards. We wish you extra-ordinary success in your future endeavors.

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