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What Do I Need to Get into Business School?

Three students, two female one male, presenting something to a group from across a conference table.

Image via Flickr by University of Essex

It’s hardly surprising that the MBA is the most popular master’s degree. A Master of Business Administration can position you not only to succeed in your favorite businesses, but also to lead them one day, or to start a dream company of your own. Top business schools can equip you with valuable skills and help you establish connections with experts in the field and with other future leaders.

Getting into business school is much more complex than simply sending in an application, however. If you hope to earn an MBA in the future, you can start plotting that trajectory and preparing to be a standout candidate. While different MBA programs may have different standards for admissions, most MBAs look for candidates with specific qualities and accomplishments. Here’s what you’ll need to get into business school and how you can start preparing now to get into your dream MBA program.

Achievements in Education

As a master’s program, you either need a bachelor’s degree or proof that you’re close to completing one. While it’s not necessarily a requirement, many MBA programs prefer an undergraduate degree in a related field, such as finance or economics, as opposed to something like sports medicine.

During your undergraduate education, aim for around a 3.6 GPA or higher. Not all programs require a certain GPA to be admitted into the program, but a high GPA will bolster your application. While an MBA program is likely less interested in your high school GPA than your undergraduate GPA, excelling in your high school education can enable you to enter a prestigious university that looks better on an MBA application.

In addition to education at a university, many MBA programs also expect some practical education in the field: one or two years of work experience. While most applicants gain this experience following their undergraduate education, you can boost your resume now by gaining valuable work experience that contributes to your knowledge of business. The more experience you have, the stronger your application will be and the more likely you will be to succeed when in the program.


MBA programs require that you take the Graduate Management Admission Test or the Graduate Record Examination. Some programs only require that you take one of the two exams, while others require that you take both. These examinations test your knowledge of certain subjects and display what you’ve learned in your bachelor’s program. Most students take these exams either in the final year of an undergraduate program or in the year following graduation. A strong examination score can supplement your undergraduate GPA and other experience you may have.

What’s the difference between the two exams? The GMAT, which is more business-focused than the GRE, tests your skills in grammar, data analysis, basic arithmetic, algebra, and geometry. The exam is broken down into four sections: analytical writing, integrated reasoning, quantitative, and verbal. The GMAT’s point scale is 200 to 800. Average test-takers score a 556, while the top 10% score 710 points or higher.

The GRE, on the other hand, is a more general standardized test used for almost any graduate school. This exam tests verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing. The GRE scores each section individually: 130 to 170 for verbal reasoning, 130 to 170 for quantitative reasoning, and between 0 and 6 for analytical writing.

Research which test your potential MBA program prefers, though it’s generally good to take both exams. While you can’t take these exams until late into your undergraduate career, you can focus on developing the skills on which you’ll eventually be tested.

Marketable Skills

Succeeding in business school is about much more than high test scores or an impressive GPA. In order to get into your preferred MBA program, you also need to display the skills necessary to excel both in the program and the workplace. These are the kinds of skills that an MBA can refine but can’t necessarily teach you, so it’s important to start developing such skills long before you apply for the program.

Different business schools may look for additional skills, but most programs want applicants who are team players, who can communicate effectively, and who demonstrate a self-awareness that catalyzes self-improvement. Applicants who are team players can collaborate well with other students in the program as well as colleagues in their careers. Those with strong communication skills can lead, translate complex concepts and data, and further improve collaboration. A self-aware candidate recognizes his or her weaknesses and sees them as opportunities to improve.

Working on these skills now means you can include them on your application, and it also helps you display them throughout the application process.

Researching Your Top School

Like any application process, a more customized and personalized application makes you a more impressive candidate. The research required to customize your application can also help you find your top programs. Research the location of the school, its connections with employers, its professors, its mission, and anything else that can help you make this important decision.

While researching MBA programs, find out the field in which the school specializes. For example, the NYU Stern School of Business specializes in accounting, the UCLA Anderson School of Management specializes in corporate finance, the University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business specializes in supply chain management, and the University of California, Berkeley Haas School of Business specializes in marketing. These specializations aren’t the only subjects taught in these MBA programs, but you’re more likely to excel in your field of interest if you attend a program with your specialty.

Final Thoughts

Getting into business school is no easy feat, but with proper preparation, research, and study, you can stand out amid other candidates. In addition to these items that you will need to gain admission to an MBA program, you also need confidence that you belong in these programs and a drive to make a difference in the business world. That confidence and drive can provide the momentum necessary to make the most of your preparatory years and give you skills that will serve you well as you enter the professional landscape.

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