Illustration of computer with an essay and large checkmark over it

10 Tips for Completing a Winning MBA Application

Monday, March 13, 2023

Need some assistance navigating the MBA admissions process? Follow these useful tips to land a spot in your first-choice program!


1. Take the leap and apply now.

Whether you’re fully committed or still unsure about getting an MBA, apply for admission now. Applying early gives you more time to plan and prepare to return to school. And depending on the round you’re applying in—getting your application in early might boost your chance of attending your top choice program.

Once you’re admitted to your program of choice, you may not be required to enroll in classes immediately. For example, the Carlson School MBA programs allow you to defer admission for up to one academic year so you can get your work, finances, and personal affairs in order before embarking on the next stage of your life and career. 


2. Hit the early deadline if possible.

If the MBA program you’re applying to has multiple rounds of deadlines, try to submit by the first or second deadline. This can help increase your chance of getting a merit-based scholarship if the program offers any. Merit-based scholarship funds dwindle as more applicants are accepted into the program.

The Carlson School MBA programs will automatically consider you for academic scholarships. However, funds are awarded on a rolling basis. So apply early! 


3. Be authentic in your personal statement and/or video essay.

The most effective personal statements answer questions or prompts in a clear and honest way. Tailor your statement to each school you apply to. If you’re asked to record a video essay, think of it as an opportunity to show the admissions team your authentic self. Answer the questions as you would with a member of an admissions committee.

The Carlson School MBA admissions team uses your personal statement to get to know your background and experiences. Your answers help determine whether the program is a good fit for your career goals and whether what you bring will be an asset to fellow students in the MBA community.

Learn more about preparing for your written and video essay.

4. Determine your timeline

Be sure to set goals and milestones that are achievable and appropriate for you. It can take anywhere from three to 18 months for prospective students to explore MBA programs and compile application materials for submission. This includes studying for and taking the GRE or GMAT, often the most time-consuming part of the application process.

When creating a timeline, work backward from your target application deadline. Don’t forget to consider your ideal test date and plan out a study schedule. It can be helpful to build in a buffer to reduce pressure on test day and allow time to retest if you don’t believe the initial score represents your best work.

Don’t forget to check if the programs you’re interested in offer academic test waivers. For example, the Carlson School MBA program offers waivers for Full-Time, Part-Time, and Online MBA programs. And the GRE/GMAT is optional for the Executive MBA Program. Look into our test waiver eligibility requirements to see if you could qualify. Regardless of what you score, just know it’s one small part of our holistic review process.

Learn more about which test to take.


5. Choose your references and/or recommenders wisely. 

It’s common for business schools to require letters of recommendation or professional references as part of your application. Think about your network and choose people who are familiar with your work ethic, skill set, and accomplishments. You do not need to choose supervisors or higher-level managers. Current or past colleagues can make great references. What matters most is the capacity in which your recommenders have worked with you in the past, not their job title.

The Carlson School’s Full-Time, Part-Time, and Online MBA programs require two letters of recommendation. Our Executive MBA Program requires three professional references (no letters necessary), one of which must be your direct supervisor if you have one.

Check out our guide to asking for recommendation letters.


6. Polish your resume

Your professional experience is extremely important to business school admissions. Make sure to update and fine-tune your resume so it best reflects your work history. Most MBA programs (including the Carlson School) require at least two years of career experience for admittance. And most Executive MBA programs (including the Carlson School) require at least six years of career experience.

Your resume should highlight a few key themes:

  • How your work has impacted your team or organization in a quantifiable way
  • How you have taken on a leadership role in a professional environment
  • How your professional experience will be an asset to your peers in the program

Check out more resume dos and don’ts.


7. Prepare for the personal interview

It’s common for business schools to interview qualified candidates once their application is or close to being complete. The interview is especially important if you’re applying to an Executive MBA program. Such programs are concerned about your fit and ability to contribute to classroom discussions and team projects. 

Interviews are an opportunity for the admissions team to get to know you better and for you to determine whether the program is the right fit for you. An MBA program is a big commitment. Don’t be afraid to ask your interviewers questions and get all the answers you need to help you make an informed decision.


8. Celebrate your non-traditional background

Building a diverse community of students is a priority for many MBA programs. Applicants who studied non-business disciplines as an undergraduate student, or who come from diverse backgrounds, enrich the classroom in countless ways. If you’re a non-traditional student, highlight how you’ve used your skills to make an impact at work. 

The Carlson School MBA admissions staff is especially interested in fostering diversity—in our students’ mindsets, backgrounds, and experiences. 


9. Reach out for help

Don’t do it alone! If you find yourself stuck on any part of your application, reach out to the program's admissions staff. The admissions team is here to help you navigate the process.

To connect with someone from the Carlson School’s MBA program, email:


10. Know it’s OK to try again.

If you’re not accepted to your business school of choice the first time you apply, apply again. Contact the admissions staff and ask if any aspects of your application can be strengthened. 

The Carlson School makes reapplying easy. All you need to do is submit an updated resume and personal statement. You will not need to re-sent test scores or personal references/recommenders. 

Ready to apply?