Applying for an Online MBA: Do’s and Don’ts

In a buyer’s market, it pays to do your homework, demonstrate a keen commitment and clear career goals

After a Covid boom, applications to Online MBAs continue to fall from their pandemic highs, slipping in both 2022 and 2021, but making it more of a buyer’s market for prospective students. The pandemic, hybrid work and a tight jobs market have crystalized the benefits of online study, which enable participants to keep working full-time as they upgrade their credentials.

Securing admission to a top program will not be easy, given that they typically only admit a small minority of the people who apply. When it comes to securing a competitive Online MBA place, it pays to do your homework, says Myranda Crist, senior assistant director of recruitment and admissions for online programs at Gies College of Business in Illinois.

“Make sure you’re aware of what program you’re applying to, and anything that makes that program stand out,” Crist says. “Reference a few of those points in your essay, and how those factors made you want to apply to the program and how they appeal to you and your journey to complete your MBA.”

The Online MBA application typically includes several elements including essays, a CV, reference letters, interviews and exams. At Gies, the admissions requirements for the school’s iMBA include a bachelor’s degree, three years of work experience and a personal statement or essay about how the candidate fits with the culture at Gies, and how the school will help them achieve their career goals.

Crist urges those applying to put some work into crafting a unique essay: “We can tell when you have a general essay template where all you do is switch out the name of the school,” she says.

Furthermore, she says that prospective students should not try to sell the program to the school. “Telling us how wonderful the program is might show you’ve done your homework, but it doesn’t tell us why you’re a good fit for the program.”

Get the backing of your employer 

It is worthwhile double-checking with your employer whether there is any support for your participation in an Online MBA, including financial support and the prospect of career advancement, says Fred Lemke, director of the Online MBA at Vlerick Business School in Belgium.

“Actively investigating the possibilities upfront will demonstrate greater motivation, commitment, and aspiration during the application process,” he says, suggesting it’s a competitive advantage.

Also, do not underestimate the challenge that is an Online MBA. “Participants will receive the same qualification as in any other MBA program, so they must be fully committed otherwise the chances of acceptance are very limited,” says Lemke.

“The online format does not mean that it is a short-cut to the MBA degree,” he adds. The program is flexible, with self-paced learning components, which makes time-management key to success. “With the flexibility also comes the responsibility for their own learning to manage the time themselves,” Lemke says.

Know what you want from the MBA 

When it comes to ensuring a high level of commitment, applicants should compile a list of approximately three criteria they want out of business school, says Shelbi Brookshire, assistant dean of MBA admissions at Robert H. Smith School of Business at University of Maryland.

For instance, how important is it to be able to leverage robust career resources, or have access to quality faculty? Does the program have mandatory in-person residencies? How engaged is the alumni community?

Brookshire says: “Do not assume all Online MBA programs are the same and understand why there are different price points. Invest time in understanding whether the school truly meets your criteria. One way to learn more is to ask for a connection to current students or recent alumni.”

Candidates sometimes forget that success in an MBA program is predicated on much more than academics, says Rebecca Loades, director MBA programs for ESMT Berlin. “It’s about being an active member of our community, about being ready to invest in your own learning journey and that of your classmates, and about being ready for the marathon and not the sprint,” she says.

“If your application doesn’t help us see that, then you’ve wasted a phenomenal opportunity. We therefore need to see the real, authentic, you. And we also need to know that you’ve really thought about how the program will fit into your life, and what you want from it.”

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