When Should You Apply for an Online MBA?

Timing is everything and prospective students will need to carefully consider how much time is required to apply, and which admissions deadline to pick

Interest in Online MBAs has soared to new peaks on the back of the coronavirus pandemic, raising the stakes in the competition for a business school place. Timing is everything, both in terms of when is the right time in your career to pursue an Online MBA, but also how much time is required to apply, and which admissions deadline to pick.  

The increase in competition has made all of these considerations even more critical than ever before, experts say. “The increased attraction in online programs has made them more competitive, and students who want to stand out need some work experience to get into the top online programs,” says Chioma Isiadinso, founder and CEO of Expartus, an admissions agency based in New York City.

The good news is: there isn’t a set number of years of working knowledge that one must have, she says. “Applicants should focus on the quality of their experience and demonstrate growth, promotions, and impact at their jobs.”

Which ‘round’ to apply in?

Online MBA candidates tend to be older than those who pursue full-time versions of the flagship management degree, typically having several years of professional or leadership experience.  

Such candidates will need to consider which “round” to apply in. While some Online MBA programs have applications that are on a rolling basis, others have set deadlines for applications and typically up to three rounds of deadlines.

Applicants should consider applying when they have the strongest application, but they shouldn’t wait too long, says Isiadinso. “I recommend applying when all the spots are available: so the first round is the ideal time to apply,” she adds. “However, life happens, and there are some applicants who will need the extra time to build a competitive profile and in those cases, waiting makes sense.”

Candidates should also be on the lookout for incentives when choosing deadlines. Sometimes it’s an application fee waiver, an invitation to an exclusive webinar with a faculty member, the promise of an earlier admissions decision, or even first crack at registration.

But prospective students will still need to dedicate a substantial amount of time to put together the optimal Online MBA application. The research portion of applying to business school always takes the longest, schools say.

“Even if you’ve narrowed your search down to a few universities, you really want to dig in and do your homework when it comes to fit,” says George Andrews, associate dean of degree programs at Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business in the US.

“You’re aligning yourself with a program, its faculty, alumni network and overall brand for the rest of your life,” he says. “It’s also a sizable investment, so you want to make sure you’re set on those options before proceeding.”

From there, surprisingly, it gets easier. “Prospective students should definitely take as much time as they need to prepare for their interviews, as well as for the essays that might be required,” says Andrews. That could be a week, or more.

Andrews’s biggest advice is to not let the application be a daunting project: “If you’re applying to business school, it’s clear you’ve already done a lot of the work to get to this point. We’re just asking you to tell us more about it,” he points out.  

How do Online MBA applications work?

At any business school, the Online MBA application is divided into several elements. To stand out, applicants need to take time to work on their application, from acing the standardized test to getting their recommenders to write stellar letters, to preparing solid essays that showcase how they will add to the online program if admitted and, of course, acing the interview.

While business schools insist that the process is holistic, the GMAT or GRE scores are one critical element among many, so candidates should prepare as much as possible.

The essays and the interview are also important parts of the process. The responses, whether in written prose, on video or in person, allow admissions teams to get a sense of who you are as a person, a potential student, and a future leader in business.

“Be clear about your goals and why this program will help you achieve them. We also want to know more about your critical thinking and problem solving skills,” says Andrews at Rice Business.

However, he does add that, whether you’re studying for your GMAT, parsing through a personal statement or sending an email requesting a recommendation, it’s important to remember that it’s a confluence of these items that will make or break your ability to attend your preferred program, rather than a single one.

How to stand out in the Online MBA application process

Standing out in the application process, then, comes down to other factors. Julie Hodges, associate dean for MBA programs at Durham University Business School in the UK, says that students need to do their homework and find out about the curriculum, time commitments, accreditation of the Online MBA program and the business school.

They should also speak to current students and alumni as well as to faculty, perhaps attending an open day either on-campus or virtual. Lastly, she adds it’s critical to “sell their experience and motivation for doing the MBA. What is driving them? What will they bring to the program in terms of their experience?”

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