My College:
Career Prep

Preparing for an MBA

Tami Campbell

You’ve listened. You’ve reviewed the pros and cons. You’ve offered your point of view and confirmed your support. Now your student makes the big announcement: they’re going to grad school! Woo-hoo! Decision made!

But…the sense of relief you expected to feel isn’t quite there. Questions pop into your mind:

  • Is their current 3.6 GPA good enough?
  • Should they quit their campus job and co-curricular activities to focus more on academics?
  • Are there enough leadership activities on their resumé?
  • What can they do during their remaining time in college to improve their chances of being accepted into grad school?
  • Is there anything you can do to help?

Let’s start with the GPA question.

A 3.6 GPA probably is good enough. According to Poets & Quants, in 2014 GPA’s for the top 50 MBA schools averaged from 3.21 (Carnegie-Mellon) to 3.74 (Stanford). Of course, the level of difficulty within the course plays a role here. If your student has a high GPA but is taking relatively easy classes, it might be worth risking a slightly lower GPA to take a few more rigorous courses. Challenging classes focusing on the types of skills students will utilize in grad school may be especially helpful, such as courses involving statistics, data analysis and problem solving.

It's a great idea for your college student or recent grad to take the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) as early as possible in the planning process.

Even if they decide not to apply to programs right away, the score is good for five years. Check out this exclusive discount of $100 off the test registration for undergrads only! Register on or before May 15, 2017 and take the exam no later than June 30, 2017.

Okay, but maybe they should cut back on activities to focus more on academics.

Think twice before advising your student to reduce time spent on outside activities. When making admission decisions, most graduate programs look at community involvement. Active participation in outside organizations offers a glimpse into the type of person your student is and if they will be a good fit for the program.

When reviewing how your student spends their free time, schools expect to see a commitment to and passion for the projects they’re involved with. For example, the University of Chicago Booth School of Business looks for “evidence of a candidate’s ability to fit in and to make a contribution to the school’s culture and community” including “a history of long-term involvement in activities and community service." Similarly, the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College states, “Candidates we accept do not simply go through the motions of attending school, working, or joining organizations — they have put their heart and soul into helping make those institutions better in some tangible way.”

What about leadership and teamwork skills?

Yes, B-Schools want to see evidence of strong leadership and teamwork skills. Whether in academics, co-curricular activities or on the job, your student needs to showcase their ability to both lead a team and to work collaboratively within a team environment. In terms of their leadership ability, this means not only taking credit for a successful end result but also demonstrating their ability to:

  • Analyze a situation
  • Develop potential solutions
  • Seek out and consider others’ opinions
  • Implement the chosen solution
  • Monitor the outcomes
  • Adjust as necessary

Within the team environment, there are many other “soft skills” successful leaders demonstrate which may be overlooked by students including:

  • Interpersonal skills
  • Active listening
  • Conflict resolution and negotiation skills
  • Consensus building
  • Relationship development

If your student hasn’t had an opportunity to develop these traits, now is the time to encourage them to get involved in something they’re passionate about.

Are there other steps they can take now to increase their chances of having a strong application when the time comes?

Absolutely. It’s never too early to start preparing for grad school, and some areas to focus on include:

  • Internships/work experience — Admission committees want to see “real world” experience. Not only will an internship provide business experience in an area of interest to your student, it also offers an opportunity to build the in-demand soft skills mentioned above. Internships also help your student develop post-MBA career goals (something else admission committees want to see) as well as relationships that may lead to letters of recommendation (an application requirement for most programs).
  • Test preparation — No process would be complete without a standardized test! For B-schools, that test is the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test). The GMAT is used to gauge an applicant’s suitability for an MBA program and assesses four different areas: verbal, quantitative, analytical writing and integrated reasoning. The test takes 3.5 hours to complete, but much longer to prepare for. According to Business School Insider, students should plan to spend 2-3 months (or 100-120 hours) studying for the exam, while past top scorers spent “120+ hours, on average, studying.” To learn more about the GMAT and how to register and prepare for the exam, and to download the official and free test prep software, click here.

How can I help?

As always, offer your love and support and be a sounding board as your student completes their undergrad years and prepares for grad school. While it can be hard to hang back and let them make their own choices, they're the ones who’ll be held accountable by admissions committees to explain those choices and why their skill set and portfolio of experiences make them the right candidate for the school.


Read all the articles in the series!
Tami Campbell is the owner of Level Up Career Services, a firm specializing in working with college students and recent graduates on their job search. With over a decade of experience in career services and campus recruiting, she now puts her background to work guiding students (and parents) through what can be a daunting and overwhelming process.
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