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Sunday, May 9, 2010

BY GERALD M. BRADSHAW
gerald_bradshaw@post.harvard.edu
Bradshaw College Consulting
(219) 663-3041

Dear Mr. Bradshaw: I will graduate next year with a bachelor's degree in business, and I plan to pursue an MBA.

My question is, should I apply to an MBA program when I am a senior next fall or should I wait a few years until I have accumulated some work experience? I've heard pros and cons on what looks best on an application.

Since I will be making a substantial investment in an MBA, I can't afford to make the wrong decision. I'm on scholarship now, but I expect to pay full expenses for an MBA. -- MBA Bound

Strategies For Pursuing an M.B.A.



Dear MBA -- If you have outstanding grades, I would recommend applying to an MBA program as a senior. Plan to take the Graduate Management Admission Test (visit www.mba.com ) as soon as possible.

These scores remain valid for five years, in case you decide not to apply next fall. Scores tend to fall off after graduation, so that should be incentive to take the test now, while you are accustomed to taking tests.

Don't worry about blowing it the first time; you can take the test as many times as you want. It is a comprehensive measure of your verbal, quantitative and analytical writing skills. If you score above the 90th percentile (700), I suggest applying to several top schools, including the University of Chicago, Harvard, Penn, Indiana and Northwestern.

The starting salaries for MBAs at these schools average more than $125,000 a year, so that should offset the expense of applying to so many.

Don't worry about not having a lot of work experience to back up your application. Experience used to play a larger role in admissions, but many of the top MBA programs now look for stronger academic and analytical skills. The trend is to downplay work experience, unless it is gained in a truly important leadership role, such as the military.

The biggest recent change in admissions policy is the focus on quantitative ability. Math is hard to learn on the job, and is best learned in the classroom. For that reason, many undergraduates have better chances to get into an MBA program straight out of college.

After test scores and grades, applicants must learn to set themselves apart from their peers. The best way to accomplish this is by showing an unshakable determination to make a difference in the world.

If that sounds overly dramatic, you probably should find another profession. Business schools look for potential leaders, not sheep.

So, find a research project or internship program that will bring out these qualities. Fighting your way into a good internship program shows that you have what it takes.

Many MBA programs require personal interviews. Think of this as a chance to impress with your social skills and the ability to think on your feet.

Be prepared to ask questions and answer them. And, by all means, don't come in with a canned presentation. Admissions people do not want to hear a rehearsed response.

Be creative; the best way to leave the interview is to hear them say, "I never thought of it that way."

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