If you’re considering an MBA, you’re probably wondering how difficult it will be. From the volume of work to your extra-curricular commitments, we’re here to help you decide if you have what it takes.

Getting on a course

If you want to get into one of the top business schools, prepare yourself for a seriously tough application process. In fact, most MBA graduates will tell you getting accepted on a good course was the hardest part of their MBA.

Acing the application

Your all-important application should include your grades and work experience (on average, students at top schools will have four years’ industry experience already), outstanding employer references, a personal essay and your GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) score. The most important aspect of your application will be your essay, which should be viewed as your statement of intent. Admissions officers will be looking for a compelling description of your goals, ambitions and the type of person you are. You’ll need to write something genuine and unique to stand out from the crowd.

The second most important part of your application will be your GMAT score. This test assesses your analytical, writing, quantitative, verbal and reading skills in English. With over 100,000 people applying to the top 10 MBA programs each year, it’s important to aim high. The best schools will be looking for a GMAT score of at least 700, so if you fall short, it’s a good idea to take the test again. Many applicants will take the GMAT at least a year before they plan to apply so they have enough time to prepare and get a good result.

Impressing at interview

If you get to interview stage, this is quite an achievement. Pat yourself on the back, but don’t relax just yet. According to Isiadinso, former assistant director of admissions at Harvard Business School, 30% to 60% of candidates can except to receive an offer after interviews, so you still need to work hard to impress. Make sure you do plenty of research on your target schools, practice your answers to common MBA questions (you’ll find plenty posted online) and have your personal sales pitch perfected.

Before you have a breakdown just thinking about the application requirements, here’s some good news: if you’ve got what it takes to get on your dream course, you’ve got what it takes to complete it.

Part time versus full time

If you choose to keep working during your MBA, you’ll find the financial commitment far more manageable. It’s also rewarding when you can apply what you learn on your MBA to the work place straight away. However, those who take two years out of work and concentrate 100% on their course are likely to find their workload less intimidating.

Full-time expectations

For full-timers, the MBA should be treated like a full time job. That’s how much time you’ll be expected to put in. The school day will kick off at 8 or 9 in the morning and wrap up at 5 or 6 at night, and then you’ll need to put in an hour or two of preparatory reading when you get home. Often, schools will organise guest speakers on the weekends, so you should factor in a few hours for networking each week too. It’s no picnic, but keep this schedule up for the duration of your course – and slim down your socialising to Saturday nights only – and you’ll walk away with an MBA.

Part-time pressures

If you opt to go part-time, you’re looking at a commitment of around 10 to 18 hours per week, plus networking. And when coursework deadlines and exams are looming you can easily double these hours. For those already working 50-plus hours a week at the day job this can be an exhausting timetable. Part-time MBA graduate Paul Pfohl offers this advice: “Talk to all the critical people in your life first – your spouse, your employer, yourself – and make sure all are willing to go through it. Have an honest talk with yourself about what will be required.” In addition, Wendy Hermann, executive director of student services at Tepper School of Business, urges prospective part-time students to take into consideration commute times and family obligations as “external forces that can derail you.”

What’s in a grade?

While we would never recommend scraping through, it’s worth checking whether your business school of choice discloses grades. Students may be awarded a pass, merit or distinction on graduation, but many schools won’t discuss grades to avoid friction, competition and fear of experimentation among their students. If your “external forces” are starting to overwhelm you, make life a little easier by not striving to be top of the class in every project

Work shy need not apply

The long hours aren’t over when you graduate. Employers are on the hunt for MBA graduates precisely because they have the ambition and assiduity to succeed. MBA holders will be stepping into some of the most pressurised (and well paid) jobs available. So it can only be a good thing an MBA qualification prepares you for demanding work environments.


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