Business School in the US

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What is Business School

A Masters in Business Administration, or MBA, is a course designed to strengthen your management and leadership expertise. Business school teaches you skills that are not easily learned on the job, such as finance, statistics, and managerial economics. It can have positive effects on your salary prospects and career advancement. It can also enable you to switch fields or industries. Business school graduates are employed in a variety of areas: business, government, non-profit, and entrepreneurial endeavors.


In the US, most full-time MBA programs take two years to complete, with the summer spent at an internship. Business school classes involve many team projects and primarily focus on the analysis of case studies. You will also be shown ways to excel in today’s globalized, information-driven environment.

Deciding to Apply

There are many reasons people decide to attend business school. Here are a few of the most common:


Business school is an expensive and time-consuming undertaking. Before you decide to apply, you should have clearly defined reasons for doing so. In some cases business school is a necessity, as an MBA is a pre-requisite for certain management positions. In other cases, an MBA can be helpful, but not essential. Look at your needs and weigh the costs and benefits. Talk to people in the field you’d like to pursue to understand the value of an MBA in that industry.


Evaluate your motivations for applying to business school. Assess your background, skills, work habits, values and aspirations. Have an end goal in mind. As an MBA helps you progress within your career, you should have a clear idea of what that is. Business school trains students to master advanced, specialized skills, concepts and techniques; find out if you need them for your career or if you can learn them on the job.


Make sure you find an MBA program that fits your personal and professional goals. Schools have different emphasises, so look for ones that match your specialty. Business school isn’t a cure-all. While an MBA can help increase your prospects, it doesn’t guarantee a job or success. Evaluate your needs against the program’s strengths before you begin the costly and involved application process.


Costs

Business school is expensive. In addition to application fees, there’s tuition, room and board, books, related course materials, computer and other technical expenses, travel, and incidentals. Furthermore, you need to account for the income you will lose during your two years out of the workforce. See if the school offers any fellowships, scholarships, or teaching and research positions to help offset the cost.


Some alternatives you can consider are going part-time, evenings, weekends, or summers. All of these options would allow you to keep your full-time job while you’re attending school. It could take longer to earn an MBA but the financial savings may be worth it. Additionally, some employers offer tuition assistance if your degree ties into your job function. Others will even fund unrelated courses. Talk to Human Resources to learn your current employer’s policy.

Timing

Many factors come into play when deciding the best time to go to business school. The average MBA student is 27, but there are arguments for applying at other times. Evaluate your short and long term goals and see when it would best fit in.


As the cost of education rises faster than inflation, it can be less expensive to attend sooner. It also may be easier to adjust to the student lifestyle if you attend closer to completing your undergraduate degree. Alternatively, there are many reasons to work for a few years before you apply for an MBA. Work experience can give you a better understanding of what a certain industry is like and help you sort out where you want to go in the long-term. Once you start your MBA, you'll be able to incorporate your life experience into the classroom learning and see the practical applications of what is taught on the course. Work experience can help you stand out from other applicants to business school and make you more competitive to employers looking to recruit you for a full-time job after your MBA.


Admissions officers tend to favor candidates with at least three years work experience. This doesn’t necessarily have to be in a large corporation or company. Successful applicants come from areas as diverse as government, non-profit, business, and education. Additionally, the skills you gain working as an entrepreneur or within a small company can be equally as valuable. The important things are the quality of your work experience and your ability to articulate why you’re pursuing an MBA.

Researching Programs

Take the time to fully research programs and carefully select the schools to which you’d like to apply. Know each program’s requirements and honestly assess where you’re at in your career and where you hope to go in the future. Talk to employers and current MBAs to see what type of program, if any, will help get you there. Know that it’ll take focus, effort, and time to narrow down the wide spectrum of schools to a list that matches your personal and professional needs.


Reputation and rankings are important, but they shouldn’t be the only factors in your decision. You should also take into account your chances for acceptance. Furthermore, you should identify what you want in a business school and then spend time searching for programs that meet those requirements. Know your academic and career focus and find schools that are strong in those areas. It’s also important to look at each school’s teaching methodologies. Schools vary greatly in their curriculum, specialties, and teaching styles. Some programs are more practical whereas others are more theoretical. Make sure you apply to those that best suit you.


If you’ve taken a number of undergraduate business courses, you may want to consider schools that will allow you to take different, more advanced courses during your MBA. Additionally, some schools, such as Northwestern, offer one year accelerated MBAs for applicants with an undergraduate degree in Business.


Key Factors

Here are few things to keep in mind when you’re evaluating business schools:


Campus Visits

A great way to evaluate business programs is through a visit to campus, preferably during the academic year. Go on the campus tour. Take note of the facilities, library, technology, and the grounds. Get a sense of whether or not the program is growing. Talk to admissions officers. More importantly, sit in on a class or two. While you’re there, ask yourself several questions: Do you feel comfortable in the environment? Is the lecture stimulating and intellectually challenging? Is the professor engaging? Does the material seem timely?


Take note of the students around you. Remember much of business school is team based so you want to make sure they’re people you’d want to interact with. Get a sense for their engagement with the material and the program. After class, try to talk to a few students. Ask them how helpful they’ve found the career office. Were they able to get internships and research opportunities? How would they rate professors, the program, their courses? What would they change?


Alumni

Business school alumni are a great resource for evaluating schools. They can provide real insight on the typical student experience. Ask admissions for the contact information of recent graduates or see if they’re listed on the university website. Talk to friends of friends or co-workers who attended schools you’re researching. Additionally, check out the University of St. Andrews Alumni Linked in group to find St. Andrews graduates who attended business schools you’re interested in.


When you speak to these contacts, here are a few questions you should ask:


Alumni employment is also something you should take into consideration. Find out if recent graduates are engaged with the school. Active alumni usually indicate high student satisfaction. Look for programs where graduates return to give presentations, run events, and recruit students for employment or internships. A strong alumni connection can provide current students with better contacts and networking opportunities.


Make sure the program has success placing graduates in the industry in which you’d like to work. Ask admissions where graduates end up after the program. They typically have a list of employers that extended offers in recent years. Additionally, get information on job placements one, five, and ten years after graduation. For the first year out, you want to look at things like job functions, salary ranges, and whether or not the positions are managerial track. In the fifth year out, you should expect graduates to have significant responsibilities and hold advanced managerial titles. The tenth year out is indicative of senior engagement in a profession or industry. Look at the alumni’s accomplishments. Find out how engaged they are with the school.


Related Links

The Application Process

The best way to improve your chances is to prepare your application far in advance. Most business schools have deadlines between March and April. Some schools have multiple deadlines, others just one. Check with each individual program for their policy. Regardless of when the deadline is, it’s advisable to get your application in months before it’s due. As many schools have rolling admissions, the sooner you apply, the better your odds of getting accepted. Ideally, all of your applications should be submitted by November, when schools begin their selection process. Make sure your file is complete, as admissions committees won’t look at an application until all of the required materials have arrived.


Additionally, some schools offer early acceptance and early decision. These can be advantageous as many schools select a larger percentage of applicants who’ve submitted this way. However, decisions can sometimes be binding so be sure you are fully aware of the school’s policy and your preferences before you apply. You should also find out if you can be evaluated in the general pool if you are not successful in your early application.


Most applications are done completely online. You will typically have to register and create a pin. Then you’ll use their portal to upload supporting documents like your resume and essay responses. You’ll also need to send the link to your referees so they can upload their letters of recommendation. Some documents, such as transcripts, will still need to be mailed to the school. Make sure they arrive well in advance of the deadline.


Schools take many different things into consideration when evaluating your application. Committees also look at your GPA, essays, GMAT scores, recommendations, activities outside of class, and work experience, both at school and after graduation. You do not have to take business or management courses as an undergraduate to attend business schools. Schools just want to see that you’ve taken on significant research, projects, or leadership roles either within or outside of your studies. They are more concerned with focus than scale. Committees look for people who have accepted challenges, learned new skills, shown initiative, and worked well in a team setting. They want people who’ve exhibited passion and motivation in their scholastic and extracurricular endeavours. They’re also looking for people with a clearly defined explanation of how a business degree fits with their professional goals. But above all, they want leaders.


When it comes to analyzing work experience, the field is far less important than your responsibilities. Admissions officers look to see that you have a strong work ethic and are focused. It is also great if you can show supervisory or project management roles.


Samples

Some schools will ask for samples of your work. This can be a presentation, report, memo, or something else that shows your abilities in a work environment. If you’re using something from work, make sure it’s not confidential.


Application Fees

Business schools in the US can have pretty substantial application fees. They vary widely, but can cost as much as $200.00 per school. This makes it essential that you target schools for which you’d be a good fit. Some schools may offer fee waivers for diversity candidates or those with demonstrable financial need. Check each school’s website for details. There are also costs associated with forwarding GMAT scores, transcripts, and other materials. Be sure to plan this into your budget.

The GMAT

The Graduate Management Admissions Test, or GMAT, is a computer-based, standardized test that takes three and a half hours to complete. The test is divided into three sections: analytical writing, quantitative, and verbal. It’s comprised of multiple-choice questions that adjust to your ability level. Visit the GMAT website for the methodology.


The test can be taken at various times, depending on availability at each individual test center. Scores are valid for five years. If you plan to attend business school within a few years of graduation, it can be useful to take the exam while you’re still an undergraduate and in the mindset of test-taking. Regardless, you should take the GMAT by the spring or summer of the year in which you plan to apply.


Make sure you've taken a practice test under timed conditions before you take the actual test. The GMAT has two practice tests available online. Additionally, you can take a test prep course or purchase GMAT books or CDs. Familiarize yourself with the format of the test and understand your strengths and weaknesses so you know which areas you need to study in greater detail.


Here are some test prep websites:

Essays and the Personal Statement

Essays are one of the most important parts of your application. They enable admissions to get a sense of how you’d fit with their program and how their course would help you meet your goals. They're a way for you to showcase your writing skills, ability to develop an argument, professional experiences and potential. They can provide insight into your personality and areas of your background that are not evident in the rest of the application. Your essays should reflect who you are. Be honest and original.


Admissions committees often write essay questions that reflect the interests of their faculty, key aspects of their program, or current trends. Questions typically vary from year to year. Most business schools require at least four essays. As a result, you’ll spend a considerable amount of time on this portion of the application. It’s essential to tailor each essay to the individual school.


Some essay questions are open-ended. In those cases, discuss why you want to attend that particular program, why you feel now is the appropriate time to go to business school, what you hope to gain from an MBA, what you have to offer the school, and what you'd like to do upon completion of the degree.


Start each essay with a strong opening sentence that grabs the reader’s attention and sets the tone for the rest of the piece. Make it personal and memorable. The best way to ensure this is through the use of anecdotes and concrete examples that make your experiences relatable. Don’t try to do too many things at once, but rather stick to three to five important points per essay.


Have lots of people read your essays. This will allow you to catch any spelling or grammatical errors as well as to get several different perspectives on the content and tone of the writing.

Letters of Recommendation

References are another important part of your application. Admissions committees use them to get a sense of who you are and to understand your strengths as a candidate. Business schools usually require three letters of recommendation. They typically prefer that your references be employers, especially if you’ve been out of school for more than two or three years; however some schools require one letter from an academic. In either case, try to get ones that are current.


Supervisors and colleagues are usually the best options. Make sure you choose someone at a higher level than you who has worked with you closely. You want to choose people who know you well and can express how you’ll contribute to a business school program. They should be able to comment on your strengths and weaknesses and understand how an MBA will help you achieve your professional aspirations.


The recommender should be willing and able to take the time to write a thoughtful and thorough letter. It is advisable to select someone who thinks highly of your abilities. It cannot be emphasized enough how important it is to get a sense from that person whether or not he or she is willing to write a letter for you. You should phrase your request in a way that enables the potential recommender to decline if he or she does not feel comfortable writing on your behalf. One way is to say, “Do you feel you know me well enough to write a letter of recommendation supporting my application to business school?” Do not pressure a potential recommender to write you a recommendation. Typically, you will not receive a good letter from someone who does not wish to write one. A lukewarm recommendation can oftentimes do more harm than good.


After the recommender has agreed to write your letter, it is helpful to set up a meeting to discuss your career plans. Letters describing your suitability to a particular goal tend to be very effective. Remember goals are works in progress. You can discuss general interests as well as specific plans depending on your situation. It is helpful to provide your recommender with a copy of each of the following: current resume, draft of your essays and personal statement, transcript(s), academic writing sample, non-confidential work report or presentation, brief summary of work projects and accomplishments, list of any extracurricular or volunteer activities, and information about the programs to which you’re applying. If the school requires recommendations be written on a certain form, be sure to pass those along to your referee along with an addressed, stamped envelope.


During your meeting, it is helpful to mention your timeframe and to provide him or her with a “deadline” by which the letter should be submitted. Make sure you are flexible and accommodating but still realistic. You should ask for a recommendation in late spring or summer of the year in which you plan to apply. After your initial request, it is fine to follow up by email or phone thanking the person for writing the letter and asking if he or she needs anything else. Follow up appropriately but not excessively. Once the letters have been written and submitted, you should send another thank you note expressing your gratitude. You should also let them know the results of your applications and where you’ve decided to attend.

Interviews

Most business school have required or optional interviews as part of the application process. Business school interviews are very similar to job interviews in that they focus on your qualifications, background, work habits, motivations, and ambitions. The interview allows you to highlight your skills and accomplishments and give a personal touch to your application. Be prepared to talk about your past experience, future plans, and rationale for applying to business school. Tailor your answers about your professional and personal goals so they fit with the offerings of that particular program. Thoroughly research each program before your interview. Have specific questions to ask that showcase your knowledge of the school.


Some interviews are conducted by admissions officers while others are handled by alumni who live in your area. Both are specially trained to interview applicants and have equal weight in the admissions process.


Take advantage of optional interviews. They allow you to speak with members of the school so you can gain a fuller understanding of what it’s like to attend that university. They also enable the admissions committee to answer any questions they may have about your application. If it’s logistically possible to do so, try to visit each school. That will allow you to better understand the campus culture. Some schools may allow you to sit in on a class and talk with instructors and current students in the program. A visit also indicates your motivation as a candidate.


Here are some sample interview questions:

Transcripts

Business schools typically require official transcripts from all colleges and universities where you earned credit. You can obtain your St. Andrews transcripts by following the instructions available online. If you have taken courses or received a degree at another institution, you will need to submit a transcript from that school as well. Follow their procedures for obtaining a transcript.


Each program will have different instructions for how they would like transcripts submitted. Be sure to read each application thoroughly. Be apprised of all deadlines. It is your responsibility to make sure your transcript arrives on time.


Grade Point Average Your overall GPA will factor into admissions decisions. Generally, you will need at least a 3.0 to gain acceptance to business school. If your GPA is below this mark, you should make sure you have strong GMAT scores, a well-written personal statement, and relelvant work experience. Some schools will make allowances for “off” semesters if there is significant improvement in subsequent semesters. An upward trend is looked upon more favorably than a strong start followed by poor upper year grades. Likewise, improvement after a change of major or leave of absence can have some bearing on how your grades are perceived. If you did have a problem semester or year, it is useful to submit an explanatory addendum with your application. This addendum should explain the nature of the difficulty and how you came to resolve it. This explanation should only be made in the addendum not in the personal statement.


St. Andrews will send a grading sheet with your academic transcript that converts your grades to the American scale.

Resumes

Your resume is a crucial part of your business school application. It helps the admissions committee quickly see an overview of your work experience. Unlike CVs in the UK, your resume should not be more than one page long. American employers will not read beyond that and will oftentimes throw out longer resumes. Even senior level people only have a brief resume, so employers will be confused as to why a student or recent graduate thinks he/she has enough experience/accolades to submit multiple pages. Reference sample resumes on Going Global, as the format in the US is slightly different. We've also created a sample US resume.


Remember to highlight your international experience. Schools in the US tend to be very impressed you've spent time living and studying abroad. It shows independence, ambition, and initiative. You also have experience interacting with people of various cultures and backgrounds that will be useful in the team environment of business school.


You might want to save your resume as a PDF to ensure it doesn't get reformatted. Remember to format the document as US letter, not A4. You don't want an admissions committee to have to do that for you. You should have 1" margins and use 10 to 12 point font. You might want to draw attention to your name by putting it in a slightly larger font than the rest of the document. Use American spelling. Additionally, here are some tips for writing American resumes.


Include your contact details at home and in the UK. In your cover letter or addendum to your application, be sure to say where you will be when. Also, if you keep a phone back home, your greeting should explain you are in the UK and cannot access your voicemail. Direct the caller to contact you via email. The last thing you want is to miss a message a business school left on your home phone.

Evaluating Offers

Hopefully, you’ll receive several letters of acceptance and will need to choose which school is the best fit for you. There are several things you should take into consideration, most notably how you feel each program will help you meet your personal and professional goals.


If you haven’t already, visit each of the schools. While you’re there, attend classes, talk to current students, and meet with members of admissions and the career center. See if you can get the names and contact information for recent alumni. Try to get a feel for what the program's really like and where graduates end up after they get their MBA.


After you've done this, talk to a mentor, trusted employer, or friend in the field to get a sense for each program's reputation amongst professionals. Ask how the programs compare with one and other and what their perceived strengths and weaknesses are.


Here are some factors you should take into account:

Wait List Strategies

Candidates are sometimes placed on a “wait list” of applicants who have a profile that fits the school but is not quite as competitive as those who were accepted.  This allows the university to offer spots to other applicants but still keep qualified candidates in the queue in case too many people turn down their offers.


If you’re on the wait list, there are several things you can do to improve your chances of acceptance. Start by asking admissions where you’re ranked on the list. The process of ranking varies by school. Some schools rank candidates by the strength of their application whereas others consider candidates as substitutes for accepted applicants with similar grades, GMAT scores and work experience. Additionally, some schools take candidates off the list based on their level of enthusiasm and interest in the school. In all scenarios, it’s advisable to keep in contact with admissions. Ask what you can do to gain a place. Offer to submit supplementary documentation, such as additional recommendation letters, writing samples or an updated resume. You also may be asked back for another interview. Remember to be enthusiastic and to follow-up frequently but not excessively.

Deferment

Some business schools give you the option to take a year or two off after you’ve been accepted, before you start the program. This could give you the time to build up some resources, travel, complete a fellowship, do some community service, or take supplemental courses before you commence your studies. Alternatively, other schools do not give this option and only want candidates to apply when they’re able to commit to full-time study. Research each program to see the individual policy of the schools to which you’re applying.

Reapplying

If your first attempt is unsuccessful, you may be asked by the admissions committee to reapply at some point in the future once your qualifications better match their requirements. This can be after you’ve gained additional work experience, taken related courses, obtained different recommendations, written better essays, or addressed some other deficiency in your application. On the other hand, you may not be encouraged to apply but may decide to do so on your own accord. In either case, you should ask admissions how you might strengthen your application to increase your odds. You can ask for a portfolio review outside of their busy season to get a better understanding of what improvements can be made and what they feel you need to do, be it take a class, write a better essay or work for a bit longer, to have a successful application in the future.

Financial Aid

Funding for business school varies greatly depending on the school. Some schools will be able to offer research positions, teaching assistantships, grants, scholarships, and tuition reductions; others will not. Financial awards are usually based on merit and need. While some schools will provide funding based on merit alone, in most cases, candidates for financial aid have to demonstrate financial need as well. If you’re applying for aid, you’ll need to fill out a Free Application for Federal Aid form or FAFSA. You’ll also be asked to provide things like certified tax forms and detailed financial information to show both your financial situation and that of your parents, even if you’re legally independent from them. In some cases, first year performance will enable you to qualify to aid for the following year. Check to see if the schools to which you’re applying have this option.


One thing to bear in mind is that all schools are not need-blind in their application decisions. Therefore, if you apply for financial aid, you may be evaluated against other candidates who request financial aid as opposed to the larger pool. Many schools will require that applicants demonstrate that they can afford their studies. If you aren’t independently wealthy, you should research options such as grants, scholarships, and government support. If you aren’t able to secure funding this way, many banks offer student loans. When you’re calculating how much you’ll need, bear in mind things like moving expenses, tuition, housing, books, computer programs, living expenses and incidentals.


One other option is employer-sponsorship. Some companies will pay for their employees to attend business school on the condition they will remain with the company for a set number of years after graduation. Other companies will pay a certain portion or percentage of the fee, provided your course of study is related to your job. Research these options thoroughly, particularly when you’re deciding the timing of when you’ll attend business school.



Here are some sites that can help you in your search:

Advice for International Students

International students looking to study in the US have to meet certain visa requirements to commence their studies. Some schools will require that you demonstrate your ability to support yourself during the period of your program. Funding varies from school to school and some universities are not able to offer substantial packages to foriegn students. Federal funding and other sources of aid may have restrictions based on nationality.


You should look at the number of international students enrolled in the programs to which you’re applying. Talk with current students and alumni about the availability of funding, the campus culture, the structure and demands of the program, and other areas of interest. Additionally, you should speak with the career center at each school to gauge the success of international students in securing employment, either in the US or in their home countries, after graduation.


Here are some websites that should be of assistance:

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