Home Media SCU Leavey Blog The Admissions Process for Online MBA Programs: Application Requirements, Deadlines, and Tips

The Admissions Process for Online MBA Programs: Application Requirements, Deadlines, and Tips

03 Apr
Asian girl student reviews her college application status on her laptop while taking notes.

Whether you’re a seasoned professional seeking to expand your leadership skills or someone aiming to pivot into a new industry, earning a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree could be your pathway to success. Before you can log in to discuss strategic management principles or dive into the intricacies of business analytics, you must navigate the online MBA admissions process.

This post will dissect the application process and requirements, and share tips on how to make your application not only stand out from the rest but truly reflect your potential as a business leader.

Application Requirements

The admission process for an online MBA program assesses applicants’ qualifications, experience, and potential for success in the program. Acceptance rates to top business schools can be competitive, ranging from 6-20%, meaning that 80-94% of applicants are denied admission.1 While these acceptance rates aren’t typical for all MBA programs, you will still want your application to present you in the best possible light.

To maximize your chance of acceptance, review the MBA application requirements and deadlines carefully and prepare your application thoughtfully. Experts recommend completing each requirement one at a time; trying to complete them all simultaneously or too quickly can easily lead to burnout. Some experts recommend taking as long as a year and a half to two years to prepare for MBA admissions.2

The typical application requirements for online MBA programs include:

  • Application fee
  • Official transcripts
    • MBA admissions committees look for students with strong math skills;2 if your transcript lacks math courses, you may want to complete some online quant or finance courses1
  • Resume reflecting your work experience
  • Standardized test scores
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Personal statement essay
  • Interview(s)

Application Deadlines

Traditional MBA Programs

Most MBA programs have three rounds of application deadlines. Applying early to an MBA program can be beneficial. Early rounds usually have more space and scholarships available. You also receive a decision sooner and have more time to plan for graduate school. You should only submit your application early if you’re truly ready. You have a better chance at success if you submit later with a more qualified application.2

For a traditional MBA program with a fall start date, round one application deadlines are usually in September. The best practice is to start pulling your application materials together at least six months in advance, to make sure it’s ready for the early deadline.2

Round two is usually in January. Most applicants apply during this round because it gives them extra time to perfect their applications and retake a test or visit the school campuses. Some applicants apply during this round because things didn’t go as hoped during the first round. Before applying again, applicants should consider why their first-round applications were not accepted. They can take this time to write another essay, retake an exam, or improve their resume.2

Round three usually takes place in March or April. This round is the most difficult from which to receive an acceptance. If applicants were turned down in round one or two, it is recommended to wait until the next application cycle to try again.

Online MBA Programs

Online MBA programs often have multiple start dates—and, therefore, multiple application deadlines—throughout the year. Research carefully to find out the admissions deadlines for your target start date and to plan your application timeline. Santa Clara University’s Online MBA program has four start dates annually, in fall, winter, spring, and summer.

Resume and Work Experience

Online MBA programs often seek out candidates who are engaged in their communities and accomplished within the workplace. MBA admissions officers want to see prospective students’ quality of work, professional maturity, and increased responsibility over time. An MBA application resume should also highlight essential business soft skills such as leadership, communication, and collaboration.

It’s ideal for an MBA applicant to have three to five years of work experience;3 Santa Clara’s Online MBA application requires three or more. If your professional history includes one or more employment gaps, be honest about them, highlighting the personal and professional benefits you derived from them. Because we can learn from every life experience, time that you've spent traveling, caring for family members, or studying a new language—just as examples—can add to the skills, perspective and maturity that you bring to the MBA program you're hoping to join.

Standardized Test Scores

Some online MBA programs require applicants to submit scores from standardized tests such as the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) or Graduate Record Examination (GRE).

These tests evaluate quantitative and verbal abilities. Test experts recommend spending at least 100 hours2 or three to six months1 preparing for the exam. You can retake the tests up to five times per year. Most schools will review only your highest score.1 Applicants should aim for a score at or above the median among students currently attending the school. The average score for admitted students is typically posted on a school’s website. For Santa Clara University’s Online MBA program, waivers for GMAT and GRE scores can be granted based on applicants’ previous education and work background.

In addition, many business schools will require that international students (for whom English is a non-native language) demonstrate English proficiency by submitting their scores from the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) or Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) exam.

Letters of Recommendation

Most online MBA programs require letters of recommendation from professional or academic references: individuals who can speak to your qualifications, skills, personal qualities, and potential for success in the program. They should support your decision to pursue an MBA. If possible, choose a supervisor or co-worker to write on your behalf.4 Discuss with them why you want to get an MBA, what your professional goals are, how the setting in which they know you has shown off your best qualities, and how you’ve made an impact on the organization.

The reference letters should also note any skills which you aim to strengthen. Many applicants apply to MBA programs because they want to improve certain weaknesses, so the letters should explain how you plan to address these areas.4

Personal Statement Essay

Many online MBA programs require applicants to submit an essay outlining their academic and professional background, career goals, reasons for pursuing an MBA, and ways in which the program aligns with their objectives. Focus on the following in your essay:5

  • Specifically explain your professional goals, describing why they’re important and the impact they could have on your community
  • Explain why you’re applying to the program; highlight ways in which you see it helping you reach your career goals
  • Discuss your work experience and why you’re passionate about working in business
  • As specifically as possible, explain why you’re the ideal candidate for this particular program

The Interview and Interview Preparation

Depending on the program, prospective students may be invited to an admissions interview. Interviews are extremely important to the online MBA admissions process.2 Applicants can use these interviews to show they have the traits that are beneficial for future leaders.

Consider the following tips as you prepare for your interview:6

  1. Explain why you want to attend this MBA program.
  2. Describe how you can contribute to the program.
  3. Brainstorm possible questions you will be asked, including difficult questions about weaknesses and past mistakes. Have truthful responses to these questions.
  4. Show confidence, not arrogance. Emphasize your strengths and acknowledge your weaknesses in an appropriate way.
  5. Sharing success stories that show your contributions and accomplishments is more important than just describing your skills. Create a narrative that clearly highlights your abilities.
  6. Be authentic and truthful. Candidates fall short when they answer interview questions based on what they think the interviewer wants to hear.
  7. Practice your responses out loud. Write out your responses so you can memorize them. This helps to answer questions quickly and clearly and avoid rambling while in the interview. You want to be prepared and present yourself confidently, without sounding like you have pat, canned answers.
  8. Prepare a list of thoughtful questions to ask. They should be specific to the program or the interviewer, not addressing topics easily found on the university website.

Advance professionally. Reach your goals.

Come another important step closer to career success. The acclaimed Online MBA program from the Leavey School of Business features a robust curriculum designed to create business leaders. It also provides the benefits of online learning: You can study from anywhere, on your schedule, without interrupting your professional or personal commitments.

To learn more about the program and the Admissions application requirements, schedule a call with an admissions outreach advisor today.