How to get on course for a masters in management

To test or not to test: This is the question that many prospective students ask themselves when considering whether to apply for master’s programs in management and how best to prepare.

Burdened with the stress and distractions of undergraduate studies, many may not feel excited about even more exams. But the extra effort can pay off for a significant number of business schools.

According to the admissions officer, this is one of the first in a series of decisions that can pave the way to a successful application, from reviewing various courses and considering resumes and motivations to carefully planning interviews.

Some tests are country-specific, such as the Common Admission Test in India or the Tage Mage in France. Others have international reach, including the US Graduate Record Examinations. One of the most widely used is the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), which assesses aptitude rather than knowledge by examining quantitative skills, verbal, critical, and integrated thinking.

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GMAT is often not mandatory for prior-experience masters programs and requires additional preparation time and costs — from application fees to, in some cases, tutoring. However, the results help schools provide a standardized benchmark – particularly for international students from systems that admissions staff may be less familiar with. Michelle Sisto, Associate Dean of Graduate Studies at Edhec Business School in France, says, “We see the GMAT as a sign of our commitment.”

Sangeet Chowfla, outgoing head of GMAC, which administers the GMAT, says one benefit of the exam is that students can test their own abilities. “It’s a proven predictor of classroom performance, so it’s useful for them to measure their own readiness. Going to business school is a significant investment, so your score can tell you something about your experience and well-being.”

Deciding whether to take an exam is one of several steps for applicants. Sisto emphasizes the importance of research to explore the characteristics of different business schools and degrees through reading and talking to alumni. She points out that some institutions or individual courses are not accredited by national education authorities, which, for example, limits the ability of foreign applicants to obtain a work visa and stay in the host country after graduation.

Like her peers at other colleges, she says applicants should be clear about their motivation for studying and their career plans in their letters of application and interviews, and be prepared to support statements with ideas and examples. “A very common mistake is trying to say things you think the interviewer wants to hear instead of what you’re really thinking,” she warns.

Ciara Sutton, program director for the Master of International Business at the Stockholm School of Economics, warns that an application that is too perfect or too general “can result in the applicant not revealing enough of their individual personality. We need to see how a candidate differs from their peers and what they will bring to the cohort.”

“A strong desire to participate in our specific program must be demonstrated by disclosing that the applicant has researched what we offer, spoken to current students or graduates, and actively chose our program,” she adds.

Filipa Luz, Head of Marketing at the Nova School of Business and Economics in Lisbon, says: “We want applicants with different insights and ways of thinking for their future life: We are looking for those students who want to change the world, want to make a difference, be future leaders .”

While Covid-19 accelerated the trend to limit in-person interviews, particularly for applicants from far-flung locations, some schools are still using them. Many more have switched to online variants.

If Zoom has reduced the risk of the weak handshake making a bad impression, online discussions bring other pitfalls. Sisto advises applicants to conduct practice interviews. “You need to be able to transmit your enthusiasm online so you can connect: really look at the camera and not at the screen, sit up straight and make sure the foreground is more prominent than the background, where you are,” she says.

Andrew Keating is Associate Professor leading the MSc in International Management at UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School in Dublin. “We’re looking for critical reflection,” he says. “Give an example of how and why you succeeded; and what you learned when something went wrong and how you would do it again. If you said you would like to work in the technical field, explain what you will do specifically. or cite a company and explain why it is successful to show you are able to analyze.”

Appearance matters too, online too. “Don’t show up in a t-shirt and shorts,” says Keating. “You don’t have to be in a suit and boots, but at least you have to be smart. You should look the person asking you the question in the eye while also paying attention to the others in the room.”

Eye contact doesn’t just show trust. It can also help focus on what interviewers are looking for. “Often the candidates don’t listen to the question, get nervous and start saying something off the top of their head,” he says. “Listen to what is being asked.”

Secrets of successful applications

  • Do your research: Identify the specific characteristics of each school and course

  • Talk to alumni for more information.

  • Internships and professional experience show commitment

  • Volunteering, sports or activities in other student activities show commitment

  • GMAT is not always compulsory, but shows commitment and tests aptitude. The test costs £225; practice test £41; official guide £40

  • Be authentic in your application and not generic

  • Reflect on your successes and challenges you have overcome

  • Be professional in interviews: appear well-groomed, make eye contact, answer the question

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