Are You Qualified to Get Into an MBA Program

The Master of Business Administration is the most popular master's degree, with over 250,000 students worldwide. Its popularity is well-earned – MBA programs benefit their graduates in many ways. Many employers require high-level executives and managers to have MBAs, so the degree is necessary to advance in some career paths. For professionals who don't have […]

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This blog was originally published September 2022, and was revised May 2023.

The Master of Business Administration is the most popular master’s degree, with over 250,000 students worldwide. Its popularity is well-earned – MBA programs benefit their graduates in so many ways. Many employers require high-level executives and managers to have MBAs, so the degree is truly necessary to advance in some career paths. For professionals who don’t have their sights set on a C-Suite job, the traditional MBA can launch a career in consulting, helping non-business professionals move into management or even start entrepreneurs on their journeys. No matter their ambitions, professionals tend to increase their earning potential with this prestigious credential.

The rise of online MBA programs has made this degree more accessible than ever, and most programs do not sacrifice quality for flexibility. The Online Master of Business Administration (MBA) program at the SMU Cox School of Business is for professionals with some work experience who want to take their careers to the next level. It features a rigorous curriculum taught in small classes with plenty of opportunities to network with peers and faculty remotely and in annual immersions. 

For ambitious early career professionals who feel ready to take on additional leadership responsibility, the school also offers an MBA Direct program geared toward recent college graduates and professionals with three or fewer years of work experience. The program provides the same opportunities for career growth and professional development as the Online MBA but for professionals with less work experience.

Many applicants continue to ask the SMU Cox School’s enrollment advisors, “How much work experience do you need to start an MBA?” They also wonder about test scores and minimum GPA thresholds. Far fewer consider the role of fit in the admissions process. Knowing the basic MBA prerequisites is important, but what matters more is finding an MBA program that aligns with career goals and carefully crafting a competitive application around that alignment.

Finding the Right MBA Program

Long-term career success requires more than getting into a particular MBA program. Professionals who want to get the most out of their degrees should work toward qualifying for programs that line up with their backgrounds, provide high-quality education and support their professional goals. MBA applicants are advised to look beyond generic lists of top business schools and focus on finding the best MBA program for them.

Format is another consideration. Part-time MBA programs, such as the Online MBA and Direct MBA programs from SMU Cox, tend to be a better fit for established professionals. Students can continue to work while learning valuable skills for the future. In addition, students can apply what they learn in their current workplaces and roles, cementing those lessons through experience.

The COVID-19 pandemic expanded adoption of virtual communication and led to “a greater acceptance of distance learning,” according to Rahul Choudaha, GMAC’s director of industry insights and research communications. Many institutions launched online MBA programs during this time, but they remain untested and there is little information about student outcomes. By contrast, the Online MBA at SMU Cox launched pre-pandemic and has a longer operating history than most other online programs. Many students have already graduated from the program and reached new levels of professional success.

Prospective MBA students may also be surprised to learn that the MBA curriculum is not fixed and often varies from school to school. Degree seekers should evaluate course offerings and choose a program that will fill gaps in their knowledge and set them up for future work that aligns with their interests. For example, in addition to core business management competencies, the Online MBA program at SMU Cox teaches data analytics. The subject is not prioritized in all MBA programs, despite being critical for leaders in an increasingly data-driven future.

Finding an MBA program that fits your professional background and goals is only the beginning. Getting into a specific top MBA program can be challenging. Applicants should craft their applications carefully to ensure they fit the program requirements, have the right undergrad background, satisfy work experience prerequisites and pass relevant admissions exams.

Do You Meet the Initial MBA Application Requirements?

Most MBA programs ask that applicants meet the same basic requirements, although there is variation from school to school. Applicants should assemble a pool of documents and information to satisfy these basic materials requirements and then look at the specific requirements for each program before submitting. Application committees often look at materials first because they serve as a filter that determines which applicants will go further in the admissions process.

MBA applicants should assemble:

  • Transcripts from all post-secondary institutions attended. MBA programs have varied minimum GPA requirements, but most ask for confirmation that applicants graduated from an undergraduate degree program.
  • Standardized test scores for tests such as the GRE or the GMAT, although standardized tests have recently become optional for many programs.
  • Professional references from individuals who can speak to the applicant’s abilities. Ideally, references are current or former supervisors.
  • A resume highlighting relevant employment and academic history. This shows admissions committees where an applicant is coming from and where they might go in the future.
  • A personal essay that speaks to related experiences and professional goals. Admissions committees use this to see if an applicant will be a good fit for the program. MBA application essays also spotlight applicants’ communication skills.

Application materials for the Online MBA at SMU Cox include essays, unofficial transcripts from post-secondary institutions, two professional references and a resume or curriculum vitae.

What Kind of Undergraduate Education Do MBA Students Have?

MBA programs offer a master’s degree, so every MBA applicant must have or be near completion of a bachelor’s degree. Many prospective MBA applicants are surprised to learn that you don’t need a bachelor’s degree in business or a pre-MBA major to pursue an MBA. Typically only MBA programs focused on one field or specialty area of business, such as healthcare MBA programs, require that applicants have specific undergraduate degrees. According to the GMAC Prospective Students Survey, 51 percent of MBA applicants majored in non-business fields as undergraduates.

The Cox School of Business Online MBA program welcomes cohorts with diverse educational backgrounds. The average cohort includes only 31 percent business majors, with other students from backgrounds in fields such as engineering, liberal arts, the sciences and communications. The Direct MBA program features more business students because it’s common for business majors to pursue an MBA earlier in their careers.

Do You Need Work Experience for MBA Programs?

Work experience requirements vary by program. Typical MBA programs require that applicants have at least five years of work experience, but required work experience can increase or decrease for different types of MBA programs. For example, executive MBA applicants must sometimes have five or more years of managerial experience on top of 10 or more years of professional experience. On the other end of the spectrum, programs such as the Direct MBA at the Cox School of Business welcome early-career applicants and require little or no full-time work experience.

Even when programs don’t list specific requirements, workforce experience makes applicants more competitive. It shows admissions committees that applicants have the professional understanding and foundational skills necessary to succeed in a program and after graduation. Applicants with work experience also tend to have well-defined professional goals and a clear vision of how earning an MBA will enhance their careers.

Every work experience you have can be extremely valuable,” says Barbara Coward, founder of the MBA 360° Admissions Consulting company. “You don’t need to be a product manager at SpaceX to get admissions committees excited about your background.”

Work experience on an MBA application should demonstrate the ability to excel in a professional environment and dedication to career development. Admissions committees look for students who will become successful MBA graduates – regardless of industry – so they want to see both ambition and drive in application materials. 

Jody Keating, a resume coach at MBA admissions consulting firm Fortuna Admissions, explains that “MBA resumes should focus on personal strengths that are valuable in every sector, such as a collaborative spirit, a history of leading others and the ability to understand and prioritize the ‘bottom line’ purpose of work assignments.”

Online MBA students at SMU Cox work in many fields, including business, engineering, marketing and even nuclear power. Additionally, 12 percent of Cox Online MBA program students are either active duty personnel or military veterans. Military work can be very different from civilian career experience, and veteran and active duty students bring valuable leadership skills to the program. Named among the top MBA Schools for Veterans, SMU Cox offers tuition benefits available exclusively to Military members and their families. Applicants who are 100% Post-9/11 GI Bill eligible automatically qualify for the Yellow Ribbon Program, which means that 100% of the cost of an Online MBA is covered.

Do You Need to Take the GMAT to Get Into an MBA Program?

Until recently, the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) was a key factor in MBA admissions. The test measures analytical and critical thinking skills, and some aspiring MBA candidates took the GRE, which measures similar skills. However, recent skepticism about standardized tests and the upheaval brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic caused many programs to drop testing requirements from their admissions. Other programs maintain traditional testing requirements but offer GMAT or GRE waivers to students who meet certain qualifications, such as additional work experience or exceptional undergrad performance.

SMU Cox School of Business’ online programs are test-optional, meaning that GMAT or GRE scores are not required to apply. However, admissions committees at test-optional schools still consider scores when applicants submit them. Applicants applying to test-optional MBA programs should take the GMAT if their scores strengthen the application. For example, high test scores can balance out a lower undergraduate GPA, fewer years of work experience or less compelling professional references.

The Most Important Thing MBA Applicants Bring to the Table

The key element of a successful MBA application is something that transcends test scores, undergraduate GPA or even work experience. Every prospective MBA student needs a compelling “why.” That is the drive that pushes you to pursue an MBA and will give you the motivation to study for that high GMAT score, build an engaging resume and ultimately push through the challenges of rigorous part-time MBA coursework.

The Online MBA program at the SMU Cox School of Business is for students with a powerful “why” that drives them to pursue career success. It teaches cutting-edge concepts related to business management, data analytics and leadership and offers experiential learning opportunities, including immersion trips to domestic and international business hubs. The program also provides excellent networking opportunities and career coaching through SMU’s Career Management Center (CMC).

SMU Cox students achieve professional success during the program at their current jobs and after graduation. “The combination of analytics and experiential learning has deepened my understanding of ecosystems and helped me give meaningful input in the workplace,” says MBA Direct student Michael Salvador. “More than that, I’ve learned many ways to continue my growth as a leader and develop cohesive teams.”

Applicants interested in the Online MBA or MBA Direct programs at SMU Cox School of Business should be aware of the initial admission requirements but remember that successful applications speak to the whole candidate. Prospective MBA students who would like to learn more about the admissions process and whether or not they qualify should schedule a phone call, in-person meeting or virtual meeting with the Cox Online MBA admissions team to learn more. 

If you feel confident about your eligibility and are ready to start, apply to the MBA program today.