Applying to a top-tier Executive MBA program is not an easy task. Trust me, I’ve been there. As a graduate of Columbia Business School’s EMBA Class of 2016, understanding the key criteria that EMBA admissions committees emphasize gave me a competitive edge in the application process. Today, as an admissions consultant at The MBA Exchange, I share my experiences, perspective and advice with a wide range of applicants. Below are eight suggestions to help you knock it out of the park and score admission to your dream EMBA program:
1) Show Substantive Work Experience
The “E” in EMBA stands for executive – a true reflection of what adcoms are looking for. The gatekeepers want students who bring significant professional experience, responsibilities and achievements that will enhance learning for EMBA classmates and add luster to the school’s brand.
While an average full-time MBA admit has only 4-5 years of full-time work experience, the average EMBA student typically has 10-20 years. For example, NYU Stern has a minimum requirement of 6 years and an average of 14 years of full-time work experience for admission to their EMBA program.
Since the average MBA applicant is early in his or her career, the admissions “bar” is relatively low regarding job title, duties, compensation, etc. Being an analyst at an investment bank or consulting firm is generally sufficient for consideration. In contrast, most EMBA applicants are at the mid-point of their careers, so it’s important for them to demonstrate meaningful managerial and leadership responsibilities, competitive compensation, evident career progression, leadership potential, and tangible achievements.
2) Don’t Obsess About Your Undergrad GPA
Adcoms for full-time MBA programs rely on an applicant’s undergraduate GPA and major to assess aptitude for handling academic rigor. However, because EMBA candidates have greater depth, breadth and duration of work experience, these adcoms focus more on professional background to assess intellect, relevant knowledge and problem-solving skills. So, undergrad education is less important for EMBA applicants – great news if you didn’t shine in the college classroom but excelled in the working world. We’ve had several clients with ~2.5 GPAs gain admission to elite business schools.
3) Confirm if the GMAT or GRE Are Required
For full-time MBA applicants, schools place great emphasis on GMAT or GRE scores. Not only does this provide a common denominator for comparing candidates but it’s another way for adcoms to compensate for limited work experience. For EMBA applicants, however, entrance exams are not always required. For instance, Baruch College’s Zicklin School of Business will consider waiving the GRE/GMAT for those with acceptable academic and/or work experience. The Cornell EMBA Metro NY program doesn’t even ask for any entrance exam. That said, at schools that require a standardized test for EMBA admission, scores matter. For the Wharton EMBA, the GMAT range of 630-750 is comparable to top-tier MBA programs. And submitting an impressive GMAT or GRE score, even if not required, can strengthen any EMBA candidacy.
4) Don’t Scramble to Add Non-Work Leadership
Since MBA applicants have a less extensive a body of work, and typically less demanding roles, they need to showcase initiative and impact through college extracurriculars and current involvement in non-profits. In contrast, EMBA adcoms expect to see examples of leadership in the EMBA applicant’s professional profile. Schools also realize these candidates often have more family-related responsibilities at this stage of their lives, limiting availability for outside activities and affiliations. Being president of XYZ community group is a nice-to-have, but not a must-have for EMBA applicants.
5) Utilize Recommendations to Document Support
In terms of selecting recommenders, MBA adcoms understand that an applicant may be unable to approach his or her current employer since this could jeopardize job security and promotability. However, EMBA adcoms expect confirmation that the employer is well aware and fully supportive of the individual’s b-school intentions. In fact, most EMBA programs require a written statement of support from the company.
Regarding content of recommendations, MBA adcoms want to see enthusiastic and substantive support of the candidate’s character, leadership potential, teamwork orientation, etc. However, EMBA adcoms focus more on meaningful professional experience and impact that could be shared with equally accomplished EMBA classmates.
6) Craft Essays to Confirm Commitment
Essays allow business school applicants to make their best case for how and why they’re a great fit for the program — and vice versa. These narratives also provide a platform to showcase a candidate’s vision, values, goals, etc. However, when comparing MBA and EMBA adcoms, they each have different motivations and priorities when reading essays.
To optimize a school’s published ranking, MBA programs need to maximize their yield on admissions (i.e., the percentage of admits who will actually enroll). So, these adcoms use essays to evaluate whether the applicant is sufficiently knowledgeable about and committed to the school to merit a coveted interview invitation. Essay content about post-MBA career goals is interesting but assumed to be more of a wish than a promise.
On the other hand, EMBA programs are more concerned about whether their admits will actually complete the program. Dropouts demoralize fellow students and tarnish the program’s reputation. So, EMBA adcoms use essays to assess the applicant’s fortitude and flexibility to start and finish the program. They also want to see a candidate’s specific post-EMBA career path and commitment to achieve a clear, long-term goal.
7) Interview to Show Executive Presence
Because a student’s listening, talking and thinking skills are at the heart of management education, admissions officers verify these abilities in-person before admitting an applicant. Schools also want to observe any evidence of arrogance, temper, timidity or other behaviors that could constrain learning and bonding among classmates if the individual is admitted.
MBA adcoms want to see how an applicant handles pressure and expresses himself or herself while EMBA adcoms are interested in observing maturity, presence, and curiosity that would add value in a classroom setting. EMBA adcoms also expect to see a more strategic, sophisticated, and mature communication style and tone since these applicants have much more professional experience than their MBA counterparts.
8) Target the Best Possible Schools
Let’s start with geography. Given their relative age and mobility, most MBA applicants are free to pursue business schools located anywhere in the country or even overseas. Their more established EMBA counterparts, however, are often limited to a particular city or region when selecting programs they could attend and complete. This means that most EMBA candidates begin with a shorter list when targeting schools.
Researching and choosing which EMBA programs you’d most like to attend will energize your admissions campaign as you envision what it would be like to take actually those courses, engage with those classmates, and join that alumni network. When comparing schools, criteria to consider include the timing and duration of the EMBA program, alignment of the curriculum with your needs and goals, quality of the faculty, logistics of attending evening or weekend classes as well as any longer residencies, online components, and the total cost of tuition and other expenses. Furthermore, you’ll want to review the profiles of typical admits so you can gauge the competitiveness of your professional, academic and personal background. Getting objective feedback on your candidacy from an admissions consultant at this point can be very beneficial.
The time, effort and money you invest in an EMBA education will be substantial regardless of where you enroll. However, the knowledge, network, and brand you’ll gain can vary significantly among schools. So, I encourage you to do your homework and then swing for the fences in order to maximize the return on your EMBA investment.
Author Angela Helfrich is a Senior Admissions Consultant at The MBA Exchange. An Executive MBA graduate of Columbia Business School, Angela focused her studies on marketing and entrepreneurship. As a member of Columbia’s Hermes Society, she assisted the Admissions Office in reviewing on EMBA and MBA applicants. Angela’s background spans technology, consumer products, and education. Her professional experience includes launching startups in the consumer goods and technology industries. Previously, she held business development and sales leadership positions at both Fortune 500 companies and startups. She earned her undergraduate degree in communications at North Carolina State, where she serves as an advisory board member for the College of Humanities and Social Sciences and as an interviewer for the Park Scholarship program.
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