What business schools really look for in applicants

With an acceptance rate of 30-40%, IE Business School is one of the most competitive schools in the world. We spoke with Pedro Martínez Díez, Manager for Global Recruitment, to understand what a top business school is really looking for in applicants.

In short

How difficult is it to get into IE University?

As one of the leading business schools in the world, IE University has strict admissions criteria for its master’s programs. Because many applicants come straight from school or college, and therefore lack work experience, the other components of your application become even more important. Pedro Martínez Díez is the Manager for Global Recruitment at IE University. He explained the admissions process to us in more detail.

“As an approximate number, around 30-40% of candidates will be successful [in their application]. So if we’re talking about someone who’s fresh out of school or college, for a lot of the programs there’s no requirement in terms of professional experience. You’ll have to take an entrance exam, which could be the GMAT, the GRE, or our own entrance exam,” he says. (02:56)

“From that point on, you need your CV, your diploma, transcripts of your grades in school,” he adds. “You only have two letters of recommendation – from a professor maybe, someone you’ve worked with, and an essay of course. For non-native English speakers, you will always have to take the TOEFL, IELTS, or a similar exam.” (03:26)

Why the GMAT/GRE is still so important

Generally, business schools ask applicants to complete a GMAT or GRE test as part of their application. However, the application process at IE University is a little different in the sense that they have their own entrance exam for prospective students. Pedro explains the differences between the GMAT/GRE and their own entrance exam.

“I think [our] test is different from the GMAT or the GRE in that it evaluates the candidate in situations that might actually arise in the workplace,” he explains. “It really replicates tasks that you might carry out daily in the workplace – extracting information from databases, [working with] Excel sheets, a bit of numeracy…” (04:06)

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many business schools have waived the requirement to take the GMAT or GRE due to the difficulties in traveling to exam centers. But they remain important for candidates. Although they’re no longer mandatory at many schools, they still represent a great opportunity to set yourself apart from the competition.

“I think a candidate that shows up with a GMAT score or a GRE score has already shown that there’s a certain level of commitment there, and they’ve wanted to put in the work for up to six months because it’s a test that takes a while to prepare…a GMAT or GRE always looks good on your application,” Pedro says. (06:11)

What makes IE University a special place?

With an international student population of around 90%, IE University is one of the most international universities in the world. According to Pedro, this cosmopolitan feel adds to the IE experience in a number of different ways.

He says, “The majority of the classroom is made up of international students, which really brings a lot to the table in terms of diversifying that discussion that is had within the classroom. [It also] brings a lot of different cultural scopes and approaches to anything that happens in the classroom.” (01:49)

When Pedro describes the advantages of a diverse class, he’s speaking from experience. Although he’s now the Manager for Global Recruitment at IE, he’s also an IE graduate, which means he’s well-placed to explain what makes the IE environment so special.

“I think the IE environment is very special in that we’re a bigger school with a lot of diversity,” he tells us. “I don’t think our students realize the amount of different profiles they’ll meet, the amount of different nationalities, all the different approaches people have to doing things in the classroom and doing things in business…For me, it was an incredibly eye-opening experience.” (11:48)

What IE Business School looks for in applicants

Pedro has already mentioned that taking the GMAT/GRE is one way of distinguishing yourself from other applicants. But another part of the application represents an even bigger chance to make yourself stand out.

“[Firstly], make the most of every single item within the application. There’s an essay for a reason – that’s your time to shine and your chance to tell us why you’re an incredible candidate, and what sets you apart from the crowd,” Pedro reveals. (13:13)

Above all, applying for a business master’s is all about your journey. By showing where the program fits into your journey, you’re demonstrating the kind of candidate that the school is looking for.

“It’s incredibly important to go into the application with a clear journey in mind,” Pedro elaborates. “What I mean by that is the idea of doing an MBA or a business master’s is very aspirational, so I think ultimately you need to be able to show the committee: This is what I’ve done up until now, this is why I need the program, this is why I want to do the program and this is what I plan on doing with the program once I graduate.” (13:25)

When applying for a master’s, it’s tempting to write things that you think the school wants to hear. But that’s a fatal mistake. Business school is ultimately about your journey, your ambitions, and your dreams. You can show that you’re a good fit for a school simply by demonstrating how it fits into your personal journey. And that’s the kind of ambition and clarity that business schools are really looking for.

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