Best Questions to Ask MBA Admissions

“Research and due diligence for the target business programs are essential. Some programs track demonstrated interest in terms of participation, information session attendance, webinars, or campus visits. At an information session, it’s important to ask questions or send a follow-up email afterward.”

Esther Magna, Principal at Stacy Blackman Consulting (MBA Admission Consulting Firm)

Earning an MBA degree is a wise investment for anyone who wants to advance their career. An MBA program provides students with in-demand skills, including critical thinking, analytical abilities, and leadership capabilities. Earning this degree offers opportunities to network with industry professionals and gain practical experience through internships or consulting projects. However, researching the right fit is critical with more than 1,000 MBA programs nationwide and more than 350 online.

Not only is it essential to investigate a potential program to ensure it meets your educational needs, but it can also even affect your admission chances: “Research and due diligence for the target business programs are essential. Some programs track demonstrated interest in terms of participation, information session attendance, webinars, or campus visits,” says Esther Magna, principal at Stacy Blackman Consulting, an MBA admission consulting firm. “At an information session, it’s important to ask questions or send a follow-up email afterward.”

While asking questions about some programs is possible, this is not an option for all business schools: “Some programs make themselves much more accessible to applicants, whereas others have more of a wall up in ensuring that there’s not much interaction between applicants and admissions,” says Magna. “Asking questions is always important, but asking questions of the admissions team is not the first thing we recommend because it depends on access. Due diligence and research on the admission process and making sure the investment is worthwhile falls is critical, so asking all sorts of questions from all sorts of angles based on what is possible and accessible is important.”

But what questions should an applicant ask, and who should they be talking to? Keep reading to learn Magna’s advice from decades of experience.

Meet the Expert: Esther Magna, MBA

Esther Magna

Esther Magna is one of the three principals at Stacy Blackman Consulting, an MBA admission consulting firm. She specializes in providing initial assessment and advice for top full-time MBA programs, including specialized programs such as deferred admission (college senior 2+2), JD/MBA, MBA/MPP, MBA/MPH, EMBA, and both US and international programs. Esther evaluates up to 800 MBA candidate profiles annually, assessing fit and advising on crafting compelling and strategic stories.

Magna’s expertise has been recognized by leading publications such as Fortune, Forbes, Money, Business Insider, and US News. Esther works closely with MBA Admissions Officers and elite MBA graduates on the SBC team to identify trends, inside knowledge, and success factors for top-tier program admits.

Types Of Questions To Ask Before Applying

From her experience, Magna has found that it is less important to have a set list of questions to ask but rather to ask genuine questions that show a candidate is open to feedback and has done their research: “If a candidate is approaching admissions, the best questions to ask are ones that allow the admissions expert, who has likely seen thousands of success stories and also dinged applicants over the years, to give honest feedback,” advises Magna, “Good questions might include ‘What do you think of my profile based on a resume scan? What do you think of my strengths? Are there gaps, and what are they? And how does that map to the admitted student profile? What’s your stream-of-consciousness reaction to my profile?’”

“Ask broad, open-ended questions because that’s when the answers will be more authentic, constructive, and actionable. Some applicants don’t allow us to offer our knowledge freely, which is their loss. Set the conversation up for success and trust the professional. That’s where the real value comes through,” she says.

Magna has talked to many prospective program applicants as an MBA admission consultant. “We have so many inquiries that come out in many different ways. Our most valuable conversations are those where it’s just as if we’re speaking to a friend or colleague. Sometimes I have to ask applicants to take a step back and have a casual conversation as if we’re having coffee together,” she says. “I understand that life is complicated, it’s a challenging time now in the economy, and no one likes to feel overtly judged. So encourage people to get in a good place, recognize this is a helpful conversation, and be open to hearing feedback.”

Whom To Ask Admissions Questions

It’s not just what to ask that is important, but also whom to ask. A prospective school’s admissions team isn’t the only place applicants should ask questions. Not only are some admissions staff hard to get a hold of, but many other people can offer valuable advice about a program. “Generally, the top 20 full-time MBA programs are guarded and won’t give individual profile feedback, as far as we know,” says Magna. “On the flip side, executive MBA programs are accessible almost across the board, to the point where they offer free initial pre-application interviews.”

One group potential applicants should network with and ask questions of is alums. Graduates of programs can help potential applicants discern if a particular program would be a good fit and what the program may be looking for in applications: “Reach out to your peer group because many applicants already work at Fortune 500 or traditional MBA employers like finance or consulting. There is usually a treasure trove of knowledge within a professional environment. Do not hesitate to approach those in your professional peer group or even friends that have applied successfully to business programs,” advises Magna.

“They can speak firsthand about their experience or give insight. If you are working in the industry, there is a lot of intel that you can absorb from your clients too. Check LinkedIn and see who they know who has attended a prospective program. Informal conversations outside of trying to approach MBA admissions representatives are often as informative, if not more so because they can speak authentically.”

In addition to alums, consultants, such as Magna, are valuable resources: “Free consultations from MBA admission consultants are an industry standard. Take advantage of that and talk to as many as you can. You can easily get several hours of free guidance across multiple admissions consulting firms,” she offers. “We know the landscape and who’s applying, so we can give you a sense of what you should include or elevate in your application. For example, maybe Yale values those with a social justice background this year, so we would tell you to include that when applying to the extent that it is authentic to your background.”

What To Ask During The Interview

Interviews are a part of the admissions process for many MBA programs. Asking good questions in the interview can be an excellent way to demonstrate that you are a good candidate for this particular program: “Interviewers will vary based on the school. Some interview all applicants, while others are more selective. To prepare for the interview, understand your value well, as you articulated in the application process through your essays and recommendation letters. Be very familiar with why that school is the one and only choice for you, so that gets echoed through the interview. Show personality and be likable,” says Magna. “Prepare a list of two to four questions to ask at the end. You never want to be in a position without prepared questions.”

However, the list of prepared questions should be a starting point. The best option is to pay attention during the interview and ask questions based on the topics: “One mistake I see constantly in practice interviews is that the questions the candidate asks at the end of the interview were already answered. They can’t pivot to develop new ones because they can’t remember what was already answered. You have to be able to adjust your questions based on the conversation that was had, even though it might feel overstimulating. Don’t resort to stock questions irrespective of the preceding conversation,” Magna says.

Admissions officers are looking for strong candidates for their MBA program, and the questions a candidate asks can tell them a lot. “It’s a proxy for your ability to be effective with the case study method used in most business class environments. You need to be able to absorb information and be a great listener. So it’s not just having questions. Ask questions that are reflective of the previous conversation. Take notes and try to be as present as possible, especially adjusting those questions towards the end of the conversation,” Magna advises.

Expert Advice for MBA Applicants

According to Magna, the most important part of the MBA admissions process is worth recounting in full: “Embrace and lean into who you are authentically. While it might initially seem intimidating because top-ranked MBA programs carry this kind of gravitas, there are humans reading these applications who want to feel goosebumps about a real story. Storytelling is something that every MBA admissions reader appreciates. Be yourself. Vulnerability is absolutely welcome. They want diversity in their class, not just demographic or industry diversity. They want people with a range of soft skills, emotional intelligence, and self-awareness. Because those predict resilience and the ability to be successful at the MBA program.”

Kimmy Gustafson
Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson leverages her broad writing experience and passion for higher education to provide our readers with in-depth, quality content about the evolving landscape of business schools and the various pathways in business education. Her experience as a start-up CEO provides her with a unique perspective on the business world, and she has written for since 2019.

Kimmy has been a freelance writer for more than a decade, writing hundreds of articles on a wide variety of topics such as startups, nonprofits, healthcare, kiteboarding, the outdoors, and higher education. She is passionate about seeing the world and has traveled to over 27 countries. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Oregon. When not working, she can be found outdoors, parenting, kiteboarding, or cooking.

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