width=280With its demands on time, finances and personal commitment, its not surprising that the prospect of taking an MBA can generate a thousand pressing questions. Every year, however, we find that potential students keep coming back to a small, but significant, number of key issues. In this section of the Guide, we provide you with answers to a sample of the most common questions put to our experts in the TopMBA Mentor online advice forums in recent months.

Q: I'm a senior software engineer with five years work experience at a major multinational. My goal is to move away  from technical involvement and into more general management. How will this be perceived by admissions officers?

A: It's definitely not a problem that you are seeking to
change career. A significant proportion of
MBA students have always seen the qualification as a springboard into a new discipline, sector or area of responsibility and schools are fully aware of this.

Q: What is the most important factor for an admissions officer when choosing an MBA candidate?

A: Besides appearing bright, talented and interesting, selfawareness and letting your personality come out on your application are the best ways to distinguish yourself in a strong applicant pool.

Q: I have a low GMAT score of 500. What other factors can I use to impress admissions committees?

A: The
GMAT is only one factor in your application, but unfortunately it is a strong predictor of academic aptitude for a traditional
MBA program. That's all that it measures, so it doesn't define who will be the best manager or team-mate in the future. If you are 50 points below the average of the schools you are applying to, and you have only taken it once, then take it again. Schools always accept your highest score. Other factors committees look at are: your work history, outside activities and interests, essays and recommendations, and, possibly, an interview. You need to present a consistent message that you are passionate about the activities you are a part of and that you have a good sense of your core values. In addition, it is important that you have made a strong case for why you want to pursue your career goals, how the MBA can help you, and why you are applying to a particular school.

Q: I'm interested in an MBA but, at 48, am concerned that I'm too old for many schools to consider. I spent last summer studying international business at Harvard University and believe I can handle the workload. What are your  thoughts?

A: I'm sure you have great experience and would be a welcome addition to many MBA programs. You are a little old for typical MBA entry-level careers in consulting and banking. However, if you have clear career objectives and can see how an MBA will help you achieve these goals, then we are sure you will enjoy the experience of broadening yourself and seeing business from completely new perspectives.

Q: Are there any good MBA programmes in the UK or the USA, which do not require work experience? I will graduate in April 2006 and intend to pursue my MBA immediately after that. Is this possible at any of the top rung MBA schools and is it a good idea?

A: In general it is better to have two or more years of work experience before you undertake an MBA. Recruiters certainly favour this and fellow students prefer like-minded colleagues, who can share their own work experiences in the learning environment. There are a number of preexperience MBA programmes, but they vary enormously in quality. There are several UK providers including universities of Southampton and Hertfordshire. Most US programs will allow a couple of fresh graduates to gain entry if they have outstanding academic records and some other distinguishing features, but, as a rule, the chances of gaining entry to a top US school without prior work experience are very small.

Q: Who should I get recommendations from?

A: Recommendations from current managers and/or mentors are the most helpful to committee members, because they see you day in and day out in your best times and your worst. Also, and perhaps more importantly, they provide an objective assessment of your personal and professional qualities. Therefore, recommendations from Mom, Dad, boyfriends/girlfriends, or people that work for you, are usually not a good idea. Some schools ask for a peer recommendation but, as a rule, if they don't ask they won't be interested. You will want to determine what each school wants.

Q: If I'm invited for an interview, is it better to interview on campus or with an alum?

A: It really depends on the school. Some schools like you to show commitment by coming to the campus for an interview. However most schools understand that you may not be able to due to work commitments, financial issues or the distance involved. Therefore, interviewing with an alum is an excellent alternative. They do a great job with their assessments and provide tremendous insights into the culture and benefits of attending the school they graduated from. This is another instance where you would want to touch base with the school in advance.

Q: I'm having trouble narrowing down my list of possible schools. How many would you recommend I should apply to?

A: We usually recommend you make 5 applications:

  • One dream school where the chances of gaining entry may be slim, but it is worth a try.
  • Three strong schools - still highly competitive and prestigious, but with a higher probability of success.
  • One 'safety' school - if you have spent several months preparing your applications, you will want to ensure you gain entry somewhere, but still make sure the school is of high quality at a local level or that it specialises in your field of interest.

Q: Do you think that business school fees are on the rise and, if so, do you expect this to accelerate over the next five years?

A: Fees have certainly risen over the past five years, especially in the US. Today, fees are typically US$35-38,000 per annum for a top-tier US programme. Five years ago they were US$30-32,000 per annum. Over the next five years, we expect fees to increase very little - no more than 5% per annum except for a very few elite schools. Many schools are also increasing partial-scholarship availability, by drawing upon alumni contributions and endowment funds to help the best candidates.

Q: Most European schools emphasise that they have several dozen nationalities in their MBA classes. American schools have a much smaller proportion of overseas students. How important is diversity of students and faculty?

A: If you want to experience US culture, then the USA is a great place to study and with 70% of students and faculty recruited domestically at a typical school you will certainly get to know the US mindset. European schools are generally more diverse and do provide a better opportunity to learn about other cultures. There really is no right or wrong answer here - you simply have to match the school profile to your own interests and objectives.

For more advice from our panel of experts, visit the TopMBA Mentor programme at