Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Apply to Business Schools

Yale University (Source:
Yale University (Source:

In this article, our contributor, David Orlando Kurniawan, shares his tips on how to get an admission letter from a great business school. David got an offer from Yale School of Management. He will continue his study there and take a Master of Business Administration (MBA) this fall. David joined Indonesia Mengglobal’s Mentorship Program and he thinks the program has helped him to get an opportunity to study at Yale University.  


One year ago, I decided to apply for an MBA degree at Yale University. It was a big decision that required a huge commitment because I had to do many things for the admission until the result is released. After going through the whole process, I learned many lessons — things that I have done or should have done — about applying to business schools that I would like to share with you. If you are planning to apply for an MBA, I hope these questions would help you in navigating your path in the admission process. I learned some of them from my mentor at Indonesia Mengglobal Mentorship, so I highly recommend you apply ­for the mentorship as well if you are applying for school!

Do you really need an MBA?

Before you start anything, you have to answer this question. Why?

  • First, an MBA is expensive, and you do not want to waste your hard-earned money.
  • Second, you will have to answer Why MBA and How an MBA at that school helps you on your admission essays and the admission committee is looking for candidates who have solid motivations.

To help you assess whether you need an MBA, here are some questions that may help you:

Where do you want to be, and where are you right now?

The second habit of Frank Covey’s popular 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is to begin with the end in mind. Do you know what future do you want? It is important to answer this because if you do not plan your future, you cannot be sure that an MBA will benefit you.

After thinking about the future, let’s think about the present. Where are you now? How far are you from where do you want to be?

Can an MBA become a bridge between where you are now and where do you want to be?

Is an MBA a bridge that can help you to reach your goal? (Source:
Is an MBA a bridge that can help you to reach your goal? (Source:

Now that you understand your present and planned future, and the gap between them, assess whether an MBA will bridge the gap. Most people take an MBA for these reasons: industry/role change, career acceleration, network, or credential improvement. Will any of these reasons bring you closer to your planned future?

Have you explored the alternatives?

Let’s say an MBA can bring you closer to your planned future. Now think about the alternatives: are there alternatives that can also provide the same benefits? Is taking an MBA a better option than any of them?

For example: if you are right now a Product Manager and you want to be a Head of Product in a startup, spending two years climbing the career path in product management may actually be a better option than going for an MBA because you are fully immersed in the role and you do not have to spend anything. But if you want to be an executive in a big corporation where a graduate degree is needed, an MBA is worth it.

If, after answering the above questions, you conclude that taking an MBA is necessary, the next question is:

Where should you apply to?

It is an important question to answer for any program, but arguably even more important for an MBA. Different schools offer different things in their program and you need to choose which one is best for you.

What do you need from an MBA?

Let’s go back to the earlier question. How is an MBA going to help you? After you know what you need from an MBA, look for the schools that could provide you that. For example:

  • If you want a career in tech, go for schools with strong tech connections, such as Stanford GSB or MIT Sloan.
  • If you want to work in non-profit or social impact, go for schools that emphasize social impact such as Yale SOM or Berkeley Haas.
  • If you want to work in the finance sector, go for schools that are close to the finance industry such as Columbia, Wharton, or Chicago Booth.
  • If you are looking for a strong network in Asia, go to top business schools in Asia such as INSEAD Singapore, CEIBS Shanghai, or HKU Business School.

My general advice is look beyond school rank. Sure, you can never go wrong when you go to top-ranked schools, but you will get more from a school that aligns with your aspiration.

So do your research.

Yale School of Management (Source:
Yale School of Management (Source:

How can I confirm what I know about the school?

After you do your own research, you will know a few things about the schools you are targeting. Maybe you feel that you start to have a picture in your mind about the school or the program. How can you confirm whether your perception is correct?

Talk to alumni or current students. They are the best people to talk about the program because they experience it first-hand. They can speak about the student body, the life at the school, the culture, or anything personal that you cannot find on the school’s website. If you personally know people from your target school, talk to them to find anything about the school as much as possible.

If you do not know anyone, use LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a great networking tool that you can use to find new people. Look for current students or alumni from that school who have some similar background (career, alma mater, or location) as yours because they are more willing to spare some time for you. Send them a message asking if they are open to chatting. I did that and most of the people were happy to help me.

Once you have gathered as many inputs as possible from the students or alumni, conclude your findings and decide which schools you are applying to.

Discussion at MBA Class (Source:
Discussion at MBA Class (Source:

Answering these questions will help you to clarify your motivations and aspirations for pursuing an MBA and find the right schools for you based on your aspirations. If you know why you apply for an MBA and why you pursue that school, you will find the admission process much easier because you already know what to write on the essays and forms.

Good luck!


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