How to Apply at a Business School Successfully

How to Apply at a Business School Successfully

The admission process at a private business school is challenging – but manageable. These tips help with the preparation

Find the right school

From gathering all necessary documents to preparing for the interviews – applying at a private business school can be very time-consuming. Therefore, it is all the more important to find out if the school at which you are planning to apply is good and the right one for you. You would not want to put all this effort into something that might disappoint you in the end.

Online portals such as, and will give you an initial overview of the various schools and their programs. You can utilize different filters according to your personal preferences – from the specialization to the language and location of the school.

University ranking surveys are conducted on a regular basis and help you find the best business schools from the large number of institutions. The Financial Times, for instance, ranks M.Sc. and MBA programs every year. This will leave you with a good idea of which schools offer high quality education.

One additional benefit: candidates putting a lot of thought into selecting the right school and making their decision with care find it easier to justify their choice of business school in the motivational letter, which many schools demand, or the admission interview.

Don’t be afraid to get in touch

Once you found two or three candidates, you should visit them, if possible. “You should not be afraid to come by,” says Annegret Zettler, Manager of Student Recruitment at HHL Leipzig. “This will give you a feeling for the school and the area. You can see how many people are in a class, what the lessons are like and, in doing so, find out if you could feel comfortable in this place.”

HHL hosts two Information Days per year. You can also arrange for individual visits. You cannot only see the campus and the classes but also meet the students. They can give you first-hand tips on how to apply.

» Find here further information about the next Master Information Day (April 8, 2016 in Leipzig)

If a personal visit is not possible, you should check if the university of your choice might be present at a career fair near you. “I talked with two HHL students at the Master and More Fair in Cologne for two hours,” says Jannick Plate. The 25-year-old successfully completed the Admission Day at the business school in January. “They were very nice and open, which was the determining factor for my decision to apply.” This contact to students was also very helpful when preparing for the application process. “Their tips were very valuable,” says Plate.

Double-check if something is not clear

When applying at a business school, you need to submit a number of documents. The application pages of the universities contain the information of what is required. But what exactly needs to go into the motivational letter? Who should you ask for a reference?

Here, too, the rule of thumb is not to be afraid to reach out and contact the school. “We gladly provide information,” Annegret Zettler of HHL. For the references, she recommends, for instance, asking an internship supervisor instead of two professors. According to Zettler, it is also important that the letter is not just a reference peppered with flowery phrases but really reflects the applicant’s personality and style of work. HHL provides a template which can be used as a guideline.

Jannick Plate also did his research on what exactly HHL requires before preparing his application. “This way, I found out that the application commission wants to know from the motivational letter what I as a student can give back to the school and my classmates,”, he says. “These tips improve an application. I can only recommend calling the school. You can easily discuss all your questions.”

Prepare systematically for the GMAT

The Graduate Management Admission Test, or GMAT, is an important precondition for being accepted into a private business school. To complete a Master’s degree at HHL, for instance, the candidates have to achieve a minimum of 600 out of 800 points. To get a feeling for the process and the form of the questions you should look at the sample questions on the official website.

The preparation varies from one candidate to another. Some invest hardly any time, others half a year. There are books and software available to prepare candidates for the test. They can also attend classes. HHL, for example, offers preparation courses on a regular basis.

» Find here further information about the next GMAT Seminar (April 9,2016 in Leipzig)

The goal should be to recognize your weaknesses and to work on them. Jannick Plate says, “Preparing an error log is what helped me. I made notes of which tasks I failed, where I was too slow or where there was a better solution. This is how I improved my performance.” All in all, he allowed for approximately 100 hours to prepare for the GMAT.

Brush up your general knowledge

Most business schools invite the candidates with compelling applications to interviews on location. Applicants for the full-time Master program at HHL will have two interviews and a short presentation on a given topic on the so-called Admission Day.

The interviews are about getting a first impression of the applicants. Sometimes, they are also quizzed about the basics of business administration and some professors have the applicants work on case studies. “There is no harm in reviewing content from the Bachelor’s program,” says Annegret Zettler of HHL.

You can practice working on case studies by solving sample cases. “The application pages of consulting firms offer great tips how to approach an interview like that,” Maria Hartmann. The 23-year-old successfully completed Admission Day at HHL in January. “For instance, you should think out loud while working on a case to show you can think in a logical and structured manner.”

Know your interviewers on Admission Day

For the interview, it is very helpful to know who you will be dealing with. HHL gladly tells the candidates upon request. This helps them to prepare specifically for the area of expertise of the respective professor. “You should also take a look at the professors’ biographies,” recommends Annegret Zettler. “This will tell you about their focal points and fields of interest. Some are keen on soccer, for example, and might take a case from this field.”

Be open and authentic

Applying at a business school does not just include professional qualification alone. The candidates’ personality must be compelling as well – and will be examined in-depth during the selection process. “We also look for social competence,” comments Annegret Zettler. “How does the applicant behave towards the other members of their group? How attentive are they? How well do they handle criticism?”

It is important not to put on an act but to be as authentic as possible. The commission will quickly see through everything else. This also includes reflecting on your path so far and being able to explain why you would like to study at the respective school.

A good impression also means confident demeanor. This is not very easy when you are nervous. However, you should try to pay attention to the details; do not forget the outline of your presentation; do not just jabber away after a question but stop to think if you understood it correctly. And then, also admit when you do not know something. “It is not a criterion for immediate exclusion,” says Annegret Zettler. “Being honest is better than stuttering.”


» Find here further information about the next Master Information Day (April 8, 2016 in Leipzig)

» Find here further information about the next GMAT Seminar (April 9,2016 in Leipzig)

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This is a general article written by one of our HHL supporters.