How to Get Into Ivy League MBA Programs

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By James Mielke

With Advice from Phillippe Barr

Published on August 19, 2021

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Ivy League schools like Harvard, Cornell, and Penn offer some of the best MBA programs in the country. And while a business school degree from these elite institutions comes with jaw-dropping tuition rates, these programs position graduates for managerial roles that come with equally significant salaries. Mid-career Harvard Business School grads earn a median annual salary exceeding $200,000.

If you want to max out your earning potential, an elite MBA degree could help. In the following guide, we highlight some essential information that can help you navigate the admissions process. Read on to learn how to gain admission into some of the best MBA programs in the United States.

What Do I Need to Apply for a Top-Ranked MBA Program?

Good GMAT Scores

When applying to top-ranked MBA programs, standardized test scores make up just a part of your application. Most of the best schools review applications holistically, making a point not to emphasize GMAT scores.

While Ivy League MBA programs typically avoid setting minimum test scores, you can anticipate a pretty high bar. Out of a score of 800, most incoming classes earn an average GMAT score in the 700s.

High Undergraduate GPA

Weighted alongside other essential application materials, academic transcripts and undergraduate GPAs only make up part of your application portfolio. In addition to considering your GPA, admissions departments recognize that individuals and their accompanying skills continue to evolve after completing an undergraduate degree.

While Ivy League schools typically look for high-performing individuals, their MBA programs do not require a minimum GPA. That said, class profiles reveal that average GPAs often range from 3.3-3.7.

Previous Work Experience

Elite MBA programs maintain high standards and expect applicants to hold a solid professional history. Your resume allows you to set yourself apart, highlighting managerial experience, civic engagement, and the skills you have honed along the way.

For most Ivy League MBA programs, applicants typically have about five years of professional experience. The outlier is Brown University. Brown's hybrid executive MBA requires 10 years of professional experience, including several years in a managerial role.

Strong Essays and Letters of Recommendation

Strong MBA essays allow you to take control of your narrative, highlighting accomplishments and laying out academic and career goals. Ivy League MBA programs seek well-rounded applicants, and emphasizing your dedication to volunteer, and civic activities can help you stand out. Demonstrating a commitment to your community is just as valuable as your successes in the business world.

“Avoid repeating what can be found on your resume by telling stories about who you are, the challenges you faced, and the successes that make you who you are.”
Phillipee Barr, Former Assistant Director of MBA Admissions for Kenan-Flagler Business School

Additionally, letters of recommendation give academic, professional, and character references a chance to sing your praises. Providing an admissions department with a variety of references can help shape their overall impression of you.

Ivy League MBA Class Profiles

School Name Total Enrollment Average GMAT Score Average GPA Average Work Experience
Brown University
(Class of 2022 Profile)
N/A 685 3.3 16 years
Columbia University
(Class of 2022 Profile)
782 726 3.6 5 years
Cornell University
(Class of 2022 Profile)
292 700 3.34 5 years
Dartmouth College
(Class of 2022 Profile)
289 720 3.48 63 months
Harvard University (Class of 2022 Profile) 732 730 3.70 4.7 years or 56 months
University of Pennsylvania
(Class of 2022 Profile)
916 722 3.6 5 years
Princeton University* N/A N/A N/A N/A
Yale University
(Class of 2022 Profile)
350 720 3.65 4.5 years

* Does not have an MBA program

Five Tips to Get Into an Ivy League MBA Program

1. Define Your Goals

Clearly and precisely laying out your career goals is critical. The best MBA programs look for students with specific career objectives rather than a lofty, ambiguous mission.

Along with career objectives, you should specify what you hope to gain from your academic experience. Whether it is honing leadership or collaborative skills, make sure they know what you want to accomplish while completing an elite MBA.

2. Communicate Your Unique Qualities and Experiences

Highlighting your specific qualities and experiences allows for a unique application that feels personal. Consider your academic and professional strengths while also demonstrating that you are enrolling because you want to learn.

“In addition to being strong in all areas of the applicant evaluation, you should be able to identify and capitalize on something that stands out about you, something unique about your personality or experience that is going to add value to the experience at the school.”
Phillipee Barr, Former Assistant Director of MBA Admissions for Kenan-Flagler Business School

While your personal and professional success can help boost your resume, spend some time reflecting upon the personal experiences that have shaped you. A stiff application devoid of a unique perspective will not get you very far.

3. Research Your Target School's Values and Convey Them

In addition to preparing for the GMAT and crafting a perfect resume, research your target school's values. Consider their core values and subtly reflect them throughout your application.

When applying, consider details like Harvard Business School's dedication to the actionable promotion of racial equity and diversity. Additionally, Dartmouth's holistic approach to the admissions process seeks out smart, curious, and engaged applicants who showcase accomplishments and principles.

4. Demonstrate Soft Skills and Managerial Abilities

Ivy League MBA programs look at more than your academic transcripts and resume. The ability to demonstrate practical soft skills, such as communication, critical thinking, and leadership is paramount. Show these schools that you can work confidently while promoting a collaborative, respectful, and enthusiastic work environment.

Soft skills smoothly segue into your managerial abilities. How people behave and manage in the workplace is more important than ever. In addition to showcasing soft skills, demonstrating a dedication to a safe and equitable professional environment is no longer an exception. It is a managerial best practice.

5. Have A Strong Academic and Extracurricular Profile

While schools like Dartmouth make it clear that your GPA does not define you, Ivy League MBA programs look for high-performing applicants. Even though your undergraduate transcript may not derail your Ivy League chances, your GPA, alongside test scores and professional experience, helps schools gauge your potential success.

“Emphasis should be on building a strong academic record and getting strong test scores. Ivy League MBA programs are looking for strong work experience and for people that do not necessarily fit an archetype.”
Phillipee Barr, Former Assistant Director of MBA Admissions for Kenan-Flagler Business School

Your extracurricular profile carries a lot of weight if you do not have a high GPA. Displaying how you spend your time outside the classroom sheds light on you as an individual and demonstrates your interests and values.

Frequently Asked Questions About Ivy League MBA Programs

Do all Ivy League schools have an MBA program? true

Most Ivy League schools offer MBA programs. These schools provide a nearly unparalleled academic experience backed by a hefty reputation recognized worldwide. The only Ivy League school that does not offer an MBA is Princeton University.

What is the hardest Ivy League MBA program to get into? true

Ivy League MBA programs weigh many factors when considering applicants for admission. Columbia's MBA students boast the highest average GMAT scores. Additionally, Harvard's MBA students have an undergraduate GPA of 3.7. Nevertheless, these metrics do not paint the whole picture. Professional experience and extracurricular activities also play a significant role in getting into Ivy League MBA programs.

What is the easiest Ivy League MBA program to get into? true

Brown University's executive MBA students have the lowest GPA and GMAT averages, but that does not mean that they expect less of their incoming class. Incoming MBA students at Brown have an average of 10 years of professional experience.

Are Ivy League MBA programs worth it?

Most MBA programs boost career options while simultaneously increasing earning potential, but Ivy League programs carry name recognition that is sure to catch the eye of potential employers. Additionally, Ivy League programs often boast an extensive network of influential alumni, further impacting potential business and career opportunities.

How much does an Ivy League MBA program cost?

All Ivy League MBA programs carry a hefty price tag. Harvard's MBA tuition exceeds $73,000 per year. Similarly, Cornell's two-year, full-time MBA costs over $74,000 per year. While this is a serious investment, Harvard notes that graduates earn a median annual salary of nearly $150,000.

Interview From:

After having served for three years as Assistant Director of MBA Admissions for Kenan-Flagler Business School, Philippe has been an admissions consultant at Accepted.com for the last 5 years where he helps prospective students present their competitive advantage on paper and in-person. Prior to joining Kenan-Flagler, Philippe served as an assistant professor at UNC, Chapel Hill for seven years where he coordinated the admission process for the masters and doctoral programs. He holds an M.A from McGill University and a Ph.D. from New York University.

What are the Ivy League schools? Learn about how the Ivy League was formed, how much an Ivy League education costs, and how selective these colleges are. Today, the Ivy League stands as a paragon of academic achievement, but these eight prestigious colleges actually have a long and complicated history. Learn about scholarships and financial aid available for students pursuing a degree in business.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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