The first step – the selection of a school and programme – is of primary importance. The careful selection affects the success and added value of your studies, but also your chances for admission. It helps you clarify your career goals as well.
Most often the biggest challenge at this first stage is the large number of programme offerings. According to AACSB estimates, there are more than 13,500 schools offering business degree programmes worldwide. The number of Master’s degree programmes in the field of business and management is truly overwhelming.
When selecting programmes, you have to strike a balance between your desired field of specialisation, your budget, the countries and cultures of preference, the language of study, and requirements for admission. We have to admit that often the plans of our friends and family also play a role in the selection process.
Finally, if you have high academic potential and a broad variety of interests, it may take time to settle on your most desired and appropriate field of specialisation. If this is the case, placements and career counselling sessions may help you find the right focus and select the right type of Master’s programme.
But let us focus on the actual application process and see what it takes to gain admission to an international Master’s degree programme.
Plan to begin your preparation about six months before the intended start of your studies in a Master’s programme. If classes in your selected programme begin in the autumn, your application should have reached the admissions office in the spring. Allow for several months to prepare for and sit language and other admission tests and prepare all the documents in the application package.
Many universities will require that you have a decent GPA from your Bachelor’s degree studies in order to qualify for admission to a Master’s programme. Although a Bachelor’s degree is a requirement for enrolment to postgraduate studies, you may actually begin your application for admission in the last semester of your undergraduate studies.
You will need to submit official academic transcripts from your undergraduate institution showing the courses taken, the scores of each course and the overall GPA.
Some Master’s programmes may also require that you have a Bachelor’s degree in a subject area close to the Master’s field of specialisation or even some relevant professional experience. The latter may well be the case with some of the top Master in Finance programmes. Check these requirements carefully well in advance.
Your application for admission to postgraduate studies should be accompanied by one or two letters of reference . For most Master’s degree programmes your referees should be former university professors who can comment on your academic performance and potential for higher-level study. You should ask professors who know you really well and if possible who taught you courses related to the desired area of post-graduate specialisation.
Universities will provide guidelines and forms for the letters of reference describing what the referees should comment on. Make sure you use them and follow the instructions strictly. Letters of reference should be sent directly to the university by the referees. If a referee does not speak English, the recommendation letter may be in another language, but should be accompanied by an official translation in English.
Recommendation letters are an important element of the application package because they provide an outside evaluation of your qualities. Universities may contact your referees for additional details.
If you are not a native speaker of English, universities will require that you take one of the international language proficiency tests. Most universities will accept both IELTS and TOEFL so you can select the test in which you feel most comfortable. Some universities also accept the Cambridge Advanced or Proficiency certificates, or even conduct their own language test. The requirements for minimum scores vary between universities, but you should aim to achieve above 90 on the iBT TOEFL (the maximum being 120) and at least 6.5 on the IELTS (out of 9 maximum). However, some programmes will have higher requirements, so please check in advance.
Some programmes, such as the Master’s in Finance, may also require that you take an aptitude test such as the GMAT or the GRE. These are not language tests. They are conducted in English, but they check your quantitative and analytical skills. If the universities and programmes of your choice require these tests, plan for 3 to 4 months to prepare. These tests are quite challenging for most applicants.
Essays/Statement of purpose
This element of the application package may be new to you, because many undergraduate programmes do not require essays for admission. For Master’s admission this is one of the most important parts of your application, because this is where you present your motivation, expectations and career goals related to your chosen programme.
Both the statement of purpose and the essays are written documents which you prepare in advance. They should be your original work, but you may get advice from peers, professors or even admissions coaches while you brainstorm the ideas and the structure. The essays will reflect your level of writing skills in English, but you should make sure that there are no grammar and spelling mistakes and that the expression is clear.
Universities may require one or several essays. Each essay is on a topic given by the university and you should keep to the point. There is always a limitation on the number of words or pages in your essay (usually between one and two pages). The Statement of Purpose has no specific topic, but you are expected to state clearly your motivation to apply for the chosen programme and why you think you are a well-qualified candidate. Your academic and professional background, as well as your career goals, should be part of the presentation.
The admissions interview is your last and best opportunity to convince the university of your potential for success in the programme of your choice. The interview is conducted by members off the admission team, professors or alumni. If the interview is face-to-face you may be interviewed by several people. Many universities conduct the interviews on the phone or via Skype so that you do not have to travel to the campus, especially if you are an international student. Not all universities conduct interviews as a part of their admissions process.
Interviews usually take between 20 minutes and one hour. You will discuss the details of your application and you will have to answer additional questions which reveal your experience, suitability for postgraduate studies and expectations. You may also ask questions during the interview, but they have to be well thought-out and show that you have researched the programme in detail.
The right attitude
Preparing your application for admission to a Master’s degree programme helps you improve your skills and attitude and set adequate goals which will ensure success during your studies. Make the best of your preparation, so that you can enjoy your Master’s studies and gain the most from them.