Top Ten Things To Consider When Applying To An EMBA Program Part I: GMAT, Academic Records and Recommendation Letters

Executive MBA programs have never been looking for just good students.  They are searching for leaders who will continue their positive trajectory of success after the program is complete. They want to build a class comprised of students who have a diverse variety of talents, qualities, attitudes and backgrounds. 

So, what does this mean for your applications?  Let’s examine each piece of the puzzle.


The Graduate Management Admissions Council created the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) in 1953 to gauge a prospective students’ ability to compete in the academic rigor of graduate business programs.  The exam, which is 1 of only 2 intellectual measures on the application, was recently updated with an additional section.  It tests verbal skills and analytical writing ability, quantitative skills as well as an aptitude for integrated reasoning.  Most full-time MBA programs value the test’s findings and require the test for admissions, but EMBA admissions committees differ in their opinions regarding the GMAT.  Therefore, you will only be required to take the GMAT when applying to some programs.

--GMAT preparation is critical:  

If you are applying to EMBA programs that require you to take the GMAT, preparation is key.  Give yourself at least 3 months and pick the preparation option that is best for you.  You can either self study using one of the many GMAT guides on the market, take a GMAT prep class or hire a private tutor.  It is important to note that you can re-take the test multiple times because the admissions committees typically only take the highest score.  While the GMAT may seem like a drag, standardized tests continue to be widely used in the higher education admissions process and valued by admissions officers.  You don’t want your GMAT score to be the one aspect of your application keeping you out of your top choice program. 

Academic Records/Transcript

The content and requirement of a transcript on a graduate business application is set in stone.  Applicants will never be able to change that low grade they may have received in college math and admissions deans will never be able to standardize the rigor of classes or grades given at other institutions.  It is simply another predictor, like the GMAT, of future academic achievement.

--The transcript is telling, but only 1 piece of the puzzle:  

When evaluating your transcript, admissions committees will want to ensure you challenged yourself throughout your academic career, especially in quantitative courses, and could maintain a solid GPA.  They will assume, if you were a dedicated student throughout your undergraduate work, you will succeed in the EMBA classroom.  If you have poor grades, you can’t go back and change them. However, a high GMAT score, additional coursework and an essay explaining weaknesses can help to mitigate the negative influence of a poor transcript.

Recommendation Letters

Most graduate business programs require 2 or 3 letters of recommendation, so it is important to make strategic decisions when choosing recommenders.  You will also want to ensure their messages align with your overall application strategy. 

--Choose the right recommenders:  

Choose recommenders who know you well and who will sing praises about your candidacy and fit.  Don’t get the distant CEO to write the letter because you think admissions committees will be impressed.  Identify those supervisors who have worked closely with you and can provide specific examples of your leadership and innovation potential.  The one exception here is if you are connected to a prominent donor or decision maker at the program to which you are applying.    

--Provide recommenders with background information:

If your recommendation letter can provide specific examples and add depth to your position, they could add real value to the admissions process.  In order to achieve this, you will want to provide your recommender with substantial background information – a sample essay or two and some examples that could help them illustrate specific qualities.  Ideally, each recommendation will complement the qualities you’ve brought out the essays, resume and other recommendation letters, by providing evidence of specific professional accomplishments.  You want each application piece to work together, emphasizing different areas of strength and, ultimately, completing the puzzle.   

The application process may seem daunting, but the rigorous admissions standards applied will lead to an unparalleled EMBA experience, a classroom where each seat is taken by a talented leader who is more than merely a test score and a transcript.