How do I apply for an MBA?

Choosing the right course and institution is the first step

Choosing which MBA to take on is the first hurdle, but what’s the application process like - and can it be off-putting?

Luckily, for most MBA courses, applying is more of a cakewalk than a marathon, and once budding students have chosen their course, most colleges just want to know they’re up to the task.

Ronan Kearns, president of the MBA Association of Ireland, completed his MBA in 2004 and went on to work in the engineering industry. In 2013, he took on the two-year, part-time MBA in the Dublin Institute of Technology (now part of TU Dublin).

“I’d done a postgraduate in 2009 and chose the MBA because I wanted to keep learning and developing,” he says.


Kearns says he chose TU Dublin because, although it wasn’t accredited by the Association of MBAs (AMBA) - widely regarded as the gold standard in MBA accreditation - at the time, accreditation was in the pipeline. Location and cost were also big factors for him.

“In the application process, the course provider is trying to find out if you have sufficient postgraduate experience, or you have held some position of responsibility in the workplace, such as mid-management,” Kearns explains. “You do also have to tick some academic boxes: a level eight undergraduate degree, or a postgraduate degree, or some other suitable experience. Once I was accepted on the course, I was offered the opportunity to speak to a psychologist so I could fully understand my own reasons for doing it. You are not just turning up to get a degree, there is a significant commitment involved. You have to make sure you have thought it through.”

Sometimes students will meet with department staff and, while this might seem intimidating, it is a good opportunity for the student to ask questions.

Andree Harpur, an independent careers consultant based in Dublin, says that some of her clients stress about the application procedure or being interviewed. "I say: hold on, you are interviewing them. They have a very expensive that are trying to sell you, but you should ask where will that bring you and does it line up with your plan."

After doing her undergraduate in applied languages at DCU, Elisha Daniëls, who is now senior project manager and marketing strategist at Proactive Design in Marketing, did her MBA in NUI Galway.

“I had been away from the workplace on maternity leave and had cause for reflection about my career as a technical translator,” she says. “I wanted a wholesale change and, as I read more on the prospectus, I realised that no matter what career I went into, there was nothing it wouldn’t be useful for.”

After speaking with career consultants, Daniëls was even more confident she was making the right decision. “I spoke to the director and she spent time with me answering questions. She invited me to an MBA masterclass with past and current students, so I could get an idea of the caliber of both the course and its graduates. I could get a sense of the things they were talking about and get exposure to current students - and the enthusiasm of those students sealed the deal. I spoke to people who told me a little about themselves and what they felt the MBA had given them. It had brought their career on in leaps and bounds.”

The application process involved sending her CV and explaining why she wanted to be on the MBA course and why she was suitable; this was followed by an interview with the MBA director and another member of the teaching staff.

“They base their decision upon your interview and your qualifications,” says Daniëls. “Ultimately, all MBAs are trying to build a rich network within the class and this means that they want people with different experiences and different perspectives - including people who are in the earlier stages of their career alongside people who are further along. This allows everyone to draw from one another professionally.”

Because MBA students tend to be people who have workplace experience, they’re more likely than the average postgraduate to have children - and this can mean that they’ve more childcare issues to figure out.

“I was working full-time, doing a masters part-time and I had young children too,” says Kearns. “I felt I’d be able to balance things better before they started in school. I don’t want to sugarcoat: it was hard working, doing the course and having a young family. You do need to go in with your eyes wide open and be aware that it is a significant time commitment.”

Daniëls says she faced similar issues in taking on an MBA but, like Kearns, feels it was worth the sacrifices.

“My children were just one and three, and it was a challenge, but I had a lot of support at home from my husband. When you decide to do an MBA, you’re not just making the decision for yourself, so you do need the support network. But ultimately, the MBA elevated my thinking and my career and it was transformational.”