Getting Into B-School: 7 Action Items

Wharton students. Courtesy photo

Among the dozens of academic majors that future college applicants consider pursuing, there’s one degree that significantly leads all others in the total number of diplomas awarded – Business. As reported by the National Center for Education Statistics, of the two-million bachelor’s degrees awarded by U.S. colleges in 2016-17, nearly 20% (380,000) went to Business majors. Clearly, students — and parents — understand the value of a degree in Business. It’s a challenging and rewarding field that opens the door to a lifetime of learning and accomplishment.

Universities differ in their admission processes for Business applicants. Some schools admit new students to the Business program directly as entering freshmen. Some require a year or more of undergrad courses before students can even apply to the Business program. And some universities are hybrids offering both direct and phased admission. In all cases, acceptance standards are high and competition is intense, especially for selective Business programs where admission rates can be as low 7%!

Given the popularity and competitiveness of Business as an undergraduate major, the sooner a future applicant optimizes his or her candidacy and focuses on the “right” schools, the better the chances for success. With these challenges in mind, the admissions consultants at ArchAdmissions present the following strategies for high school and underclass college students who want to become Business majors.

Jennifer LaRusso-Leung. Courtesy photo

Build an Impressive, Quant-Oriented Transcript

Coursework for Business undergrads is highly quantitative. For instance, at Cornell University’s Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, the first-year curriculum includes Microeconomics, Macroeconomics, Financial Accounting, and Statistics. So, having a strong GPA — especially in quant courses — is imperative for applicants to demonstrate the competence for such demanding college classes. 

However, high grades alone are not enough. Applicants should take a rigorous course load to show inner-drive and commitment to excellence. Having a transcript with higher-level courses such as Honors and AP classes is a huge plus. And show intellectual curiosity outside the classroom by taking on a faculty-supervised research project in a business-related field.

Maximize Test Scores, Especially in Math

Every college will tell you there isn’t one defining factor that will make or break an admissions decision. Rather, it’s a compilation of components that reveal an applicant’s true potential. However, a strong ACT or SAT score is critical as top schools strive to bolster their rankings by having strong results for their admits. Top undergrad business schools boast impressive stats such as WashU’s Olin School of Business where the average SAT is 1510 and the average ACT is 33. 

We encourage students to take these tests very seriously, as schools see these scores — along with your GPA — as an indication of future success. The math section is especially important since Business programs want evidence of an applicant’s ability to handle numbers-heavy coursework. So, take a practice test as early as possible to see where you stand and what you need to improve.

Try both the SAT and ACT to determine which test feels more comfortable. And, if you’re unhappy with your first score, take the test again. Many colleges will accept a “superscore” that combines your best verbal and best math scores from multiple tests. Engaging a private tutor could help increase your score. If “test anxiety” is an issue, there are certified professionals who can assist. And if you have a documented learning disability, be sure to request an official accommodation (like extended time) to give yourself the best opportunity for success.

Join and Lead Business-Related Organizations

Dive into activities you really love and spread yourself across several different clubs. Show particular interest in Business. Membership in student organizations such as Junior Achievement (JA) and Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) confirms interest in and passion for learning about management. And don’t settle for being just a member. Take on a leadership role for a particular project or initiative where you can have a tangible impact. Business schools want engaged students who show initiative, take smart risks, and add value for others.

Formulate A Business Career Goal

Admissions officers realize that most young people are not ready to commit to a particular job or industry before starting college. However, it’s beneficial for an applicant to have a hypothetical career goal in mind that reflects self-awareness, confidence, eagerness, and vision. Guidance and support from an experienced admissions consultant can be helpful in articulating your future objectives. Additionally, follow media coverage on business topics. Following TV networks like Bloomberg and Fox Business, websites such as, and podcasts like Harvard Business Review’s “IdeaCast” can help you relate your career plans to today’s hot business topics, issues, and trends.

Gain Practical Work Experience

A part-time or summer job that aligns with your career goal can strengthen the candidacy as well as provide a preview of an industry that interests you. Rather than the size or prestige of the employer, focus on getting hands-on experience. If you’re unable to secure a business-related role, make the most of whatever work you do. There are lessons to be learned about communication, teamwork, and perseverance from every job, even camp counselor or lifeguard. 

Launching an entrepreneurial venture can help a Business applicant shine. Whether it’s cutting lawns or trading stocks, running your own small venture says positive things about your work ethic and potential. And, expand your knowledge and network by pursuing informational interviews and making company visits. Reach out to relatives, neighbors, family friends, and teachers to ask if they can help you get this kind of exposure.

Research and Contact Business Role Models

If you have a sense of which industries you’d like to join, explore the websites of leading companies to learn about the backgrounds of their senior managers. In most cases, their public profiles posted on LinkedIn will reveal where they attended college and whether they were Business majors. This information can help you in targeting specific schools. And, you can reach out to them for advice on career planning. By the way, it’s never too early to publish your own LinkedIn profile.

Get Early, Actionable, Expert Guidance

As a high school or college underclass student interested in becoming a Business major, would you like to understand where your candidacy stands today? What strengths and weaknesses are most significant? Which schools are appropriate targets? Is your school guidance counselor overburdened or unfamiliar with business? A knowledgeable, trustworthy admissions consultant can help by assessing your profile and sharing candid feedback to help you maximize your chances for admission.

If you’re considering a college degree in Business, taking the right steps now can help turn this dream into a reality. It’s never too soon to get started.

Jennifer LaRusso-Leung is a Managing Consultant at admissions consulting firm ArchAdmissions. A former Associate Director of MBA Admissions at Columbia Business School, Jennifer was also an Undergraduate Admissions Interviewer for College of the Holy Cross. She is a Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach, former NYU Career Coach, and a member of the New York State Association for College Admission Counseling (NYSACAC). Jennifer earned a Master of Clinical Psychology degree from Columbia University and Bachelor of Arts degree in History from College of the Holy Cross.


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