Saturday, September 5, 2009

Admission Process for Ph. D. in Business Administration in an American University

After my post on admission process for Science and Engineering Ph. D. program, some readers were interested about the admission process in American business schools' Ph. D. program. Knowing that the page still remains the most popular page of this website, I asked my friend (lets cal him "V" here), who is a Ph. D. student in a top business school, to write about the admission process for the readers of this blog. Below is his response:


First things first - know why you want to apply to the business school. The PhD program is geared towards training students for academic positions, although many students end up taking positions in the industry. A majority of students at top-tier business schools seek academic positions in other business schools, although industry positions can be lucrative. In my opinion, if you are sure you want to work in the industry, it may not worth doing a PhD, unless you have a passion for accumulating degrees.

Most schools open up their admission process in September before the year starts (so for 2011 admissions, it would be Sep 2010). The application process consists of the several steps but one needs to choose a specific area or department that you want to apply to, although some schools allow you to choose multiple departments. Each department makes its own decision - its almost as if you were applying to different schools. Therefore, its important that you know which area you want to do research in. The school's website usually lists all the areas and it varies by schools. Some of the common areas (or their variants) are:

• Finance
• Business Economics
• Marketing
• Operations Management
• Organizational Behavior
• Strategy
• Econometrics and Statistics
• Information systems

As far as the application process is concerned, it is well-documented on a school's website. I list the common one below along with my comments:

1. Testing requirements: GMAT/GRE is usually required. Most schools list mean or median scores of the accepted students. In top schools, it is usually over 700. You may choose to prepare yourself (using books) or register for training classes offered by various companies (Kaplan, Veritas Prep etc.). For GMAT, some of the recommended books are:
a. The Official Guide for GMAT Review – HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
b. The Official Guide for GMAT Verbal Review – VERY HELPFUL
c. The Official Guide for GMAT Quantitative Review – VERY HELPFUl
d. Official GMAT Practice tests – available at for free – very true to the real test
e. Kaplan book w/CD - book is OK and the practice tests are tougher and not completely representative compared the real tests
f. Cracking the GMAT with DVD – explains the concepts very well, especially for novices, the questions are relatively easier. I highly recommend to first finish the official guide first.

As far as GRE is concerned, I don’t have direct experience with it, but I have heard Kaplan is pretty good – make sure to buy their Q-card package/exam vocabulary.

2. Transcripts: schools need to know that you took your coursework seriously and didn’t fool around. Schools are usually looking for candidates who do very well in courses as I think its an indication of how committed you are towards your academic success.

3. TOEFL - for international students. However, if you have a degree from US/Canada already, then it could potentially be waived.

4. Statement of Purpose (SOP) or Statement of Intent - VERY Important. Schools need to know why you are the right candidate as well as reasons to reject you. The 3 key things that you want your statement to reflect are: (a) why do you want to do PhD and why now, (b) why this particular subject area (Finance, OM etc.) and (c) why the particular school. Hence, a good understanding of the area becomes important. It always helps (but not required) if you can talk about some areas that you may be interested in (and certain faculty members). Previous publications and research work is helpful but not necessary. Also, there is some confusion on whether a Masters degree is required. A Master degree, though helpful, is not a requirement to enter into the PhD program.

5. Recommendations: anywhere from 2 to 4 depending on the school. It is strongly preferred that you get them from academics who are familiar with your previous research work and can vouch for it, for example your past adviser. In my opinion, you should get recommendations from a professor who will say excellent things about you. Having said that, if you have a decent amount of work experience, you may get one from your manager as well.

Some things to remember about the application process:

• Deadline: The deadline for application to most business school runs from early December to February - most top schools have their deadline before or on January 1.

• It may not be a bad idea to contact some faculty members whose research you particularly like to get a better idea of what a PhD program in that particular area entails.

• Make sure you give your self enough time before the deadline to prepare yourself and take GMAT in time.

• Please check with the school’s website to check whether the department you are applying to accepts GMAT or GRE or both. Some departments, although they accept both, prefer a certain test.

• In my opinion, writing SOP is the most critical part. SOP allows you to convey information about yourself that other documents (transcripts etc.) don’t necessarily convey; so use it wisely. That’s also one place where you can differentiate yourself from the pack. Make sure you take time to think about it – write concisely, clearly and make sure to edit it before you send it. Grammatical and spelling errors are your worst enemy. In terms of length of SOP, the general rule of thumb is 2 pages (single-spaced).

• The application process of almost all schools is now online (and that’s how the schools prefer). However, the paper-forms are also available for most schools.

• School’s websites remains the best and the most accurate sources of information about the application process and the PhD program in general. Make sure to check their FAQs.

A few comments about the PhD process:

• PhD program usually takes 5 years to complete (in some areas it is 6). Usually, the first 2 years or so are focused on coursework and the remainder on research. Students have a chance to experience research in earlier years via summer papers.

• Finances/Stipend: Most top schools pay the tuition of PhD students – in addition, they pay an annual stipend which varies with each school but is usually enough to cover living expenses for one person.

• A word of caution: PhD, by nature, is a lonely pursuit and you have to be mentally prepared for it.

DISCLAIMER: Please note that these are just my opinions and based on my personal experiences. There could be many factual errors in the information I provide. The best source of information remains the websites of the schools that you apply. So, applicants are strongly recommended to read the information on school's website before you apply.


Thank you V! We appreciate your time and effort.


Anonymous said...

If you are applying to a Ph.D. or Masters or Bachelors degree in Arts & Science, Dentistry, Doctorate, Research, Education, Engineering, Hospitality Management, Law, MBA, Medical, Music, Nursing, Psychology or Teaching, here is a resource for sop writing:

Rainbow Scientist said...

Dear Anon 11:29 AM,

The link you have provided seems to be a commercial one. I would not encourage candidates to go for that, but write by themselves with the help of someone who can go through the essays to look for grammatical mistakes and other problems. This process may take many rounds but will be more helpful.