Ask an MBA Admissions Expert: Jared Barlow

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7 min read

Varsity Tutors brings you insider tips and advice straight from nationally recognized admissions experts. Jared Barlow is currently the Assistant Director of Graduate Admissions and Recruitment at the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. He has worked in higher education for several years and has frequently provided one-on-one advising and counseling to students. Jared holds a Bachelor’s degree in International Business, Spanish, and Information Systems, as well as a Master’s in Education.

VT: How much time should be set aside to adequately prepare for and complete the application for an MBA program?

Jared: This varies from applicant to applicant. We hope potential applicants spend enough time to put forth the most competitive application possible. This could take hours, days, or months, depending on the applicant. You can break up the pieces of the application into more manageable segments, including preparing for and taking the GMAT exam. This can take weeks or more than a year. After the GMAT is complete, an applicant may reach out to his or her undergraduate institution and request official copies of transcripts. We recommend applicants also spend sufficient time on their admissions essays. Often, this is the only chance to express your qualifications to the admissions committee. For example, online MBA programs may not interview applicants. Applicants need to ensure their essays are helping them to stand out among their peers. Having friends proofread and review essays before they are submitted is another best practice.

VT: What would you say is the single most important thing to focus on for this kind of application?

Jared: Stand out from the crowd. In your application, you want to show what makes you unique and helps differentiate you from all others who may be applying. Express in your resume, essays and application materials your leadership qualities and what you bring to the table as a potential MBA student. We want to ensure you will be able to contribute to help your teams/peers be successful in an MBA program. You should describe why an MBA will enhance your career goals and objectives. What effect will an MBA have on your career path?

VT: What do MBA admissions officers look for most in the essay questions?

Jared: At the Top 30-ranked W. P. Carey School, we look for several things in admissions essays, including self-awareness, leadership and uniqueness. Has the applicant checked the current class profile? Does the applicant know where he or she stands against previously admitted students? Is the applicant aware of his or her own aptitudes, skills and abilities? Can the individual communicate thoughts and goals effectively? Can the applicant showcase leadership skills and describe them in essay form? We want to know if applicants can self-assess their unique position. Hopefully, applicants can use specific examples of how they are different from all the others looking to be admitted to our program. 

VT: What are the biggest mistakes one can make on this application?


  • Not making sure the materials you submit with your application match the intended school to which you applied
  • Not including your name, e-mail address, and phone number on all communication sent to the university
  • Not proofreading your essays
  • Not using resources available to applicants: Take advantage of the dedicated admissions representative for your MBA program. The experts can help answer questions and advise you about putting together a competitive application.
  • Not asking questions: If you have a question, please ask. Application mistakes can be avoided if applicants just ask or call for clarification.


VT: What aspects of the MBA admissions process make it most different from undergraduate admissions process?

Jared: During the undergraduate admissions process, the admissions committee may be interested in what you are passionate about. In an MBA program, we not only want to learn what you are passionate about, but also how this passion can translate into tangible skills, critical thinking, and career potential as you develop your personal brand.

VT: Is there anything that automatically disqualifies an applicant from being considered for an MBA program (i.e. low GPA, lack of particular work experience, etc.)?

Jared: Yes. Not having a four-year undergraduate degree from an accredited institution will disqualify you for admission. At the W. P. Carey School of Business, the MBA admissions committee will review each application in its entirety. Applicants should always review the current class-profile averages to find out where they may have a competitive edge over other applicants. The current class profile is a guideline and does not restrict individuals from applying where parts of their applications may not measure up to the averages. Applicants may be deficient in one area, such as undergraduate GPA, yet have a stronger-than-average GMAT score and number of years of post-undergraduate work experience. This may make them competitive for admission.

VT: What kind of work experiences should be highlighted in the MBA application?


  • Focus on post-undergraduate work experience.
  • We are looking for examples of leadership. Our goal is to seek out future business leaders.
  • We want to see examples of accomplishments, not just a listing of job responsibilities.
  • We want to see if you can communicate how you made an impact during your employment opportunities and in your community.

VT: What advice do you have regarding GMAT test prep?

Jared: Calibrate your expectations before you begin a study plan. You can take a free full-length practice exam; this will give you a good baseline as to where to begin your test preparation. After a free practice test, look over your results and then devise a plan.

Another key factor is to begin your GMAT preparation early. We advise students to prepare for the GMAT six to eight weeks before taking the exam. Students who create a regular routine for GMAT preparation tend to score higher on the exam. Studying for 20 hours a week will also give added personal insight into the rigors of a quality MBA program like the W. P. Carey MBA. If students are able to study for 20 hours a week, then they will have time to be successful in a good MBA program.  If an applicant finds he or she does not have time to devote to GMAT preparation, then the individual may not have the time necessary to be successful in an MBA program.

VT: Is it absolutely necessary to have work experience prior to starting an MBA degree?

Jared: Post-undergraduate work experience is a desired quality in all MBA applicants. A big part of an MBA program is networking and collaborating with your MBA peers who have been out in the workplace and now are returning to advance their careers using past experience as a driving motivator. On average, W. P. Carey online MBA students, for example, have more than six years of post-undergraduate work experience. We want applicants to be able to positively contribute to their peers inside the classroom. We do understand that applicants looking to pursue an online MBA may not be traditional students. They may have been working full-time while achieving their undergraduate degrees. For reporting purposes, we can only count post-undergraduate work experience. Non-traditional students can show work experience by including internships and career choices on their resumes. While this work experience will not officially be tallied, it will be considered as part of the application. 

VT: What are the characteristics of a great MBA program?


  • World-renowned faculty accomplished in their fields
  • Faculty members who are able to teach across multiple MBA platforms (i.e. full-time, evening, weekend and online MBA tracks)
  • Accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)
  • A large alumni network for connections
  • Flexibility to get work done on a convenient schedule
  • Degree customization, such as the ability to earn an area of emphasis in subjects like supply chain management, marketing, international business or finance
  • Prestige and reputation
  • A format that allows you to take one class at a time
  • Small class sizes
  • Dedicated help with financial aid and career searches
  • Return on investment: Look for one of the highest ranked MBA programs with the lowest out-of-pocket cost.


The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.