What to know when applying to Indiana’s Kelley online MBA program

BY Sydney LakeSeptember 14, 2021, 2:00 AM
Autumn colors at Indiana University.
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Indiana University–Bloomington (Kelley) likes to do things differently when it comes to online MBA admissions. The school revamped its online MBA application process, calling it more “consumer friendly” for prospective students. A two-phase approach allows both applicants and the admissions committee to better assess their fit for the program, says Sarah Wanger, director of admissions for the Kelley Direct MBA and MS programs.

“Traditional application processes for MBA programs are prolonged and often put a lot of stress on the applicants,” she says. “We flipped that on its head.”


Kelley, which Fortune ranks as its No. 2 online MBA program, takes the time to evaluate candidates for a mutual fit by informing prospective students about program expectations—such as being available for in-person immersions like Kelley on Campus and Kelley on Location. 

“We want to make sure that we’re giving applicants an opportunity to determine if we’re the right fit early on in the process,” Wanger says.

Phase 1 vs. phase 2 application requirements

During phase 1, applicants submit only their résumé and online application to the Kelley Direct MBA program. The Kelley application asks for personal, academic, and employment information as well as self-reported GMAT or GRE scores. During this phase, prospective students can request that the test score requirement be waived. 

With the above information, the admissions committee does a cursory review of a candidate’s academic background and professional experience. Applicants also have a call with an admissions counselor to address questions and assess fit for the program, though this phone call isn’t factored into an admissions decision, Wanger says.

“Most of the time we’re going to have a pretty good idea of if the applicant is going to be a good fit for our program at phase 1,” she notes.

Some candidates may need to submit supplemental information if contacted by the admissions committee, but otherwise the school will let people know whether they’ve moved on to phase 2. Wanger calls the next phase “much more robust.”

In phase 2, applicants resubmit their résumé, include three letters of recommendation, and send an official transcript, an essay, and test scores if they weren’t granted a waiver. Prospective students also have a 20- to 30-minute interview with an admissions counselor.

What to know when applying

Through your résumé, letters of recommendation, and your interview, Kelley wants to learn more about your disposition, passion, and interest in the program, Wanger says. The school is also looking for clear career progression and a post-MBA plan.

“If we’re noticing that there’s some pretty distinct differences between how an applicant behaves, answers questions, their attitude over the phone, to what they’re projecting in their personal statement, we may nitpick that a little bit,” she says.

Justus Stanback, a current Kelley Direct student and former law enforcement officer, says the school values diverse backgrounds. He leveraged his law enforcement experience in his discussions with admissions and faculty, he says.

“Kelley really finds those unique individuals and helps them grow into the next phase of their career,” he says, adding the program was “just the right fit” for him. He’s now working as a financial analyst with Lee Health and will graduate from the online MBA program in 2022.

Throughout the application process, Kristin Chacko, another Kelley online MBA student, says she really focused on including information about her background and where she wanted to be postgrad. “Make a really clear statement on why an MBA is going to help further your career and what your path is,” she advises prospective students. 

In her essay responses, Chacko focused on what she had done in her past technology-related jobs and how she had progressed in those roles. She spent the majority of her essay, though, focused on what she was planning to do with her degree.

“I feel like I had really good experience on my résumé, but wanted a little bit stronger core in terms of education and where I can take it,” Chacko says, adding that she saw the essay as an opportunity for the school’s admission committee to get to know more about her and her goals.

What makes Kelley different

Some online MBA programs can be completed remotely in full, but Kelley has two residential requirements—Kelley on Campus and Kelley on Location. These programs enable students to work in teams, build relationships with faculty and classmates, and meet with their career coach.

Networking has been really incredible,” Chacko says. “That’s something I didn’t really foresee, and I am just so thankful for it because I’ve met some really great people in different industries.”

Chacko is pursuing a dual degree in strategic management. Some of her MBA courses count toward her master’s degree in strategic management, which she’ll be able to earn in just a couple of semesters following the completion of her MBA.

Stanback also emphasizes the strength of Kelley’s career services, which helped him land a finance internship with UPS and eventually his current full-time gig.

“I’m just enjoying my time trying to get as much experience, so there could be a potential promotion in my future when I’m done with my MBA,” he says. “We’ll see what the future holds.”

Should you apply?

Wanger’s best advice for prospective MBA candidates is to do a lot of research before applying to find “the program” that’s the best fit for you.

“The program is so important to your future and your happiness with your academic trajectory,” she says. “You really want to make sure that you’re finding the best program and not the cheapest program, or the easiest program, or the program that let you in out of the nine that you applied to.”

Stanback adds that Kelley really prepares you to take the leap, and encourages applicants to do the same.

“My advice would be to just go for it,” he says. “Check in on your strengths and what you’ve done in the past. Know that it’s going to prepare you for the MBA.”

See how the schools you’re considering fared in Fortune’s rankings of the best executive, full-time, and online MBA programs.