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The game is on to get into graduate business school and the competition is fierce. The Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC) found that MBA applications rose to near-record levels in 2008, with 77% of full time MBA programs reporting increased application volume, compared to just 64% in 2007.  Overall, business school applications jumped by 10%, what GMAC calls the greatest percentage increase in the last five years. And that upward trend is likely to continue through 2010.

If you want to join the MBA masses, consider these guidelines.

Scores Matter
Seventy percent of full-time MBA programs reported applicants in 2008 had better academic qualifications than in 2007. That means to be competitive, you need to prepare as best you can for the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT), a standardized exam required by most admissions offices.  Check with school admissions offices for their most recent report on average accepted GMAT scores – and try to beat that score by at least 10% to put you in above-average range. Doing exceptionally well may even help earn you some extra ka-ching from the admissions office. A majority of scholarships offered to full-time MBA candidates and to specialized master’s program candidates are merit-based, according to GMAC.

Have a Long Term View

Anyone interested in going to business school should do a bit of soul-searching in advance, says Philip Delves Broughton, a recent Harvard Business School graduate and author of Ahead of the Curve. Think about how you’ll add value to the business community beyond Wall Street upon graduation. After all, getting an MBA doesn’t mean working strictly in finance at a traditional investment bank (whichever ones are left). You might work as a fundraiser for an international non-profit, work for the sales team at Disney (STOCK QUOTE: DIS) or work for yourself. Think about how you’ll be useful, as opposed to just how to nab a six-figure salary upon graduation.

Honesty is the Best Policy

The essay and mission statement are the areas on a typical MBA application that allow prospective students to be expressive and creative.  It’s perhaps the most helpful way to distinguish one applicant from another.  If you want to get an MBA to make lots of money because, say, your parents lost all their money immigrating to the U.S., be honest about that, Broughton says. If you want an MBA to pursue the famous four-hour work week, go ahead and admit it. “Don’t try to turn yourself into the perfect candidate,” he adds. “There isn’t one.”

Meet and Greet

When possible, schedule meetings with professors and members of the admissions office to introduce yourself during application season. Come equipped with a list of questions about the program. Instead of bragging about your credentials, express interest in the school’s academic offerings. Showing your enthusiasm will leave a great –and hopefully lasting – impression to help distinguish your name from the pile of applications.

Catch more of Farnoosh’s advice on Real Simple. Real Life. on TLC, Friday nights at 8 p.m.