We are approaching the end of April, and the Round 1 MBA application deadlines are 4-5 months away. We all know that the MBA admission process is extremely daunting and time-consuming. Preparing for the GMAT score, researching schools, attending admission events, writing essays, approaching recommenders- the list of to-do things is endless. It's natural for applicants to get overwhelmed in the process. However, by strategic planning and starting early, you can make the application process rewarding and enjoyable. Year after year, we have seen that our most successful students have been the ones who had started their preparation ahead of time- 6 to 7 months before the Fall deadlines. If you are planning to apply in the 2021-22 admission cycle, you must start now. We have created the following plan for you:
- Beat the GMAT:
First and foremost, conquer the GMAT- this biggest hurdle in your journey. GMAT is the most significant parameter you will need to make a list of your target schools. Take it around March/ April. If you do not get your desired score, you will still have some time to retake it before you begin focusing on other parts of the application package (school selection, résumé, essays, and recommendation letters). Tackling both GMAT preparation and application prep with deadlines drawing close, and that too, with the demands of your job, will put you under tremendous pressure, making it extremely challenging for you to produce quality work before the deadlines. In my ten years advising MBA applicants, I have seen that whenever applicants worked on essays and GMAT prep in parallel, along with their demanding professional commitments, they felt too overwhelmed to give their 100% to the application. They either ended up putting together a rushed application or moved their applications to the next round or the next application season. So the best strategy is to first get the GMAT out of your way before picking up other parts of the application.
- Articulate Your Career Goals:
Before you begin your school research, you need to figure out why you need a management education. Reflect upon the next logical step in your career and articulate how an MBA will help you get there. Articulating your career goals now will give you clarity on selecting your schools and save time when you start crafting your essays. Some of the most common themes you can articulate are:
- Why do you want to pursue an MBA?
- What are your short-term and long-term goals?
- How will you contribute to the X school?
- Why are you interested in the program?
- Begin School Selection Process:
The next crucial phase in the application process is school selection. After earning your desired score, begin researching your target schools based on your specific criteria. School research also demands sufficient time. With proper planning, research, and initiative, you can pick out schools that align with your credentials and aspirations. For school selection, you will have to consider many factors, e.g., geographical location, loans, scholarships, key projects/courses, employment reports, and companies that are regular recruiters over the years. Based on your profile (work experience, industry, GMAT, goals, interests, etc.), you should look at rankings to understand a group of programs that are strong in your field and where you are competitive. Also, it will help you categorize them into dream schools, reach schools, and safety schools.
- Attend Virtual Events/ Talk to Alumni & Current Students:
To learn about schools, visit forums, attend info sessions, connect with student ambassadors, take a virtual tour of the school. Some of my students have told me that they attended every virtual event conducted by the school, and each time, they learned something new about the program. Ask admission officers relevant questions about the program- questions that cannot be answered on the website. Another great way to get insights into a particular school's offerings and culture is by talking to alumni and current students. These efforts will help you determine your 'fit' with the school and its culture and provide you solid material for your essays.
- Strengthen Your Position at Work:
To strengthen your profile, take initiatives at work, and look for opportunities to manage challenging projects or teams. Try to go above and beyond your regular job responsibilities and volunteer for leadership roles. For example, you may mentor a junior employee or organize a company-sponsored volunteer event. Polish and refine your LinkedIn profile and make it a robust marketing tool. As you prepare for the application season, make sure you are taking actions that align with your personal and professional goals. All of these steps will add value to your résumé and will also give you extra material to discuss in essays and interviews.
- Get Involved in Some Extracurricular Activities:
Indeed, business schools value academic background, professional experience, and career progression. But they also give significant weight to your extracurricular and community service activities because they seek candidates who have well-rounded personalities with other interests and hobbies. So it is never too late to volunteer for new experiences at work and outside of work. Try to get involved in an activity you are passionate about. Whether it is practicing sports, singing in your church's choir, or volunteering in a temple or a Gurudwara, get involved on a regular basis.
- Build Your Résumé:
After finalizing your list of target schools, begin working on constructing your résumé. MBA Resumé is entirely different from a job résumé, so you will need a significant amount of time and effort to build it. Now that many schools have reduced the number of required essay questions, résumés play a more vital role in evaluating students' applications. Ensure that your résumé concisely tells the whole story of your professional, educational, and extracurricular achievements. I always quote Ross Admission Director Soojin Kwon, "For me, the résumé is just as important as your essays. Think of it as a trailer of the movie about you." By making an engaging trailer (résumé), you build Ad Com's interest in your movie (essays and recommendation letters).
- Reach Out to Recommenders:
It is also a time to choose your recommenders. Select someone who can write the best letter about you, not the person with the most impressive title. Your recommender should be the one who knows you well and has evaluated your work. If you are applying to many schools, your recommenders will need time to work on those recommendation letters. They are busy people, so you may want to apprise them of this favor that you expect from them soon. I would encourage you to request a meeting with each of them to guide them about the process and format of recommendation letters and discuss the key themes you would like to showcase in your application. Lastly, please give them enough time and continue following up with them.
- Brainstorm Stories for Essays:
The schools start rolling out their essay questions in May- June, so you should begin brainstorming your ideas/stories for essays. Everyone has a unique story. Dig deeper to find yours. Even though B-schools change their essay topics from one year to another, there are going to be concepts that are common across business schools. For instance, all schools will expect you to write a goals essay, so, as suggested earlier, take your time to identify your short-term and long-term goals. Also, start thinking of your most significant leadership experiences, accomplishments, your background, life experiences, your most significant strengths (and weaknesses, too), and how these will help you add value to your target school. Reflect on your experiences that have shaped your values and made you who you are. By establishing your personal stories in advance, you will have some raw material to develop, edit, and tailor to individual essays for specific programs.
- Craft your Essays (and Short Essays):
Essays are the most critical part of the application package for business schools that showcase those aspects of the applicants' profile that other parts of their application package do not reveal. B-schools use essays as tools to know their prospective candidates outside of the typical academic and professional environment. Application essay writing is a highly time-consuming and creative process that demands significant self-reflection, brainstorming, strategizing, drafting, revising, rewriting, and editing to paint a compelling and authentic picture of your candidacy. Often candidates underestimate the time needed for crafting compelling essays. The good news is if you invest sufficient time in it, you will enjoy this process and create memorable essays for the Ad Com.
In addition to investing your time and attention to main essays, also allocate enough time to short answer questions in the application form. These sections require a lot of information and often take longer than you anticipate. Some schools' application form questions need much more time than the main questions (Oxford, LBS, HEC, etc.), so make sure to pay equal attention to these questions. Also, dig deeper if there is any red flag in your application that you would want to address (low GPA, low GMAT, employment or education gap, choice of recommender, etc.) and write an optional essay to explain that. Lastly, prepare well for a video essay.
The key is- with proper planning and timing, you will reduce your stress of the MBA application process and make the process delightful and rewarding. Of course, you can tweak the above plan as per your individual needs, circumstances, and preferences, but make sure to commit enough time to put your 'best foot forward.'
Success Stories: Examples of Planning Ahead
Here are the success stories of a few MER students who prepared a robust plan, started their application process early, and became successful.
- Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Kellogg, and INSEAD Admit
- Oxford and ISB Admit
- IMD Admit
- Ross Admit with 100% scholarship
- Kellogg, Yale & UCLA Admit with substantial scholarships
- MIT admit
For more success stories of MER, click here
Since 2011, MER (myEssayReview) has helped many applicants get accepted into the top 20 MBA programs. Poonam, the founder of MER, is one of the top 5 most reviewed consultants on the GMAT Club.
To discuss the next step, e-mail Poonam at firstname.lastname@example.org