Well, it’s that time of the year when MBA applicants are gearing themselves for Round 1 applications. Some of them have already aced the GMAT and are busy with the school selection process; some are prepping themselves to retake the GMAT to improve your score, while a few of them must be done with both GMAT and school section and are now waiting for the schools to release their essay questions. Some schools have already released their essay questions (HBS, Wharton, MIT Sloan, Stanford Columbia, ISB, etc.) and application deadlines, and others will follow in the coming weeks.
We all understand that the MBA application process is an extremely time-consuming and challenging journey. So if you are planning to apply in Round 1, and you haven’t yet embarked on your MBA journey, NOW is the time to get started. By planning and starting early, you can make this process not only rewarding but also enjoyable.
Here is the step by step plan you can follow.
1. Conquer the GMAT:
First and foremost, get this biggest hurdle in your journey out of your way. GMAT is the biggest parameter you will need to make a list of your target schools. If you take your GMAT now and 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, resume, essays, and recommendation letters). Tackling both GMAT preparation and essays, recommendation letters, resumes with deadlines drawing close, and that too with the work pressure hanging on your head like Damocles sword will put you under tremendous pressure, making it extremely challenging for you to produce quality work. I have worked with candidates who simultaneously worked on essays and GMAT prep, along with their demanding professional commitments. Obviously, they found it too stressful as they could not give their hundred percent to essays and required frequent ‘wake-up calls’ from me for emailing me their revised essays.
By planning and allowing you sufficient time, you can avoid this unnecessary stress and enjoy the application process.
2. Begin Your School Selection Process:
After getting the GMAT out of your way by earning your desired score, begin researching your target schools. With proper planning, research, and initiative, you can definitely 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. It would help if you kept in mind the following criteria during your school selection process.
- Look at MBA rankings:
Based on your profile (work experience, industry, GMAT, goals, interests, etc.), you should look at MBA rankings (US News, Financial Times, Business Week, etc.). This will give you some understanding of a group of strong programs in your field and where you are also competitive. You will also be able to categorize them into dream schools, reach schools, and safety schools.
- Find your ‘Fit’:
Do your research and decide which schools are the best ‘fit’ for your credentials and aspirations. You should research faculty, curriculum, student groups, clubs, and organizations that match your interests and goals. You may also try to read everything published by the schools. Try to find answers to the questions: “Will this school help me meet my objectives (in the areas of education, networking, and career)?” “What will I contribute to the school community?” “Will I be a good ‘fit’ for this school?” and so on. Based on this research, you should be able to shortlist some schools.
- Talk to Alumni, Current Students, and other experienced people:
Along with your research, you should also start reaching out to people with MBA experience: colleagues, friends, current students, alumni, etc. This will help you determine if their perspectives and experiences align with your findings or not. But make sure to talk to multiple Alumni and currents students because individual feedback may be biased. You can use the relevant information in your Goals essay and later in the interview to answer the question ‘why our school?’
- Attend Info Sessions/ Visit School:
Attending MBA fairs, school information sessions, and school visits will provide you relevant information on your shortlisted schools. Attend a class or two, meet with a faculty, talk to students, and take a campus tour. In other words, get a feel of the school and see if you want to be a part of this community or not. Again, while answering the “Why our school?’ part of the Goals essay, you can cite interesting aspects of your visit (e.g., class visit, meeting with faculty, information session, etc.) to demonstrate your preference/ interest in this school.
Discussion forums are wonderful platforms where you can post your specific queries about school search or any other question regarding the MBA admission process and get expert advice from admission consultants. You can also share your views/ experiences with other students who are active on these forums and are also finding their way around like you. I would suggest that you create a separate word document for each shortlisted school and write down each school's aspects that you like (e.g., specific classes and professors, student groups, companies that recruit there, etc.) and how that program will help you reach your career goals.
I am sure all this homework will prepare you well and give you enough confidence to finalize your 6-7 target schools list.
3. Build Your Resume:
Now that you are ready with your list of target schools, it’s time to work on constructing your résumé. MBA résumé is very different from a job résumé, so you will need a significant amount of time and effort in building it. MBA résumés are brief and concise stories of your skills, interests, experience, and key accomplishments. Here I would like to 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).
4. Reach out to recommenders:
It’s also time to approach your recommenders. 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 you would expect from them soon. I would encourage you to request a meeting with each of them to discuss the key themes you would like to showcase in your application. Your recommenders also need to understand that they will not be using the single template for multiple schools because schools have their own set of questions that they expect the recommenders to answer with specific examples from the applicants’ work life. Lastly, please give them enough time. One of the applicants I worked with last year had his résumé and essays ready well on time. Still, he couldn’t apply in the first round because his recommender was too busy celebrating ‘Diwali’ (an Indian festival). You don’t want this to happen to you.
5. Brainstorm stories for Essays:
After having accomplished all this, you may be wondering, “My target schools have still not released essay questions. What do I do now?” Well, before B-school roll out their essay questions, you may begin brainstorming your ideas/stories for essays. Even though B-schools change their essay topics from one year to another, there will be concepts that are the same among business schools. For instance, all schools will expect you to write your goals essay, so take your time to identify your short term and long term goals. Make sure your goals are realistic as well as ambitious. Also, start thinking of your greatest leadership experiences, accomplishments, your background, life experiences, your greatest strengths (and weaknesses, too), and how these will help you add value to your target school.
Some of the most common themes you can organize your thoughts on are:
- Why do you want to pursue an MBA?
- What is your career goal post-MBA?
- Where do you see yourself 5-10 years from now?
- How will you contribute to the MBA classroom?
- Why are you interested in the program?
- What are your biggest accomplishments, and why do you view them as such?
By establishing your stories in advance, you will already have some raw material in hand which you can develop, edit, and tailor to individual essays for specific programs. When the candidates sign up for my services in the summer, I require them to fill out a questionnaire of 25 questions about their goals, accomplishments, background, cultural experiences, strengths, and weaknesses, etc., so when the essays come out, we can use most of this material for specific essays for their target schools.
Thus, by planning, you can make your MBA application process enjoyable and productive. Of course, you can teak the above plan as per your individual needs, circumstances, and preferences; however, the key is to strategize and plan and put together a strong application.
Good luck with your application.