Well, it’s already the second week of May. The Round 1 deadlines for the MBA applications are a little over four months away. Having corresponded with several MBA hopefuls who recently reached out to me for advice, I have seen that some are already up to speed, have aced the GMAT, and are in the process of researching schools, talking to experienced professionals in this field to formulate a plan ahead, some are still preparing for GMAT and have scheduled it, while some reapplicants who faced rejections from multiple schools last year (primarily because they applied in a rush) are being proactive now and are beginning to strategize their reapplication. Year after year, I have seen that my most successful students have been the ones who had started their preparation ahead of time, about 6-8 months before Fall deadlines. This proves that by planning ahead and starting early, you can make the application process rewarding as well as enjoyable.
Here is the step- by- step plan you can follow:
1. Get the GMAT/GRE Out of Your Way: First and foremost, ace the GMAT or GRE, whichever you prefer. 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, résumé, essays, and recommendation letters). However, if your GMAT is 730+, you may not try to score an extra 20 points at the cost of the quality of your applications. Rather you should spend this time building your application.
2. Begin Researching Schools: Selecting your schools is again an extremely time-consuming process. Every day, I hear people saying, “I want to apply to the top 5 or top 10 schools. Undoubtedly, ranking and brand are important, but more than that, it is crucial to find your ‘fit’ with the program where you intend to spend the two most significant years of your life. With proper planning, research, and initiative, you can pick out schools that will align with your credentials and aspirations; however, give yourself significant time in researching and selecting your schools. For selecting the right B school, 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. Do your research and decide on which schools are the best ‘fit’ for your credentials and aspirations. Try to find answers to the questions: “Will this school help me meet my objectives in the areas of education, networking, and career?”
3. Reach out to Current Students, Alumni: While researching various programs and their offerings, you should also reach out to people with MBA experience: colleagues, friends, current students, and alumni, etc. Their feedback will help you determine if their perspectives and experiences align with your findings or not. Also, attending MBA fairs and school information sessions will provide you relevant information on your shortlisted schools.
4. Visit the School/Schools: If possible, visit the schools, attend a class or two, meet with a faculty, talk to students, and take a tour of the campus. A campus visit will give you a sense of the culture of the school and help you decide if you see yourself spending the two most important years of your life at this school. All these steps should enable you to identify 2-3 dream schools, 2-3 reach schools, and 1-2 safe schools.
5. Create a Strong Résumé: The resume is your first introduction to the admission committee. MBA résumé is different from a job résumé, and 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. Now that many schools have reduced the number of required essay questions, resumes play a larger role in evaluating students’ applications. Make sure that your resume tells the full story of your professional, educational, and extracurricular achievements.
6. Choose Your Recommenders: It’s also time to reach out to your recommenders. Please note the best recommenders are not just those individuals who agree to write a letter or you; they are people who know you well and are interested in your future goals. Once you have chosen your recommenders, apprise them of your plans to apply to B schools and guide them about how the process works. Make sure that your recommenders get enough time to write the recommendation letters. They are busy people, so to make their job easy, you should request a meeting with each of them to discuss the key themes (examples of your accomplishments) you would like to showcase in your application.
7. Reflect on your Personal and Professional experiences: Self- reflection is key to building stories for MBA essays. So instead of waiting for the B-schools to roll out their essay questions, begin thinking about your story! Everyone has a unique story; spend the time now to think about yours. Even though B-schools change their essay topics from one year to another, there are going to 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?
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. You can always have a few friends or family members to help you identify your themes.
8. 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 strong 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 surely add value to your résumé and also give you extra material to write about in essays or discuss in an interview.
9. Get Involved in Extracurricular Activities: In order to showcase your well-rounded personality, you should also get involved in extracurricular activities. Involvement in extra-curricular and community service activities add value to your application because top-ranked programs are looking for candidates who are not just focused on work but are well- rounded individuals who have other interests as well and have shown a commitment to serving their community. 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, participate on a regular basis, and consider roles that will allow you to take a leadership position and create an impact.
Thus, the MBA application process is a marathon; you can win this marathon if you start early, strategize, plan, and prepare well. Proper planning and timing will not only reduce your stress but will also 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’.
Check out Stories of some successful MER students and learn about their MBA journey.
Mansi: Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, and Kellogg Admit
Nithish (Reapplicant): Rice, Kelley & Mays Admit with scholarships
Eduardo- Kellogg, Yale & UCLA Admit with scholarships-
Sathish–Foster & ISB Admit
Carlos–Cornell, Richard Ivy, and Emory Admit with scholarship - https://myessayreview.com/student-interviews/interview-of-a-cornell-student/
Good luck on your application.J