Oh, the anticipation of late August! The first business school deadlines, just six weeks away, are filling applicants with excitement and anxiety. Some like The Phoenix are feeling it: he is “really getting the jitters now” as he begins work on his applications, particularly his MBA essays, “even though some people say that I have a natural flair for writing.” Perhaps he realizes that flair is not enough; it’s the content that counts, and not the content of just a single essay, but of a school’s full set of essays.
Contemplating the questions, choosing the topics, crafting a collection of short stories that tell a tale and appeal to an admissions committee—all of that takes time.
The Phoenix says he is scheduling ten days of work per business school application, eight of them for essay writing, followed later by a handful of days for review, revision, and submission. Given all that must be done to create the best application possible, is that truly enough time?
As with so many things, it depends. He says that he has been dreaming about an MBA for many years, so my hope is that he has already thought of a great set of topics for his essays and that he has already taken care of the application basics—GMAT squared away, school selection finalized, transcripts sent out, recommenders lined up, resume polished. If so, then ten days per application could well be enough.
Still, The Phoenix might want to consider a more flexible schedule, for a number of reasons. One, the first application almost always takes the longest to complete. I have never had a client consider it natural to think and write about accomplishments and failures, career background and goals, leadership and teamwork experiences, and turning points in life. Getting used to writing in such a way takes time.
Two, there’s always a tricky essay that holds up the schedule, and that essay is different for every applicant. I have often seen a client blow right through a 1000-word career-goals essay only to get bogged down in a 250-word culture-shock essay. Mental blocks don’t adhere to a schedule.
Three, life happens. A project at work suddenly requires overtime or travel, a family need suddenly fills a weekend, a recommender suddenly has no time to write a recommendation. Unanticipated work has caused many of my clients to disappear for weeks after diligent and steady progress, leading them to delay submitting some of their applications until the second (January) round.
So yes, set a schedule, try to stick to it, but recognize that an application is ready when it’s ready. My own application to Sloan would surely have been rejected had I maintained a tight schedule and rushed to submit it in the first round. That leads to my last point: recognize that submitting a great application in the second round is far better than submitting a good application in the first round, as good applications are quickly rejected by highly selective business schools.
By R. Todd King, an MIT MBA, who has worked with MBA applicants since 2001. Todd can help you make the most of your strengths and mitigate your weaknesses.
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