“Wish I had done that a few years ago ….” We hear that frequently from MBA applicants as they’re filling out their MBA applications. We don’t want you to have to say that. This is the fifth of a five-part blog series with advice on how you can prepare, years in advance, to be competitive for a top MBA program. From college to those first years of work, I’ll discuss steps you can take along the way that will appeal to adcoms. We don’t want you to have to say that.
Leadership at work
By now, you should have shown clear advancement at work in terms of your responsibilities, leadership and impact. The complexity and visibility of your duties will have increased because you have demonstrated over the past four years that you are an excellent analyst, problem solver, and director of projects and people. You should nominally have a role that entails the management of others, or you can clearly demonstrate this role through descriptions of projects you’ve led. Polished presentations and other public speaking opportunities, though at times nerve wracking, are part of your wheelhouse. Ideally, you or a manager can cite an example of how you went against conventional wisdom to develop and deliver an innovative idea that has left a lasting impact on the business.
Clarifying Your Goals
Take this year to think deeply about and research what want to accomplish in the future. Do you now want to take the skills you have and transition into a new industry? Do you want to stay in the same industry and position yourself to be a thought leader and executive? Do you want to strike out on your own and become an entrepreneur? Speak with mentors or people who have the career you want about the skills you need to make this transition, and how an MBA will benefit you.
With so many MBA programs to sort through, the process can be daunting. But the more familiar you are with a school, the better chance you have to convince the adcom you’re a good match. Start out by speaking with people in your network who are alums. Find out how the program helped them. Map out the curriculum you would take that would give you the knowledge and skills you need to reach your career goals. Participate in MBA fairs and attend receptions and programs sponsored by the schools you are interested in. If possible, arrange a visit. Go to classes, speak with current students, meet the adcom. Send follow up notes thanking them for their time. Getting into business school is as much about relationships as it is about preparing a strong application. You will stand out in the applicant pool if you have shown sincere interest.
Checking back on the GMAT …
If you didn’t have time to take the GMAT immediately after graduation, now is a good time to take the test. Your GMAT score will be an indicator of your competitiveness at top schools. Set aside three months to prep for the test, as well as three months post-test for a second chance if you didn’t do well. Most schools take the highest score, so don’t be discouraged if you need to retake.
… and on your GPA
Here are a couple of resources that help you define and mitigate: a low GPA after you’ve graduated:
• MBA Admissions A-Z: U is for Undergrad Grades, free guide
• 5 A’s for Your Low GPA, podcast
The Bottom Line: You’re ready to apply
If you’ve followed this advice, you’re ready to apply to business school. All these experiences will give you the material you need to present an impressive application to competitive MBA programs — and get accepted!
Michelle Stockman is a professional journalist, former Columbia Business School admissions insider, and experienced MBA admissions consultant.