It’s time for my annual harangue/plea/rant.
If you are planning to apply Round 1 in the fall, but have not yet thought about why you want an MBA, taken the GMAT/GRE, researched schools, or evaluated your qualifications, please please please keep reading. And then get started!
I would like to help you avoid the harried hassle and diminished application quality that accompany rushed applications. Just to be clear: Rushed applications are started just a few weeks before the deadlines by applicants who cogitate, procrastinate, or just start thinking about applying late in the cycle. Instead, follow the example of those many applicants who start their applications months before applying and who work steadily to complete them by their deadlines.
Those people are getting started now.
My 25+ years in this business tell me that those who start the application process 9-12 months before they apply:
- Get into more and “better” schools
- Are more likely to get scholarships
- Are more prepared for b-school when they arrive on campus
They simply do better in the MBA application process than those who wait until the eleventh hour (or even the tenth).
Those better-prepared applicants – they are your real competition! And the best way to compete is to start the race now.
Not tomorrow. Not next week or month or quarter. Now.
Stay on top of deadlines with our MBA Admissions Calendar!
Start your GMAT or GRE prep
Once you determine that you have a goal that requires an MBA, start preparing for the GMAT or GRE. Unless you want to limit yourself to programs that are waiving the exams and believe you qualify for a waiver, don’t wait for the summer or “later.” Your test score is a critical element in your application. Choosing schools without knowing that number leads to all kinds of aggravation, stress, and unpleasant surprises.
Every year I get calls, emails, and comments from applicants who bombed the GRE or the GMAT and don’t have time to retake it. They are torn between applying to the programs they really want to attend but where their test score (and perhaps other elements) are less than competitive, and applying to programs where they are competitive but where they aren’t dying to go.
It’s a dilemma you can avoid by allowing yourself the time to take and if necessary retake the GRE/GMAT.
Lower than expected test scores can throw a major monkey wrench in your plans when you take the test within two months of your target deadlines. However, if you bomb it in the spring, you will still have months to prepare again and retake the exam before the deadlines – even the first round deadlines.
I fully realize that applying to programs that do not require the exams can be very appealing. Think of all the time and money on prep that you will save! Not to mention the exam fees! For some those waivers are fantastic.
However, if you lack evidence of quantitative ability or if your undergraduate performance is not something that would give an application reader confidence that you will perform in a demanding graduate program, acing the GMAT or GRE can really enhance your chances of acceptance.
Furthermore, even if you have evidence of quantitative and academic excellence, a high test score could increase the likelihood of your getting a scholarship.
So think very carefully about foregoing the exam and limiting yourself to programs where the exam is optional.
Where to apply: Dartboard vs. intent
And then there are the applicants who don’t understand the importance of fit in the application process. They just know they want an MBA from a Top X-ranked school. They may or may not have a specific goal or reason to pursue an MBA, and they really could just as easily be throwing darts at a list of schools to determine where to invest their time and money.
Or maybe they just started too late to do the research and reflection that they could’ve and should’ve done had they started earlier. Like now.
In any case, this superficial approach could lead to rejection, a very expensive mistake, or a less-than-optimal MBA experience.
Apply purposefully to specific programs that support your goals and at which you are competitive. Don’t apply to rankings. You won’t attend rankings. You’ll attend a graduate business school.
Writing is rewriting & requires time
Some of you know why you want an MBA and have good reasons for selecting the school you will apply to. You will either earn the GMAT or GRE score that you want the first time you take the exam or waive out of it. You may be feeling a little smug. Okay, so you got the first part of the application process done. Fantastic!
However, if you slack off and wait for the last minute to complete your applications, you will end up hurrying the writing process for your essays, short answer questions, and resume, or the practice/filming process for video options on your application. Either way, you will end up rushing.
Bad idea. And bad ideas lead to bad results.
Writing – whether long essays, short essays, scripts, activity descriptions, or resumes – benefits from time. Temporal distance between revisions improves critical analysis and editing. In contrast, scrambling to slap something together leads to sloppy thinking and writing.
Getting the GMAT or GRE out of the way, thinking profoundly about fit, and starting your essays early are all important steps, but you can’t just assume that ticking items off your checklist will get you into b-school. You need something more comprehensive than that. You need…
A holistic, purposeful approach to the MBA application process
New Year’s Resolution: Proceed purposefully, methodically, and thoughtfully so that you submit a superior MBA application to the most appropriate schools at the most desirable deadline for you.
We’ve all made resolutions this year and in years past, but do yourself a favor and make the resolution above the 2021 resolution that you stick to.
I’m going to help you keep this one by laying out the process holistically from January through September so that you can present a superior application. It’s not just the test score or the GPA or the years of work experience or solid extracurriculars. It’s all of the above.
I’ve mapped out the process for you here.
MBA application timeline
The key to success here is keeping track of all of your to-do items, making sure you get them done on time. The best way to accomplish this is by creating an organized timeline that will help you stay focused.
If you are aiming for the Round 1 deadlines, you can download the PDF, print it, and tape it on your mirror, wall, fridge, or wherever you’ll regularly see it. Alternatively, we have created a public Google doc that you can copy and paste and modify to suit your needs. Then using the timeline as a guide, add the above tasks to your calendar. And do them.
If you follow this MBA timeline, your MBA dreams will not be a mad, breathless sprint to the finish line, but a long, steady jog that allows you to successfully complete the MBA application marathon.
Not sure if Round 1 is right for you?
Here is the 2 minute answer to the big question, “Which round should I apply to b-school?”
The most important thing you can do during this time is to get organized for the journey ahead. At this early planning stage, you should:
- Schedule 4 informational interviews to clarify your goals.
- Sign up and begin studying for the GRE or GMAT, if you haven’t already done so.
- Start paying attention to specialty rankings for your field of interest. Talk to people in the roles you would like to have post-MBA.
Now it’s time to take all that information that you gathered in the last few months and begin to use it towards choosing programs. Here’s what you should be focusing on:
- Schedule informational interviews if still needed.
- Draft post-MBA goal in terms of function and industry.
- Take the GMAT/GRE, if necessary. If you’re satisfied with your score, you’re done. If not, prepare again and retake.
- After you take the GMAT, sign up for classes (if necessary) in the spring, summer, fall to either improve quant skills, show what you are capable of academically (if your GPA is lower than you want).
- Scour school websites with focus on career services, curriculum, and co-curricular activities
- Attend online events and/or visit schools you are most interested in, ideally while class is in session. *Read: What Should You Do If You Can’t Visit B-Schools in Person? [A COVID-19 Special]
- As we approach application time, start jotting down notes and ideas for essays
- Update your resume.
- Attend MBA fairs and school receptions either in person or remotely.
- Get started on your application! Fill out those boxes!
- Draft, write, revise, edit, and proof essays one school at a time.
- Obtain your letters of recommendation. Choose and approach recommenders (June); give recommenders any necessary info, deadlines (July); and remind recommenders regularly about deadlines as needed.
All year long to-dos
Here are some things that you should always be thinking about and working towards during this pre-application and application process:
- Network and research.
- At work and outside of work, try and take on more responsibilities and leadership roles.
- Try and gain professional and non-professional international experience.
- If necessary, take additional classes to make up for low grades or beef up quant skills.
- Make time for community service and extracurricular activities! MBA programs don’t want nerds or people consumed by work.
Apply with an admissions expert on your team
And what better way to reach this goal than to train with a personal coach? At Accepted, you’ll get matched with an expert admissions advisor who will guide you through the MBA admissions process – step by step, checking off each to-do along the way. Learn more when you explore our MBA Application Consulting & Editing Services. Come on – let’s nail this thing!By Linda Abraham, president and founder of Accepted. Linda earned her bachelors and MBA at UCLA, and has been advising applicants since 1994 when she founded Accepted. Linda is the co-founder and first president of AIGAC. She has written or co-authored 13 e-books on the admissions process, and has been quoted by The Wall Street Journal, U.S. News, Poets & Quants, Bloomberg Businessweek, CBS News, and others. Linda is the host of Admissions Straight Talk, a podcast for graduate school applicants. Want an admissions expert help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch!
- Which MBA Program is Right for Me? The Ultimate Guide to Choosing an MBA Program
- Business School Selectivity Index [Can I Get Into My Dream School?]
- Why MBA?, a free guide to writing about your MBA goals