It’s time for my annual harangue/plea/rant.
If you are planning to apply to business school in Round 1 in the fall but have not yet thought about why you want an MBA, taken the GMAT/GRE (if you need to do so), researched schools, or evaluated your qualifications, please, please, please keep reading.
And then get started!
Why starting now will help you get accepted to business school
I would like to help you avoid the stress, harried hassle, and diminished quality that accompany rushed applications. Just to be clear, rushed applications are ones that are started just a few weeks before the deadlines by applicants who cogitate, procrastinate, or just start thinking about applying late in the cycle. I encourage you to 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 28 years in this business have shown 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.
- are better equipped for the job/internship search that starts frequently before students even set foot on campus.
They simply do better in the MBA application process than those who wait until the 11th hour (or even the 10th).
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 next month or next quarter. Now.
Not sure if you are ready to apply to b-school this season? Take our MBA Admissions Calculator Quiz for a free assessment of your MBA admission chances.
MBA Application Timeline for 2023 Applicants
The most important thing you can do during this time frame is get organized for the journey ahead. At this early planning stage, you should do the following:
- Schedule four informational interviews to help you clarify your goals. Talk to people in the roles you would like to have post-MBA or who are hiring for the roles you would like to have post-MBA.
- Sign up and begin studying for the GRE or GMAT, if necessary and if you haven’t already done so. [More on that here]
- Start paying attention to specialty rankings for your field of interest.
Now it’s time to take all the information you gathered over the past few months and begin . Here’s what you should be focusing on:
- Schedule informational interviews if still needed.
- Draft your succinct post-MBA goal in terms of function and industry.
- Take the GMAT/GRE/Executive Assessment, if necessary. If you’re satisfied with your score, you’re done. If not, prepare again and retake.
- After you take the test, sign up for classes (if necessary) in the spring, summer, or fall to either improve your quant skills, show what you are capable of academically (if your GPA is lower than you want), or simply brush up on fundamentals so that you’ll be that much more ready for business school. If you are regularly doing demanding quantitative work and have good undergraduate grades, this step is not necessary for you.
- Scour MBA program websites and focus on the programs’ curricula, cocurricular activities, and career services.
- 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?
- Jot down notes and ideas for essays. If you can, keep a journal and record the things you like and dislike about programs, ideas for essays, accomplishments and challenges overcome in your work and non-professional commitments, refinements of your goal, and so on.
- Update your resume.
- Attend MBA fairs and school receptions either in person or remotely.
- Get started on your application! Thoughtfully fill out those boxes making sure that they add to the reader’s knowledge of you. Focus on achievements and contributions, not just responsibilities, when describing work and activities.
- 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
Here are some things you should always be thinking about and working toward during the pre-application and application process:
- Network and research.
- At work and outside of work, try to take on more leadership roles.
- Strive for professional and non-professional international experience.
- If necessary, take additional classes to make up for low grades or to beef up your quant skills.
- Make time for community service and extracurricular activities! MBA programs don’t want nerds or people consumed by work.
Your MBA Application Timeline
The key to success here is keeping track of all of your to-do items to make 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 this 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, 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.
Now for a deep-dive into the steps you can take right now
Start your GMAT or GRE prep.
Once you determine that you have a goal that requires an MBA, start preparing to take the GMAT or GRE exam. Unless you want to limit yourself to and believe you qualify for a waiver, don’t wait for the summer or “later.” Your test score is a critical element of 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) is less than competitive, and applying to programs where it is competitive but where they aren’t dying to go.
You can avoid this dilemma by allowing yourself the time to take and – if necessary – retake the test.
Lower than expected 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 the exam in the spring, you will still have months to prepare again and retake it before the deadlines – even the Round 1 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 you will save! Not to mention the exam fees! For some applicants, those waivers are fantastic.
However, if your profile lacks evidence of your quantitative ability or if your undergraduate performance will not give an application reader confidence that you can 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 receiving a scholarship.
So think very carefully about foregoing the exam and limiting yourself to programs where the exam is optional.
Decide where to apply: Dartboard versus intent.
Some applicants don’t understand the importance of fit in the application process. They just know . They might or might not have a specific goal or reason for pursuing 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 necessary 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 a school because of rankings. You won’t attend rankings. You’ll attend a graduate business school.
Writing is rewriting and requires time.
Some of you know why you want to earn your MBA and have good reasons for selecting the school you will apply to. You will either achieve the GMAT or GRE score that you want the first time you take the exam or waive out of the test altogether. You might 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 till the last minute to complete your applications, you will end up rushing 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 scrambling.
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 this resolution the 2023 resolution that you stick to.
I’ve tried to help you keep this resolution 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 these.
Not sure if Round 1 is right for you?
Here is the two-minute answer to the big question, “When should I apply to b-school?”
Apply with an admissions expert on your team
What better way to reach your MBA goal than to work 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!
- 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