Dear 2016 MBA Applicant,
I would like to have heart-to-heart with you. Yes. That means YOU. If you are hoping to have an application ready for round 1 of the next application cycle, but have not yet thought about why you want an MBA, taken the GMAT/GRE, researched schools, or evaluated your qualifications, have a seat. Let’s talk. (You can respond via the comments below. That way we can have a real conversation. Just you and me.)
I’ve been thinking about sending you this letter since the last two weeks of December. That’s when our phones started ringing off the hook with calls from frantic MBA applicants trying to prepare their applications for this year’s round 2 deadlines. They had holiday parties, family gatherings, gifts to buy or return, and sales to take advantage of. Some even had to work; some were off.
In any case, I’m writing this letter now, because I would like to help you avoid the harried hassle and diminished quality that those who start their applications in the weeks leading up to the deadlines experience. Instead follow the example of those many applicants who started their applications months before the deadline and worked steadily to complete them by those deadline dates circled in red on the calendar.
I don’t have stats for you, and know you love numbers, but my twenty years in this business tell me that those who start the application process 9-12 months before they actually apply:
• Get into more and “better” schools;
• Are more likely to get scholarships; and
• Are more prepared for b-school when they arrive on campus.
They simply fare better in the MBA application process than those who wait until the eleventh hour to get themselves in gear.
Those better prepared applicants – they are your real competition.
“How can I compete with them in the admissions marathon?” you ask.
Good question. Begin now. Not tomorrow. Not next week or next month or next quarter. Now.
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. Don’t wait for the summer or for “later.” Your test score is a critical element in your application. Choosing schools without knowing what that number is leads to all kinds of heartache and unpleasant surprises.
For example in mid-December “Stormers” wrote on this blog that he was anticipating a GRE of 325 (Q162, V163). On January 4th he wrote that he “belly flopped on [the] GRE and scored a 315.” He then asked if he should retake the exam or wait for Round 3.
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 “belly flop” in the spring, you still have months to prepare again and retake the exam before the deadlines.
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 N-ranked school.” They may or may not have a purpose, and for all the shallowness of their thinking, they 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 in and of itself could lead to rejection, a very expensive mistake, or to a less than optimal MBA experience.
Apply purposefully to specific programs that support your goals and where you are competitive. Don’t apply to rankings. You won’t attend them.
Writing is Rewriting and Requires Time
Some of you know why you want an MBA, have good reasons for selecting the school you will apply to, and will get the GMAT or GRE that you want the first time you take the exam so you won’t be in Stormer’s shoes. Great. However, if you are too close to deadlines, you will end up rushing the writing process for your essays, short answers, and resume.
Not a good idea.
Writing – whether long essays, short essays, or resumes and activity descriptions — 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.
Taking these three key steps early will improve your chances of acceptance, but they still aren’t what I would truly like to see from you. I want to propose something more comprehensive and effective than just getting the GMAT or GRE out of the way, thinking profoundly about fit, and starting your essays early.
A Holistic, Purposeful MBA Application Timeline
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.
Make that highlighted line above the 2015 resolution that you stick to. And really do stick to it.
I’m going to help you fulfill 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 the above. And we mapped out the process for you here.
If you are aiming for the Round 1 deadlines, you can download and print out the above PDF and post it on your mirror, wall, fridge, or anywhere else where you’ll see it, be inspired, and allow it to guide you. Alternatively we have created a public Google doc that you can copy and paste to your own Google account and modify to suit your needs. Then using the timeline as a guide, add these 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. You will be able to give appropriate attention to academic, professional, and extracurricular factors while allowing time for the self-reflection, research, writing, and editing that will produce an application that presents you at your best.
What do you think? Are you starting now? Please let me know below.
By Linda Abraham, president and founder of Accepted.com and co-author of the definitive book on MBA admissions, MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools.