The Most Important Asset in Grad School Applications: Time [Show Summary]
This episode is devoted to how the precious and finite asset of time can help you get accepted when applying to graduate schools.
Linda Abraham, Founder of Accepted, Discusses the Importance of Following a Graduate Application Timeline [Show Notes]
The problem: Lack of time.
What’s the usual root of the problem? Applicants decide to apply one day and try to do so in too short a period of time.
What are the possible results?
A poor decision –
- Possibly applying to the wrong programs or the wrong schools
- Perhaps you’ll be accepted at schools that aren’t as good as they could be, or,
- You’ll be rejected and will face the additional costs and need additional time to reapply.
Sometime applicants start the application with plenty of time but procrastination or life gets in the way of them completing it. The most common way that life intrudes? Discovering that you need to retake an aptitude test. If you haven’t allowed that possibility, the retake can cause all kinds of problems and delays.
While it never makes sense to submit something less than your best, there are advantages to applying early. If you can submit either early in the application cycle for rolling admissions like medical school or in earlier rounds for most MBA programs, you are applying when the class is wide open. There are more interview slots and seats available.
How Much Time for Test Prep, Research, etc Prior to Application?
Here are my recommendations:
- For MBAs, allow for 6-12 months of research and test prep before planning to submit.
- For medical school, allow 12-36 months of taking classes, MCAT prep, and volunteering before actually applying.
- For law school, allow for 6-12 months of research and test prep.
- For academic masters and Ph.D. programs, allow at least 6-12 months for research and test prep, and it could be longer if you also have to get in volunteer or research experience. For these types of programs it is harder to give a rule because there is much more variety.
These time frames mean:
- You will have time to prepare for and if necessary retake an aptitude test.
- You will have time to research programs and visit those you are most interested in and are feasible for you to visit.
- You will have time to do the volunteer work or experience that is vital for some programs.
- You will have plenty of time for essays, statements of purpose, etc.
The other key element you need to know before applying for graduate programs is a post-degree goal. Most programs want to know that you have a goal they can help you achieve. Assuming you know that, and once you know your test score (and since you already know your GPA), you can move forward in choosing schools.
Important Things to Think About
Most MBA programs and all programs asking for a statement of purpose want to know the purpose of your studies. If you have no purpose, no goal, no solid reason for pursuing the degree, you will find that essay extraordinarily difficult to write. And if you come to Accepted, we will give you homework to figure out how you intend to use your degree.
Graduate education is way too expensive for most of us to enroll in graduate coursework for the sheer joy of learning. If you aren’t clear on your purpose, allow time for more research and for informational interviews to clarify your goals and the kind of graduate education you seek. You need that purpose in order to choose programs worth investing in, and you will probably need it to apply effectively.
Also, if at all possible, allow time to visit the campuses closest to you or that you are most interested in, or at least make a point to talk to current students and recent alumni. A graduate education is one of the largest investments you will make and probably the largest you’ve made to date. It pays to ensure you are going to apply to and attend a program that will help you achieve your goals and where you will also be happy.
Ready to Apply
Now you’re at a point where you know why you want to apply, where you want to apply, and you have assessed your competitiveness and shortlisted schools. If we’re talking about medical school, that short list could easily be 20 programs. If we’re talking most other graduate specialties, it’s more likely to be 4-8 programs.
I’m going to give some specific suggestions for time management after this point, and I may shock some of you with the time I recommend you allow, but let’s be real. Most of you are working full-time or working and going to school. You are fitting the applications into an already busy life. Writing requires rewriting. It benefits from time in between drafts, revisions, and proofing. Again, plan on this taking a long time, and you won’t have any unpleasant surprises. It’s the most valuable asset at this point in your application process. Use it wisely, and you won’t be slapping together critically important essays in a mad rush minutes before the deadline when servers are likely to crash due to too many people submitting at the last minute. And you’re also likely to crash due to lack of sleep!
Applying to MBA, Grad, and Law Programs: No Common App
Most MBA, grad, and law programs do not have a common application system, which means you will need to write different applications for each school.
For law school, you may be able to adapt a personal statement for different schools. This process will probably take 1-2 months total depending on how frequently you sit down to write and how many schools you plan to apply to. I suggest you allow 2-3 weeks for writing the personal statement and possible diversity statement or addenda. Allow an additional one week per school for adapting these essays to different programs and completing those pesky application boxes. Also allow time to review and edit your resume, and contact and prep recommenders.
For MBA programs, you need to write separate essays for most programs. Sometimes you’ll be able to adapt previously written essays, and sometimes you won’t.
For most MBA programs, you will need to write 1-4 essays, provide a resume, answer a few short answer questions, and perhaps submit a video. I recommend you allow at least 3-4 weeks for your first application and then two weeks for each additional program.
If you gasped at that recommendation, remember: You are busy and writing takes time. Plus, if you are applying to highly competitive programs, you need a highly competitive application. That application requires thought, rewriting, and time.
But you may say, “I want to apply round 1. I want the round 1 advantage!” There is no advantage to submitting half-baked mediocrity during round 1. For next year’s applicants, you can plan to apply round 1. You can get the GMAT or GRE done well before essay questions are released and start working on them as soon as they come out. You will have done all the pre-essay stuff in advance and be poised for an excellent application effort.
For this year’s applicants, get started now on round 2 applications, which will mostly have deadlines in January. You will then have that most valuable asset, time. You’ll have the time to submit your best when those deadlines stare you in the face. If you aren’t well into revising now for R1, don’t try to draft something in a hurry. Apply R2 and submit an application you are proud of.
For other grad students, including engineering, psych, and a broad array of masters and PhD applications, if you are applying in the 2018-19 cycle and have gotten the test score that you will apply with, know what you want to do with the degree, and how the programs you are applying to will help you do it, you are ready to write a dynamite statement of purpose. Get to work. Don’t wait. Many of you will face December and January deadlines. You also are most likely applying to multiple programs. I can assume your post-degree goal will not change with the school, but your reasons for wanting to attend each school should be specific to that school and reflect your knowledge of the program.
If you haven’t already done so, line up recommenders, prepare a one pager that you can give them about the schools you are applying to, perhaps highlighting something you’re proud of that they may forget to mention, and their deadlines for submitting the letters. Make it as easy as possible for them. (This goes for you, too, MBA applicants applying R2)
Now let’s turn to medical school applicants. If you want to apply next summer for 2020 matriculation and have not yet taken the MCAT or are not satisfied with your score, schedule an exam such that you are fully prepared. That may be in January or February. If you take it then, and are not satisfied with the outcome, you will have time for a retake so that you will have the second score by the end of May or early June. Alternatively, plan to take the exam next summer and consider waiting to apply until the summer of 2020 with a 2021 matriculation date. At the risk of repeating myself, test prep takes and benefits from time. Give yourself the time necessary to do well on the MCAT and to avoid applying late in the cycle because you need to retake over the summer.
Let’s assume for now that you have your MCAT and are applying DO – get cracking. You still have the time to apply to osteopathic schools. Their application cycle runs a little later and if you have everything else that you should have, then proceed.
If you are planning to apply to allopathic medical schools next summer and have an MCAT that you are satisfied with, I suggest you start writing your PS and MMEs over winter break. You can always tweak them if something significant happens close to application time, but if you get these drafted at least, if not polished in December/January, you will be primed to apply in early June when the med school class is wide open. Time will be on your side.
I also suggest that you spend time between winter break and June, when AMCAS opens, researching programs and taking notes on those programs. You may also want to start journaling or at least taking notes about experiences that you may want to write about or talk about when you move into the school-specific secondary and interview phases of the application process.
Also use some of this time for pre-writing secondaries. You can find many secondary essay questions, with tips, at Accepted. You will quickly see that some essays recur and you can at least have drafts about community service experiences, leadership experiences, why you want to pursue the area of medicine you want to pursue, how you will contribute to the diversity of your class, and much more.
Once secondary applications start to arrive, they will pour down in a deluge. Using your time to pre-write will give you the ability to turn around the secondaries quickly and well, preferably within two weeks of receipt. This is one stage of the process where you need to act quickly and without compromising quality. Pre-writing will save you time and give you that ability.
So whether we’re talking about law school, grad school, medical school or business school, you need time to apply effectively, efficiently, confidently, and successfully. Time will enable you to present an application that reflects the best you.