Applying to business school can require a lot more time and energy than you might initially think. Many applicants reduce the number of schools they apply to after beginning work on the applications and realizing just how much is involved with each and every application, with the average candidate applying to 3-4 schools. With so many admissions factors (resume, work experience, GPA, activities, volunteer experience, GMAT score, recommendations, essays, interviews, etc), how should you prioritize your time?
Admissions officers will consider all of the pieces of your application holistically when making an admission decision. But in terms of what YOU should focus your time and energy on at this point, focus on the pieces YOU CAN STILL CHANGE.
Your GPA/transcripts? (For most:) already set in stone. Your work experience? Not much you can change there, unless you happen to get a promotion right now, or begin working on a new and exciting project just in time for applications. Recommendations? You have a limited amount of influence on these. The two component s of your application that you can STILL CHANGE, and therefore where you can maximize your time and effort: GMAT and application essays.
GMAT test-takers who score higher report studying more hours than lower-scorers, according to GMAC. Preparation does make a difference—reviewing the math formulas and problems you may not have seen in years; reviewing grammar rules and logical thinking; learning how to approach these new data sufficiency questions; and most importantly, practicing on the computer in a timed, realistic testing environment. Familiarizing yourself with computer adaptive testing strategy and training with full-length timed practice tests will go far in increasing your comfort level with the exam and allowing you to perform your best on test day. Given how important the GMAT score can be for admission to top MBA programs, this is an area worth investing your time and resources in.
The application essays are the one component of your application where you create something FROM SCRATCH to represent who you are as a person. You have the opportunity to convey what you will bring to the program, and what the program will do for you in the context of your career goals. In some cases, the essays can make or break an admissions decision, and can balance out a weaker aspect elsewhere on the application. Be sure to devote sufficient time to crafting these essays, something that many applicants unfortunately fail to do. Admissions officers can tell when you threw something together at the last minute, and usually the quality of hastily written essays without much thought or effort will not stand up to competing applicants’ applications at top ranked schools. Set aside time to brainstorm for your essays, to organize and plan them, to draft them (possibly multiple times), and to proofread and edit them.