It can often be daunting to begin your application campaign, so I thought I would suggest seven ways to ease into your application prep work. If you start ticking these things off your list now, then you will be able to enjoy the summer months and improve your chances of getting into a top school at the same time. Please me know if you have questions or suggestions of your own.
#1) Obtain Your Undergraduate Transcripts
Order your academic transcripts and review them carefully long before the admissions officers will. Don’t just rely on your memory because you might discover too late that the 3.1 GPA you remember graduating with was actually a 2.9 – or that you repressed the memory of that “D” in freshmen psychology.
If there are red flags in your academic history, the sooner you know about them the better. Once you’ve identified them, you can take steps to address poor performance with additional coursework and by tackling professional or personal projects that require the skills that you might have struggled to master during your university days.
#2) Complete Your Standardized Tests
It’s best to get the GMAT and other standardized tests completed in this ramp-up period. You don’t want to have to worry about studying for and taking standardized tests in the final months before the deadline while holding down a full-time job and doing the heavy lifting required to assemble a great application.
Also, keep in mind that if English is not your native language, and you didn’t go to an English-only university, you may be required to take the TOEFL – which is short for “Test of English as a Foreign Language.”
#3) Start an Application Journal
To succeed in your MBA application campaign, you will need to assess your strengths and to get to know yourself better. If an admissions officer asked you right now what you’re most passionate about, what your three greatest strengths are, and what accomplishment you are most proud of, would you have an answer ready? If you haven’t invested time in self-assessment, then maybe not. We recommend that you start writing in an “Application Journal” every day, exploring questions like those. By doing so, you will develop content for your future essays and limber up your "writing muscles" for the essay-writing marathon ahead.
#4) Strengthen Your Candidacy
In the months before you apply, you need to start thinking like an admissions officer so that you can identify the strengths and weaknesses in your MBA candidacy and take proactive steps before you apply to reinforce your strengths and counteract your weaknesses.
Don’t just write yourself off for a top-tier MBA program because you have a few weaknesses in your profile. Given enough lead-time, there are a number of things you can do to address potential weaknesses in your academic transcripts, resume, and leadership portfolio.
#5) Begin Career Planning & Research
Just about every school you apply to is going to ask you about your career goals; so you’ll want to start your career planning work long before it’s time to sit down to write your career goals essays. If your short-term and long-term career goals are already clear to you, great! If not, we encourage you to start your career planning work well in advance of the application period.
#6) Build Relationships With Potential References
Relationship building is another step in the application process that can’t be rushed. Can you name three people right now who would happily write a letter to a business school professing that you’re in the top 10% of your peer group? If you want to go to a top-tier school, you’re going to need two to three reference letters that say exactly that. Our belief is that if you start thinking about building these relationships now, you’ll have had the opportunity to be of service to your future references long before you ask them to be of help to you.
#7) Select Target Schools and Begin School Research
In addition to self-awareness, you want to increase your “school-awareness.” Too many candidates rely exclusively on the rankings and what other people have to say about where they should apply. You need to invest a good deal of time and effort in “school due diligence” to determine which schools best match your academic goals, career goals, and cultural expectations. Time invested in school awareness at this stage will allow you to make the best-informed choice of schools. More to the point, in your essays and interviews, you’ll be prepared to clearly explain to the admissions officers your specific reasons for applying to their school.
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