I've got a PM and in reply to it outlined the process of preparation and application. All the additions to this thread are highly appreciated !
I'm a regular guy, as are most of the people at GMAT club. Main requirements for getting into a top school - GMAT 700+ (better have 720+, if you are an Indian IT then 740+), perfect essays, good extracurriculars, interesting work experience, better if you show that you led/managed something.
If you are just starting your journey then look for extracurriculars - society work, club, etc.; you have to show that you contribute to the society you live at
Then, take GMAT not later than in August. Keep in mind that you could possibly not reach your target in GMAT, thus taking exam in May is a very good option. Take TOEFL exam if needed in 1-2 weeks after GMAT (I took TOEFL the very next day because had to go to another city for both exams).
Next, after you have passed exams learn about schools. Better to do a short research during preparation to exams, because you have to mark schools which will receive your exam results. But after exam you can devote a lot of time searching for valuable info at gmatclub, blogs, school websites, transcripts of interviews with admission officers. You have to find out what are the differences between school cultures, approaches to study and what differentiates one school from another, because your essays have to show your fit.
After you are admitted to Top-10 school you can get a loan without a co-signer, guaranteed by school. Exception is Haas and you have to check school websites for availability of these loans closer to summer. You will most probably need about 7-8 kUSD to show them at your bank account for getting visa, because loan covers only 8-month period while you are getting 12-month visa. Most of this money will be spent later for deposit, tickets, apartment reservation, pocket money for the first month before studies.
My GMAT strategy was:Princeton review
- good theory to improve understanding, tough problemsManhattan Review
- very good theory with some shortcuts, problems are a bit different from real testManhattan Review
Sentence Correction - must read
+ I took 2 Power Prep tests and 1 GMAT Prep test. Keep these tests distributed in your preparation as they are the only real indicator of your score.
Total time of preparation for GMAT was about 2-2.5 months to avoid burn out, but it also depends on the level you start off at.