I noticed that there are a lot of early birds here in the forum. I just wrote a long post in my blog about application timeline, so I'm posting it here too and I hope this is helpful for you..Bee's Ideal Application Timeline http://missmba.blogspot.com Warning: long post!
Looking back at my frantic application months, I really wished that I wasn't procrastinating too much. So, here are some lessons that you can learn on scheduling your game plan. Assuming that you're planning to the usual suspects (top US schools), here's a rough guideline for your application preparation. Of course, this is not my actual timeline, but this is what I thought would be the ideal timeline. I didn't even manage to submit any applications in Round 1 because I started a new job in June and have to juggle between adapting with my new office & b-school stuffs. So, here goes:January-March: GMAT preparation
Yes, to give yourself a buffer, use three months to prepare for the GMAT. I'm sure smart people like you might only need one or two months, but remember, usually you would still want to relax after the holidays in January, so it won't be a fully effective month. My most valuable GMAT advice to you: make sure that you actually REGISTER for the GMAT. This is very important. Schedule your test around two or three months in advance. This will pace yourself better and would decrease the chances of procrastination.April: Take the GMAT
Relax. Here's another golden advice: you can always RETAKE the GMAT (for an extra 250 bucks of course). It's important to remember this, so that you don't have to be too nervous about it. Well, I'm sure you'll do fine. When you see the 7xx score in your screen, that's it! I'm a firm believer that 700 is the threshold. I don't really think it's that big deal to score more than 700. But that's just me. Some people got a 720 and they still want to retake it. For me, it's better that you focus your energy in other things that could help your application. Focus on your passion, your hobbies, your interests. Basically, focus on the things that would make you seem more human & interesting. A bland 760 doesn't look nicer than a 700 BMX rider.
Well, if you haven't got that 7-something score, then it's time for you to study for another month. Remember, REGISTER for the test in May. You don't wanna lose your GMAT touch by postponing the test for another month. Better study for it while you're still in the groove.May: Re-take the GMAT and/or start your school research
Let's hope that you already score a good GMAT on the second try. Congratulations. It's time for you to do some school research (if you haven't been obsessed with it for the past year). Go buy some books on b-school applications and do your research.
If possible, go visit the school. If visiting is not an option, contact alumni in your area and start building the connection with them. Talk to as many people as possible. The more, the merrier. When you talk to many students/alumni, you'll get the sense of the kind of people you'll meet in school. Of course, most people will only say good things about their own school, but try to dig deeper and ask the things they would like to improve in their respective school. While doing your school research, keep on doing the things that you're passionate about.June: Again, re-take the GMAT *sigh* and/or start your self-assessment
I'm hoping that in the third try, you finally get the score you wanted. Then it's time to mix your school research with some self-reflection. List down all those achievements. Start with the easiest one, update your resume! Your resume can be a good starting point. Here are the things that you can write on your notepad:
-Your strengths and weaknesses
-Your life story (starting from the day you were born)
-Your personal anecdotes
-What does your friends and family think about you?
-Your hobbies, passions, interests
-The things you're most proud about
-Awards, successes, achievements, promotions & failures
-Basically do a brain dump and write about anything you like
You can also start looking at the previous year's applications. They usually don't change much, and the basic questions will always be there. Start drafting some stories. Start thinking about how do you want to sell yourself.July: Some applications are out, so prep your recommenders!
Yes, some of the schools have released their application, so the best way to kick off the application season is to contact your recommenders immediately! This is very important and you might wanna give a lot of time for your recommenders. This is the one thing that is beyond your control, so you might wanna do all precautionary things, to prevent the unwanted. Yes, I have experienced the horror of your recommender submitting the recommendation 20 hours before the deadline... and that was considered lucky. Some people experienced their recommenders to submit late after the deadline. So, be very careful. Once the applications are out, you should immediately log in to the online application site & submit your recommenders name, so that they receive the recommendation form & questions in the earliest stage.
Also, don't make them work too hard on your recommendations, so make sure you give some data points to remind them what kind of things that you've done for them. What kinds of project you were in, your achievements, etc. Make sure you coach them well. Especially those recommenders who don't have MBAs. You wanna make sure that they know how to tell stories about you that nobody else can, stories that will not be repeated in your essays. So, make sure that they don't write the recommendation with empty words, make sure they write "real stories".August-September: Breathe your essays night and day
Yes, pour your heart and soul into your Word document. It's the essays months. People have different style of doing it, but I would compare all the schools' sets of essays (the ones that I'm applying to, of course). I would try to look at which set covers the widest range of topic and I would do that school first. In my case, it was Kellogg. So, I brainstormed like crazy with my first set of essays. The first 10 drafts were basically garbage material. Then after a while I get better and better. After I finished around 80% of the Kellogg essays, I moved on to the next school. After I finished 80% of the next school, I moved on to the next. And so on. Along the way, I found new ideas which then I used to improve my earlier essays. The process goes back and forth and seemed like a neverending one.
I would suggest you have your reviewers ready at this point. Have several types of reviewers. I have those who know me very well and those who don't. As an international applicant, I also have a native friend who reviewed my grammar and style. Ask your most critical friend to be your reviewer, not the one who constantly puts you down, but the one who gives constructive feedback. It would also be great if you have a friend who's an alum/student of the school to review your essays, however if you don't, it's not the end of the world. Another way of doing it is hiring an admissions consultant, this is usually an expensive option. But if you're willing to spend, then go for it. Remember, don't have too many people to review your essays, because their various comments will confuse you. Stick with three at the most.October: Fill those application details and submit!
If you're ready, then spare some time to fill those application forms. You know, the part where you have to fill your parents name, what they do, etc. These things took some time, so make sure that you don't wait until the last minute to do it.
Take a deep breath, pray (or don't if you don't want to), lose USD 235 from your pocket, and hit that submit button.November: Relax, go back to work, or work for Round 2
Either you can relax and try not to visit the GMAT Club forum every hour or you can start working on Round 2 applications.
Don't worry too much about that interview invite. Of course, sometimes you can't really help it, so go check the "Wharton R1" or "Columbia ED" thread in BW to see whether other people have received their invites. Check out the adcom's blog too while you're at it.December: Interviews, schminterviews
Okay, so prep yourself for that coveted interview invite. Re-read your applications and the school's website. The Clear Admit wiki or School Guide is another good starting point. Try to find friends who are willing to help you with mock interviews. But really, the key is to be yourself and know your stories well. Just make sure you get the basics right: why MBA? why X school? why now? goals? strengths & weaknesses?. And you're set.
I realized that my Kellogg interview is my most relaxed one. My Wharton's interview is quite jittery, because it was my first interview. While my HBS interview is the most nervewrecking, probably because I was burdened with the fact that: 1. it's not a blind interview, 2. I have to flew to another country, and 3. it's HBS!
So, with the kind of decisions I got, it's surely important to realize that you have to relax! Stressing will not do you any good.January: Round 1 results and Round 2 deadlines!
So, you could be dancing and popping champagnes by now if you're one of those lucky group receiving the calls from the adcoms. Or you might get those dreadful dings (I hope not!) and start working on your Round 2 applications like crazy. Lucky folks, you might wanna prepare your pre-MBA trip & draft your resignation letter. For Round 2 folks, after working so hard, you deserve a weekend getaway to celebrate your application submissions.February: Round 2 Interviews
Remember about my advice on interviews.. just relax!!
For those who already got accepted to the school of your dreams, signed up in your school's Facebook group and socialize with your future classmates.March: And the final results are in..
I really hope that you got in somewhere. Time to fill those financial aid forms and pay the school's deposit. Celebrate! Celebrate! Celebrate!
If you're in the waitlist, it's a whole new ball game. You can read Accepted's guide on the waitlist.
Different strategies for different schools, chances are slim but it's not impossible. So, stay positive.April: Spend time with your loved ones
Have fun! Inform your boss that you're leaving (I love this part). Make the best out of your last months in town and this is actually the time to do what you've always been wanting to do. I'm thinking of taking some foreign languages class, start playing the piano again, and spend time with my family and dogs.
So, I guess that's it. Well, your journey will probably not be like this, I know mine isn't. But it's good to have a good plan, isn't it? Although, life is funny somehow. I never regretted that I submitted all my applications in Round 2, even when my chances are supposedly better in Round 1. If I had submitted my application in Round 1, I would have not been able to write a significant story about leading a great initiative in my company in my essays. So, I do believe that everything happens for a reason. A good reason of course.
Well, good luck, future applicants! I hope this post is helpful!