As we approach the end of May, it's crucial to acknowledge that the Round 1 MBA application deadlines are about 4 months away. We all know that the MBA admission process can be overwhelming and time-consuming. From GMAT preparation to researching schools, writing essays, and approaching recommenders, the to-do list seems endless. However, with strategic planning and an early start, you can make the application process rewarding and enjoyable. Over the years, we have seen that our most successful students began their preparation well in advance, specifically 5- 6 months before the Fall deadlines.
In this blog, we will outline a comprehensive plan to help you succeed in the 2023-24 admission cycle.
1. Conquer the GMAT
First and foremost, focus on conquering the GMAT, which is a significant parameter for your target school selection. Ideally, you should aim to take the GMAT around April or May. By doing so, if you don't achieve your desired score, you will still have time for a retake before shifting your focus to other parts of the application package. Juggling GMAT preparation, application work, and job demands as the deadlines draw near can lead to excessive pressure, making it challenging to produce quality work. Over the years, we have observed that applicants who simultaneously work on essays, GMAT prep, and their demanding professional commitments often struggle to put their best foot forward. As a result, they either submit rushed applications or postpone them to the next round or application season. To avoid this, we advise you to tackle the GMAT before diving into other aspects of the application.
Click here to learn about the test prep strategies of successful MER students.
2. Define Your Career Goals
Before delving into school research, take the time to articulate your career goals. Reflect on your aspirations and determine how an MBA will help you progress in your career. Articulating your career goals upfront will provide clarity when selecting schools and save time during the essay-writing process. Some key points to consider while articulating your goals are:
• Why do you want to pursue an MBA?
• What are your short-term and long-term career objectives?
• How will you contribute to the specific MBA program you're interested in?
• Why does the program align with your interests and aspirations?
Click here for tips to avoid common mistakes in writing goals essays.
3. Initiate the School Selection Process
After achieving your desired GMAT score, it is time to dive into the crucial phase of school selection. Start researching your target schools based on your specific criteria. Remember that thorough school research requires ample time. By planning ahead, conducting detailed research, and taking the initiative, you can identify schools that align with your credentials and aspirations. During the school selection process, consider various factors such as geographical location, financial considerations, key projects/courses, employment reports, and companies that frequently recruit from the program. Evaluate the rankings and identify a group of programs that excel in your field and where you have a competitive profile. Categorize them into the dream, reach, and safety schools based on your profile, work experience, industry background, GMAT score, goals, and interests.
Click here for more information on school selection.
4. Engage with the MBA Community
To gain insights into your target schools, leverage the opportunities to engage with the MBA community. Attend virtual events, participate in forums, and connect with student ambassadors to learn more about the programs you are interested in. Take advantage of information sessions and virtual tours provided by the schools. MER students have shared that attending these events enabled them to gather valuable information about the programs, each time learning something new. Ask admission officers relevant questions that go beyond what is available on the website. Additionally, reach out to alumni and current students to gain firsthand insights into a particular school's offerings and culture. These interactions will help you assess your 'fit' with the school and provide valuable material for your essays.
5. Enhance Your Professional Profile
To strengthen your profile, take proactive steps at your workplace and seek opportunities to manage challenging projects or teams. Go above and beyond your regular job responsibilities and consider volunteering for leadership roles. For instance, you can mentor a junior employee or organize a company-sponsored volunteer event. Polish and refine your LinkedIn profile to make it a powerful marketing tool. As you prepare for the application season, ensure that your actions align with your personal and professional goals. These efforts will add value to your resume and provide additional material to discuss in your essays and interviews.
6. Engage in Extracurricular Activities
Business schools value not only your academic background and professional experience but also your involvement in extracurricular and community service activities. They seek candidates with well-rounded personalities and diverse interests. Therefore, it is never too late to seek new experiences and get involved in activities that you are passionate about. Whether it is participating in sports, singing in a choir, or volunteering at a local temple/ church/ gurudwara, regularly engage in these activities to showcase your multifaceted nature.
Click here for the importance of extracurricular activities in B school applications.
7. Craft an Impressive Resume
Once you have finalized your list of target schools, start working on creating an MBA resume. Please note that an MBA resume is different from a job resume and requires significant time and effort to develop. With many schools reducing the number of required essays, a resume now plays a critical role in evaluating applications. Ensure that your resume concisely tells the story of your professional, educational, and extracurricular achievements. Soojin Kwon, the ex Admission Director of Michigan Ross, aptly said, "For me, the resume is just as important as your essays. Think of it as a trailer of the movie about you." By creating an engaging trailer (resume), you pique the admissions committee's interest in watching your movie (essays and recommendation letters).
Click here for our blog on 5 common mistakes you can avoid in resumes.
8. Approach Potential Recommenders
Now is the time to select your recommenders. Choose someone who can write a compelling letter about you instead of someone with an impressive job title. Your recommender should be someone who knows you well and can provide a thorough evaluation of your work. If you plan to apply to multiple schools, remember that your recommenders will require sufficient time to work on the recommendation letters. They are busy individuals, so it is advisable to inform them about this favor you are asking of them well in advance. Consider requesting a meeting with each recommender to guide them through the recommendation letter process, discuss the desired format, and highlight the key themes you would like to showcase in your application. Remember to provide them with ample time and maintain regular follow-ups.
Click here to learn more about selecting and guiding your recommenders.
9. Generate Ideas for Essays
As schools begin to release their essay questions in May or June (Harvard and Stanford have just released their essay questions for the 2023-24 application cycle), it is time to start brainstorming ideas and stories for your essays. Everyone has a unique story to tell, so delve deeper to discover yours. While business schools may change their essay topics from year to year, there are common concepts across business schools. For example, most schools expect you to write a goals essay, so take your time to identify your short-term and long-term goals. Additionally, reflect on your significant leadership experiences, accomplishments, background, life experiences, strengths (and weaknesses), and how they will contribute to your target school. Consider the experiences that have shaped your values and identity. Establishing your personal stories in advance will give you a foundation to develop, edit, and tailor essays for specific programs.
10. Craft Your Essays (Including Short Answer Essays)
Essays are the most crucial aspects of your business school application as they reveal aspects of your profile that other parts may not. B-schools utilize essays to understand applicants outside of their academic and professional environments. Essay writing is a time-consuming and creative process that requires self-reflection, brainstorming, strategizing, drafting, revising, rewriting, and editing to create a compelling and authentic portrayal of your candidacy. Candidates often underestimate the time needed to craft persuasive essays. The good news is that you can enjoy the process and create memorable essays by investing sufficient time.
In addition to investing your time and attention in the main essays, it is critical to allocate enough time for short answer questions in the application form. These sections often require significant information and may take longer than expected. Some schools' application forms may have questions that need more time than the main essays (such as Oxford, LBS, HEC, etc.), so make sure to give equal attention to these questions. Additionally, delve deeper into any potential red flags in your application, such as a low GPA, low GMAT, employment or education gaps, or a choice of recommender, and consider writing an optional essay to address them. Lastly, prepare well for a video essay if required.
Click here for our comprehensive tips (with 'before' and 'after' examples from our students' essays) on crafting compelling and persuasive essays.
Click here for pointers on submitting a compelling video essay.
11. Get your Transcripts Ready
One crucial step often overlooked in the MBA application process is preparing transcripts. Transcripts are critical parts of your MBA application. Admissions need them to evaluate your profile, and they will review them very closely- class by class, year by year.
The school you are applying to is the ultimate authority; check their transcript requirements and get what they require. Once you get to know your target school’s requirement for transcripts, secure them at the earliest. Many universities worldwide take summers off, so if you need their help in some way with securing your transcript, you may not have enough time before the Round 1/ September deadlines. So remember to prioritize this step in your application timeline and allow sufficient time for any necessary documentation requests or evaluations.
Click here for more information on transcripts (an article by my colleague Candy la Belle)
Thus, by incorporating proper planning and timing into your MBA application process, you can alleviate stress and transform the journey into a delightful and rewarding experience. While you have the flexibility to tailor the above plan to your specific needs, circumstances, and preferences, it is essential to dedicate ample time to present your best self.
Success Stories: Examples of Planning Ahead
To illustrate the effectiveness of planning ahead, let's delve into a few success stories of MER students who embraced a robust plan, initiated their application process early, and achieved remarkable outcomes. Their experiences serve as inspiring examples of the benefits of early preparation.
For more success stories of MER, click here.
Since 2011, MER (myEssayReview) has helped many applicants get accepted into the top 20 MBA programs. Poonam, the founder of MER, is one of the top 5 most reviewed consultants on the GMAT Club.