When you consider all the steps involved in applying to business school, from researching schools, to visiting campuses, to studying for those dreaded tests, to telling your boss you are considering going to business school, to deciding on the schools to which you will apply, to settling down to write your application, it can feel very overwhelming. And with good reason.
On top of all that, you are juggling a hectic work schedule and wondering how the heck you will fit everything in.
An important approach to applying successfully to your dream school involves having a strategy in place and starting early.
Break down the application steps into small, actionable parts.
1. Research Schools: (2-4 weeks) Block out time to research the schools on your list. Compare across important categories and make notes of what you liked and didn’t like. You will likely find that no one school has everything you want. You will have to learn to prioritize the things that matter the most to you and the more time you spend upfront figuring this out the more effective you will be in selecting the right schools for you.
Things you may care to look at include curriculum opportunities and concentrations, acceptance rates and average test scores and GPAs., career placement and resources, etc. Visit the schools if you can fit it in. We’ve covered the importance of visiting your target schools and you can read about that here.
2. Select School List: (1 week) You won’t select the right set of schools if you don’t take researching schools seriously. This is a common mistake I see MBA applicants make. There is a limit to how many applications you can apply to effectively so you want to choose wisely. I’ve said this many times and I stand by my belief that applicants can apply successfully to four schools if they choose the right set of schools. If you want to be extra safe, then feel free to push for six schools.
When choosing your MBA programs, you want to choose those that fall into three categories: safety (your best shot), moderate (good chance), and stretch (very low chance given competition at that school). The mistake applicants make is to want to put all their eggs in one basket by applying to only stretch schools. This step requires you to suspend your ego and select a wide range of schools based on your profile. A seasoned consultant can help you objectively assess your profile so you can pick the right set of schools.
3. Prepare for the GMAT/GRE: (8-12 weeks) The admissions committee often encourages applicants to take the GMAT or GRE as early as possible. I agree 100%! This part of the application can end up being the Achilles heel of many applicants. If you haven’t taken either of these two tests, the first thing I would encourage you to do is to hop on over to com or ETS.org and take a practice test to see how you do. MBA programs don’t have a preference for either tests so you can select the one where you feel you can score the best.
Don’t underestimate the amount of preparation you will need in order to ace this test. Some people are able to take it once after thorough preparation and achieve their target score. But for many applicants, they may find that they have to retake the test two or more times to attain their desired score. So, give yourself time. The sooner you get on this part of the application, the sooner you can ace the test and move on to other parts of the application.
4. Strengthen Recommender Relationship: (Ongoing) The popular Chinese proverb, “dig a well before you are thirsty”, is the best strategy for MBA applicants to adopt when cultivating a relationship with their supervisors and potential recommenders. Before you announce you will be applying to business school and need a recommendation, applicants should establish a strong reputation of delivering quality work, working well on a team and having excellent leadership track record. The more concrete instances where you set yourself apart in these areas the stronger a reputation you can build.
MBA applicants who have strong support from their superiors find it easier to get excellent recommendations than those who don’t. Therefore, it is never too early to begin to assess who you have as potential referees and whether or not they would be supportive of your business school aspirations. If your relationships with your bosses are very strong and you believe you will get them behind your application, you should still continue to make sure your work quality remains impeccable.
If you have concerns, however, now is the time to assess whether you can turn around the relationship or whether you need to look elsewhere. This is something an admissions expert can help you figure out early in the process to develop the best recommendation strategy that would improve your admissions outcome.
5. Clarify Your Personal Brand (2-4 weeks) If you have read many of our blogs and even by looking at our website, you will notice that we emphasize the Personal Branding process a great deal. I can’t stress enough how important this is in creating a winning application. We have been using The EXPARTUS Personal Branding System for the 15+ years we have been in existence and it is a system I created based on my experience working on Harvard Business School’s admissions board.
This system has helped numerous applicants, despite real weaknesses, to secure an admission from the most competitive programs in the world. You can invest in identifying your personal brand, nail down exactly what sets you apart from your competition, and what your unique selling point is at the very beginning of the process. Identifying these building blocks—who you are, what is unique about you and what your aspirations are—enables you to put the right foundation in place before you start writing your B-School application.
Contact EXPARTUS to find out more about our Personal Branding System.