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The EXPARTUS MBA Application Checklist

A checklist – there’s nothing simpler, you might think. And you’d be right. That checklists are so simple is what makes them so powerful.

In The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, surgeon Atul Gawande makes a case for the radical efficiency of checklists. In the medical profession, checklists can save lives. They can bring order to chaotic situations.

Applying to B-school might not be a life-or-death situation (even if it feels that way at times!), but you can still use checklists to bring a clear, consistent structure to the complexity and unpredictability of the process. Here are some of the things to put on your business school application checklist.

– Test prep

The GMAT is the go-to standardized test for MBA programs, but there’s also the GRE and school-specific options. Whatever test you end up taking, set aside 2-3 months to fully prepare.

If you’re an international applicant, the TOEFL might be on your to-do list too. Don’t underestimate its importance.

If you’re taking it on top of the GMAT/GRE, adding on at least another 3- 4 weeks of test prep is a good idea. Some schools have TOEFL cut off points so making sure you meet your schools’ requirements is important.

MBA Program Application Checklist

– Soul searching

“What? What’s this airy-fairy, wishy-washy stuff doing on my application checklist?” you ask.

But the soul searching process is actually one of the most important parts of applying to B-school.

Knowing what drives you, what your goals are and how the schools you’re interested in will help you achieve the things you aspire to is a central reference point for your entire application. Self-awareness is the heart of your application, and it can make or break the rest of the process.

How long the soul searching process takes will depend on your individual situation, but make sure you leave enough time for reflection.

The nice thing about the soul searching part of the application is that you can start it whenever you want – as much as a year before you submit your application is quite reasonable.

A good way to do it is to get a notebook to dedicate to this part of your application. Write down what you’re passionate about. Ask yourself as many different questions as possible, such as:

– Why do you want an MBA?

– Why do you want it now?

– What is it you want to do?

– How will that thing impact the world?

– What excites you about it?

Talking to people who are doing what you’re interested in will also help. Time spent on the soul searching process is time well spent because when you sit down to write your essay, you’ll be clear on your values, passions, goals, and abilities, and you will be able to share these main points more smoothly in your application.

– Research

An important part of the application process for business school application is selecting the right schools that are the best fit for you.

Your introspection will help you narrow down the best schools for you to apply to. As you research your MBA programs you will be able to narrow down your list based on the schools that meet your requirements.

Your research can be started more than a year before you apply and can involve visiting the schools you are considering and attending classes there. Research can also be completed within one month, depending on the amount of time you have available.

– Essays

Your essays are your chance to speak for yourself directly, so you want to give yourself time to craft essays that are unique to you and that present you in the best light to the adcom. You’ll need to reserve enough time to read over and revise them.

I always recommend tackling applications one school at a time rather than going through and doing all your essays across multiple schools at once. This method makes the process more manageable.

You’ll find the first essays you do take the longest. A good window of time for the first school is 2-3 months. By the time you’re onto school three or four, you might be down to a couple weeks.

– Recommendations

At the same time as you’re writing your essays, you should be getting the ball rolling so your recommenders are writing their letters. From the outset, you want to fill in your recommenders about where you’re coming from with your application so they’re on the same page and know what to cover.

Four to six weeks is a reasonable period of time to give your recommenders. Check in with them halfway to the deadline, and try to leave a buffer of a couple weeks. Be mindful of how things are progressing since recommenders aren’t immune from procrastination!

– Resume

A good B-school resume tells a story. It fits into your marketing strategy and reinforces the key points from your essays and recommendations.

Since this is about crafting the best case for your brand as possible, not just dusting off whatever old resume happens to be sitting on your shelf, you want to have a healthy chunk of time set aside – somewhere between a few days and a week depending on how recently you’ve updated your resume.

– Online Application

If only online MBA applications were as simple as uploading your essays and hitting submit!

Be forewarned and forearmed: those who don’t start the online application until the day of the deadline will be disheartened to find that there are many small questions – for example, about details of work history, accomplishments, and reasons for leaving – to be combed through and answered one at a time.

A good strategy for minimizing frustration is to start the online applications well in advance so everything is filled in by the time you’re ready to upload the essays – no counting down the days (or hours!) until the application system closes, no extra stress.

– Interview

Along with your essays, recommendations and resume, interviews are one of the main ways MBA programs get a feel for who you are. As such, they’re another opportunity for you to reinforce your personal brand.

How much time you take to prepare for the interviews will depend partly on how comfortable you are with interviews. As a general rule, though, 2-3 weeks is a good amount of time.

– Other Items

And then, of course, there’s everything else. For example, take note of what the schools you’re applying to require in the way of transcripts – many schools are OK with unofficial transcripts (and GMATs) during the application process. Official scores will be required when final admissions offers are made.

International applicants will have other miscellaneous tasks to attend to like translating transcripts and converting GPAs. None of these things by themselves are overly time-consuming, but make sure you carve out enough time for when they start adding up.

Using a checklist to approach your application systematically will make your process more organized, managed and thorough from beginning to end. In the meantime, if you want to also start your application with a good sense of how you stack up, get in touch with us for a free assessment!

Chioma Isiadinso

Chioma is a former Harvard Business School admissions officer and the CEO and Co-Founder of EXPARTUS, the first MBA admissions consulting company to use personal branding as a key part of the b-school application process. Chioma is the author of The Best Business Schools' Admissions Secrets, one of the leading books on how to successfully navigate the MBA admissions process.

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