Planning Ahead for your MBA Part 3: May - July
We at mbaMission always recommend getting started with your MBA applications as early as possible. By taking action now, you can dramatically improve your chances of gaining admission to a top MBA program in the coming years. It is never too soon (and certainly not too late) to take several crucial steps to shape your MBA candidacy. So we’re presenting a five-part series to provide a step-by-step timeline to help guide you down the long road of applying to business school. These guidelines assume that you are setting out a year ahead of the January deadlines. Even if you are starting later, you should be able to leverage this timeline to help you prioritize each step along the way. This week, we lay out what you should be doing May through July.
Brainstorm and Start Writing Essays
We always tell our clients, “You can’t turn a bad idea into a good essay.” We insist on taking our candidates through a lengthy brainstorming process (which begins with a thorough questionnaire) to discover the stories that make each candidate distinct. Even as you uncover your stories, it is still important to consider them from as many different angles as possible. While this will help ensure that you understand the various “weapons in your arsenal,” so to speak, this will also provide you with maximum flexibility (considering that MBA admissions committees ask questions that vary dramatically from school to school).
For example, an experience coaching a baseball team at an underfunded high school can actually have multiple dimensions. This may be the story of creatively motivating an underachieving team and changing attitudes, despite losses; of initiating and leading fundraising efforts so that each player can afford proper equipment; of mentoring a struggling player and seeing an improvement in his on-field performance; and more. Your essays will be only as good as your ideas, so do not settle for just the obvious “low-hanging fruit.”
Take the GMAT Again (if necessary)
As noted earlier, the GMAT may not go as well as planned on your first attempt. Not to worry—your first attempt can serve as a dry run and can prepare you for a stronger second attempt. Candidates must wait 31 days before they can retake the GMAT, so if your April test did not give you the results you wanted, a May test would be your next available option. We recommend that if you do need a second shot at the GMAT, you schedule your next session immediately, while the information is still fresh in your mind.
Informational Interviews/Job Shadow
We always emphasize that candidates should strive to differentiate themselves from other applicants via their experiences and the sincerity of their voices within their essays. With respect to sincerity, many candidates have trouble honestly articulating their post-MBA goals, and virtually every MBA program requires that candidates write an essay on short- and long-term career goals (HBS being the notable exception; it makes a goal statement optional). If you aspire to enter a competitive field, such as banking or consulting, it may be wise to conduct informational interviews or to even job shadow an individual for a day, if possible. MBA admissions committees frown on vague goal statements or generic claims that lack a profound personal connection to a position and therefore lack credibility. The sincerity of your interest, magnified and thus better articulated as a result of personal experience, can make the difference for you.
Define List of Target Schools
By mid-June at the latest, most MBA programs will have released their essay questions for the coming year. So, by then, you should have started to pare down your list of target schools and determine which ones you will be applying to in Round 1. Generally, we recommend that MBA aspirants apply to four to six schools, targeting a mix of safe, competitive and reach programs. However, you should never sacrifice quality for quantity—apply only to the number of schools to which you can commit yourself entirely.
Continue Writing Your Essays (ongoing)
Essay writing takes time and patience. If you are like the average candidate and are trying to complete three to five applications and you might need to write five or six drafts of four to five essays per school, well, you do the math… You could be writing up to 150 essays within a brief period of time. So, by June, you should be in the thick of your essay writing, dedicating a few hours each week to this step and significant time on weekends. You don’t need to be a Pulitzer Prize winner to go to business school, but you do need to sincerely articulate your vision and reveal your unique potential through your stories. Needless to write, it is beyond challenging to achieve that in one marathon writing session. Stick with it!
(Note: mbaMission offers more than 50 free essay tips on its blog.)
Take the GMAT One Last Time (if necessary)
We do not suggest that you take and retake the GMAT forever. However, you will face no penalty for taking the test multiple times. In fact, as we mentioned earlier, most schools are very understanding of multiple attempts, because this shows that you are tenacious. So, if at first you don’t succeed and at second you don’t succeed, you just might want to try again. Of course, all candidates must use judgment in analyzing their scores and deciding for themselves whether they may be able to do better by retaking the test, but generally, if your scores are consistent after three exams, you should consider moving on and accepting that your score is about as high is it will be.
Meet with Recommenders
In some ways, it is never too early to meet with your recommenders, discuss their important role in the application process and even review your major accomplishments with them, so that these elements remain top-of-mind when they write about you and your achievements. Some candidates may wonder whether such meetings are appropriate. At mbaMission, we not only think that they are appropriate, but also recommend them—as do admissions officers.
Since Ambassadorial Speechwriter and MBA Jeremy Shinewald founded mbaMission in 1999, the firm has worked closely with business school candidates from around the world, successfully guiding them through the entire MBA application process ("From Start to Finish") and ensuring that their unique attributes are showcased in a creative, compelling and focused way. mbaMission senior consultants are published authors/elite communicators with top-MBA experience, who work one-on-one with applicants to help them discover, select and articulate the unique stories that will force MBA admissions committees to take notice. mbaMission collaborates with candidates on all aspects of their application, reducing stress levels and maximizing their chances of being admitted to the business school of their dreams.
mbaMission offers mock interviews using actual questions posed to previous applicants to their specific target schools.
Next week: Planning for your MBA August - October