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by Vault Education Editors | January 14, 2011


By Jeremy Shinewald, mbaMission

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. In part 2, we lay out what you should be doing February through April.




Meet with Alumni and Students

As you contemplate your choices and begin visiting campuses, consider augmenting your process of a priori discovery by meeting with your target school’s alumni or students, so that you can gain an intimate understanding of these programs. Current students in particular will have an awareness of specific programs and classes that may not be prominently featured on a school’s Web site but that may appeal to you and even enable you to strengthen your case for attending that particular school. By meeting with students and alumni and by visiting classes, you will collect a variety of data points with which you will be better equipped to persuade the admissions committee that its school is ideally suited to you, in a way that few others will be able to do.


Continue with Leadership/Community Work and Continue to Advance Personal Achievements (ongoing basis)

We will assume that you understand that community leadership and advancing personal achievements should continue on an ongoing basis throughout the admissions season. However, your target schools will not actually be tracking your hours from week to week, so keep in mind that you can dedicate yourself heavily to these activities in the early months of the application season or year and then, as your time demands become more intense in August and September with various application responsibilities, you can shift your focus to other aspects of the application process. Do not forget, though, that you will be judged on the sincerity of your commitments, so any scaling back of your participation in such activities should not be so much that your intentions are brought into question.




Identify Recommenders/Reconnect with Previous Supervisors

We find that one of the most frustrating parts of the application process for candidates is connecting with and motivating recommenders. With some foresight, you can take the time now to identify recommenders (even if you do not approach them for months) and gather some intelligence on each of them. Has your recommender written letters for anyone else? Is he/she generous with his/her time with respect to employee feedback and review sessions? One of the best windows into your recommendation process will be the experiences of any colleagues for whom your target recommenders have already written such a letter; you may want to speak with these individuals to discover how your intended recommender managed their respective processes. By identifying recommenders who will be helpful and generous, you will potentially alleviate the stress of missed deadlines and unpredictable letters.

While you should spend time right now doing your homework on readily available recommenders, you should also take time to reconnect with previous supervisors who could also be strong recommenders, but with whom you have fallen out of touch. You do not want to find yourself in a position where you are calling a former supervisor for the first time in a year or more and asking him/her for a large chunk of time on a tight deadline. If you know you will need to call on a former supervisor, make contact now and keep the relationship warm for the next few months. You will be far better off when the letter-writing process begins. (Note: In most cases, MBA admissions committees have a bias toward current supervisors, but depending on the situation, past supervisors can be acceptable.)




Take the GMAT for the First Time

Taking the GMAT once by the end of April is ideal, because it allows you to finish one major component of the process just as another—commencing your essays—looms on the horizon. Furthermore, if you take the GMAT in April (or earlier) and do not do as well as you had hoped, you can always take the exam again in May, June or even July if needed. MBA admissions offices often even encourage candidates to take the GMAT more than once. Your scores will not be averaged; instead, schools will, forgivingly, take the higher (or highest) of your scores into consideration.


Prepare Your Resume

Another simple step you can take now to help reduce competing interests later is prepare your resume and then make small modifications and updates regarding your most recent position in October, during the latest stages of the first-round application process. An added benefit is that you will start the process of reflecting on your accomplishments now and reawakening yourself to certain experiences. In many ways, preparing your resume now will be a primer for your essay brainstorming process, which will be the foundation for your essays.


About mbaMission

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 up: Planning Ahead for your MBA: May - July

Read Part 1: Preplanning

Read Part 3: May - July


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