The MBA application is a time-consuming and stressful endeavour. There are plenty of things to be done and if you want to succeed, you should plan and manage the process carefully. There are some key steps that every MBA candidate should follow before submitting the application file to the B-school.
Waiting until the last moment or postponing one or other part of the application process is not a good decision. Of course, there is no fixed “start now” moment, but as the process is time-consuming and could be very stressful at some points, starting as early as possible is recommended. Experts say that starting 6-9 months prior to filing the application is reasonable timing.
“Start preparing as soon as possible. Preparing for an MBA by studying for the GMAT, writing the essays and preparing for the interviews can take a serious candidate up to 6 months,” says Riadh Hamida, an MBA admissions expert from France-based Cours Colbert. “Starting early will help make the process much more manageable and allows for a stronger, more authentic application that may lead to a significant increase in the candidate’s chances of getting into a top MBA programme”, adds Shawn O’Connor, a contributor to the Forbes magazine and MBA applicants advisor. What are the main steps?
Step 1. Application strategy
Strategic planning of the whole application process is a must for every serious candidate. MBA applicants have to understand clearly the importance of good planning: drafting a strategic plan and following it without serious deviations. The strategy covers all the steps of the application process – the GMAT, references, essays, etc., and preferably comes with a time management plan with interim deadlines to allow you to go smoothly through this stressful process.
Step 2. The GMAT
One of the first steps in the business school application process is to prepare for the GMAT or GRE, as most students need at least 3-6 months of preparation to achieve their full potential in these exams. You can even take the test earlier and by doing so you would have one step fewer when you start the actual preparation. Experts advise the GMAT preparation to include a diagnostic exam so that every candidate can identify his/her strengths, weaknesses and the improvements that will be necessary to reach a good score.
Step 3. Get to know yourself
When you face the admission committee – once through your documents and the second time during the interview – you should convince them you are the right fit for their school. You can’t do this if you are not exactly sure what that x-factor in your personality is that helps you stand out, or if you don’t know what your career goals are and how the MBA programme will help you achieve them. Business schools will be seeking answers to questions about why you need an MBA and how their MBA fits your needs; what the real value of the degree will be to your personal and professional growing-up.
Step 4. Decide on schools
There are thousands of schools and MBA programmes available on the market and finding the school, and most importantly the programme that best fit your needs is also time-consuming. Undoubtedly, when you first considered getting an MBA, you researched dozens of schools at least, trying to find the best ones for you. As it is impossible to apply to all of them, make a shortlist of at least three schools, but not more than four or five, to apply to. Once you have finalised the school shortlist, check each school’s deadline and then start customising your application file depending on each school’s requirements.
Step 5. Reach recommenders
Letters of recommendation are highly valued by school admission committees. Getting in touch with a good recommender who knows you really well both as an individual and a professional, and can write a letter of recommendation showing you at your best, takes time. Recommenders, who are usually very busy people, will also need time to complete the online recommendation forms, which differ from school to school.
Keep in mind that selecting good referees is a test of your managerial skills. Try to secure professional rather than academic references, as business schools want to see proof of your professional performance. Pick referees who can really talk about your skills. It’s not a good idea to go to a big boss who hardly knows you. It’s better to go to a mid-level manager who has closely supervised your work, knows you well and can provide you with a serious and in-depth reference.
Step 6. Take care with the essays and the CV/resume
The CV and essays show who you are: your personality, plans, ambitions and goals. Write them in the best possible way and make sure you have touched on all the important details about you. Before actually writing them, define the general topics you will cover in the CV and in each essay. Essays take time to write and polish. Ask someone to help you by brainstorming the topics you should include, or just as a second pair of eyes looking for and correcting typos. Also, while reviewing your CV, watch for shortcomings that threaten to weaken your application. “Perhaps you have three years of work experience, but very few activities outside work. In the coming months, you should deepen your extracurricular work by taking on leadership positions that will offer you the chance to positively impact your community,” advises O’Connor.
Step 7. Get help
You will spend thousands of euros or dollars on your MBA, whether in Europe, the US or Asia, particularly when you consider tuition and living costs as well as the opportunity costs of not working for one or two years. Spending some more to work with a true MBA admissions expert, who can substantially increase your chances of getting into the school of your dreams, is likely a very wise investment, according to GMAT tutors. The consultant will guide you through the whole process, and will help you with your application strategy and time management plan, in selecting your recommenders, in writing the CV and the essays and in preparing for the interview.
Step 8. Get ready for the interview
If your application is good enough, you will be among those lucky candidates shortlisted for the final step of the application – the interview. Now is your last chance to show yourself at your best. You will be the centre of attention during the interview, and you should be ready to answer any question about yourself, your personality, and your professional achievements, goals and ambitions. So, be yourself and give your best.
If you follow the above steps, beginning the business school application process early and working consistently over the next several months, sticking tightly to your application strategy and meeting interim deadlines in your time management plan, you will have all the time you need to assemble the most competitive application possible.