(This is a guest post from our friends at mbaMission)
Round 1 MBA application deadlines are not until late September or early October, and although that may seem far away, those submission dates actually come around a lot sooner than you think. How can that be? Well, many candidates start working on their applications in May (which, by the way, is only two months from now!), when the schools start releasing their essay questions. However, the well-prepared applicant starts taking steps now (or even started long ago) to make sure that he/she has the strongest application possible when those deadlines arrive. You may not realize it, but you can take advantage of a variety of short-term wins that could help you improve your candidacy for next year. Let’s take a look at just a few of the steps you can take…
1. Visit Schools: Visiting schools is a smart move for you as a potential consumer of a $100K+ education (not including living expenses and lost salary during your two years of study). It is also a smart move for you as an applicant, because traveling to a school serves as a strong indicator that you truly do want to attend that target program. Sure, some schools’ admissions offices state that the class visit is not overly important (notably, Harvard Business School), but most programs appreciate the gesture, because it demonstrates your level of interest and shows that you are not just selecting the school on the basis of rankings—you have “kicked the tires” and decided to proceed.
Many applicants will not think about making a class visit until too late. Class visit programs typically wrap up in April/May and do not open up until after Round 1 applications are due. So, if you have not yet visited your target school, your time is running out, and this might prevent you from learning more about the program and making an important positive impression. Schedule a visit now!
2. Take a Class: Was your GPA an afterthought when you were in college? Did you bomb some tough math classes or management classes? Did you do really well academically but take no classes that indicate your management aptitude? Did the Quant side of the GMAT not go as planned for you? The admissions committee needs to know that you can manage a rigorous analytical curriculum, so you must provide them with evidence that you are capable of doing so. If you do not yet have that evidence, consider taking one—or preferably two—of the following classes: calculus, statistics, economics, finance or accounting. You should do everything you can to earn an A in the class(es) to demonstrate that you have the intellectual horsepower to succeed in your first year. Remember that applications are due in October and that you will need to spend significant time after work perfecting them—and this process starts in May! So, your best move is to find a class that starts soon. Begin looking for options now! (Note: You do not need to go to Harvard to take these classes. Any accredited university will do!)
3. Get Involved: Every applicant has a GPA, GMAT/GRE score and work experience for the admissions committee to evaluate. These days, admissions officers expect successful applicants to show that they have an internal drive to succeed, which means that they expect to see that you are driven outside of your work. If you are not, someone else is! This does not mean that the admissions committees expect you to spend hours upon hours volunteering—they simply want to see that you have more than one dimension to your profile. So, you might have a start-up on the side or a personal passion that you are devoted to in an inordinate way (“My cooking blog gets 100,000 hits a month!”), or you just might be involved in your community. You may be thinking, “If I get involved now, it will all seem transparent.” You are right—your efforts could come across as transparent if they are just window dressing. But if you are actually devoted to whatever it is that you choose to do after work and have an eight-month track record to showcase come October, you will instead be able to reveal a genuine accomplishment. And that is what interests the admissions committees—not “time served,” but accomplishment.
4. Take (and Retake) the GMAT: If you have not yet taken the GMAT, now is the time to start studying. Our friends at Manhattan GMAT will tell you that after completing a nine-week preparatory class, you will need an additional month or more to study on your own. Count 13 weeks from today. If you take a GMAT class, your first test date will be approximately June 3. By the time you are done with the GMAT, you will need to turn your attention to writing your application essays, and you may still need to take a calculus, statistics or economics class or two. Are you starting to see how your schedule is getting a bit tight? And this scenario assumes that you achieve your target score on your first GMAT attempt. In fact, though, many people take the GMAT more than once, and admissions officers encourage you to take the exam multiple times, because the schools only count your highest score. So, you might not be fully done with the GMAT until July or even August. Start studying! (Note: The GMAT is still the “default” test for most applicants, but the GRE is the GMAT’s equal and is treated as such by admissions officers.)
5. Research Your Professional Options: Most MBA programs still ask you to discuss your professional goals somewhere in their applications, and many ask explicitly in their essay questions. But writing “I want to go into finance” or “I want to be a consultant” is simply not good enough. Admissions offices want to know that you have an actual plan in mind and are aware of where your skills and talents would be best put to use. They want to know that you understand what is needed to succeed in your target field. Would you admit someone to your program who was without a professional clue or only vaguely aware of the field he/she wanted to enter? Is that a recipe for professional success? Of course not! Think about the admissions committees’ perspective—by offering you a place in their next class, they are placing a bet on your success. Make sure that you can express a clear post-MBA direction for yourself. In the end, you may switch tracks and pursue something else—and the admissions officers know that—but they need to be confident that you are someone with foresight and drive.
These are five steps you can take to be your best in October—steps that require you to take action now to make the most of them. If you have questions about your plan for next year, please feel free to reach out to mbaMission for one free half-hour consultation.