Two Weeks Until the Deadlines – What Can You Do?

More so than any other year, this year we’ve had a ton of calls from people who the deadlines have snuck up on. Whether you were (or still are) engrossed in the election, busy at work, or simply having too much fun, you’re not alone if you’re just now staring at the MBA application “to do” list and wondering if and how you can get it all done. That said, here are some of our thoughts on what’s realistic depending on where you are in the process, as well as a few tips.

Stage 0: “What’s the GMAT?”

At this point, if you haven’t taken the GMAT yet or don’t have a date scheduled for the very, very near future (ah hem, tomorrow), then I’d say it’s best to move on to starting the process for round 1 of next year. Essay topics are typically released in July, so that gives you six or more months to study for and take the GMAT as well as any other coursework that may help your application. As mentioned in our earlier post about whether or not you shouldsprint or punt, remember that this is a very important decision and process. If you don’t feel like you can put your best foot forward, do you really want to jeopardize your chances? Reapplying can be challenging, so don’t assume that if you lob in a half-hearted app this year that you can necessarily make it up next year. In most cases, one year isn’t going to make a huge difference in your application in the negative sense and could be a great time to focus on pumping up your application so that you can get into the very best schools possible in round 1 of next year. Consider this, would you trade one year in order to eventually be an alum of a school that’s a better fit for you or higher ranked?

Stage 1: “I’m ready, and I know my dream school – now what?”

Maybe you’ve always known that you wanted to go to business school but just realized that you’d like to consider applying this year instead of waiting. If you have taken the GMAT and your score is in range for the schools you are considering (assuming you know what schools you are considering), then you may be among the few who could pull this off. Note that we do not advise you to rush into something cold – this is only for people who have spent some time thinking about this, know the schools they want to apply to, and have a profile that is in-range for their schools. If this describes you, then here are the steps we propose you take immediately (like right now):
  1. Determine whether your recommenders are willing to do this on a compressed timeline and over the holidays. Typically, you want to give recommenders 6-8 weeks, so they would be doing you a huge favor if they’re willing to push forward so quickly. If they agree, provide them with info (stories of your accomplishments, the questions that the schools ask, the deadlines, etc) to make it as easy as possible on them. Ensure that they don’t just rush through this – every part of the application is essential!
  2. Research schools in-depth. It’s possible that your research to date consists of “I like the ranking / reputation” or “I like the location”, but that won’t cut it for the essays and interviews as I’m sure you know. Try to get on the phone with or meet with an alum you know or someone the school hooks you up with. Hearing from actual students or alums is the fastest way to get the most info. Often if you search Linkedin for alums in your company or perhaps alums of your undergrad, this can be a quick way to find someone to speak to.
  3. Finalize your story before you start writing the essays. Take a step back and ensure that you can easily articulate your past experience (what you’re good at now), what your goals are, and why you need an MBA to get there (from [insert school]). This “story” should be solid before you start writing or you’ll risk diatribing with no actual theme. This is a hard process to rush but for those who already have fairly solid career goals in mind and a cohesive career path, you have a shot.
  4. Get an “outsider” to take a look at your resume. Your resume needs to be understandable to someone outside of your industry, and perhaps someone who has never worked in business at all. Make sure that you have simplified the descriptions of your responsibilities and of course focus on your accomplishments and impact; not just your functions (e.g.. please do not write anywhere on your resume that you know how to use Excel or Powerpoint).
  5. Allow yourself at least eight drafts / iterations of the first essay set (and do not straight cut and paste between schools – they will know!) Most people start with an outline in order to establish a theme and avoid just diatribing. Remember that the reader is skimming, so you must have a logical flow – this cannot read like an autobiography. Most have a first draft that is typically 1.5x the word limit (at least). Then from there you have to focus on streamlining – paraphrase concepts, eliminate jargon, focus on the main point or the “so what” of each paragraph.
Again, I am not an advocate of rushing through something that is so important, but if you have to do it, above is a punch list of items that you can tick through to try and help maximize your time.

Stage 2: “I have started my essays but am not sure how to get them over the finish line”

If this is you, and you’re just down to shaping-up your essays, then the good news is that in most cases, you have a great shot at wrapping everything up before the deadlines and submitting a great application (assuming that you have ample time over the next few weeks to dedicate to your essays). My advice is to get your essay to a good point (within 10% of the word limit, clearly demonstrating your leadership and impact abilities etc), then have a few credible people give you some feedback. People who do not work with you are ideal because they can give you feedback on how you’re coming across, since they have less than detailed knowledge of your day-to-day activities and accomplishments. It’s important that they be able to tell you “your story” after reading your essays (eg. what your skillset / experience is today, what your goals are (and why), and why you need an MBA). Alums of the schools you are applying to can provide good context on whether you are presenting yourself as a good fit for the schools specifically. In general, it’s important to have several informed opinions before you submit, but please don’t forget to keep the essays your own and also take each opinion for what it’s worth. If you haven’t already read it, a few months ago we wrote-up a few thoughts on who the best reviewers of your application could be. And for the lucky ones who have a lot of great MBA mentors, you already know that they can give you great insight on the process and what you’ll actually get out of your degree (eg. help you with the “why MBA” part), but do beware of letting them overly-critique your essays and paralyze your thought process. Remember, keep the story yours (you are your differentiation – don’t tell the adcom what you think they want to hear – tell them about you).
Of course we’re always here to help, so reach out if you have any questions. Best of luck to everyone!

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