How Much Time Does it Take to Apply to B-School?

Last week we presented to a large bank’s analyst class, and one of the first questions we were asked was “when should I start working on my applications if I’m applying in the fall?” It seems so far away…

But it’s not! You can guess where we’re going with this. The answer is that you need to start right now. Seriously, the amount of time you give yourself to put together a really strong pitch, presentation and overall application package has a very strong positive correlation with your potential for success. Last year, on average, our clients started working with us five months before the deadline (and some started a whole year in advance).

Here’s how this works: if you start now, you can tackle all of the “low hanging fruit” before the applications are released in the summer. You can take the GMAT or GRE, research and visit schools, talk to alums and current students, get your resume in MBA application condition, identify and start prepping your recommenders, research and refine your career goals, and get your story in solid condition. If you need a starting point, here’s a link to our Comparison of the Top MBA Programs.

If you tackle all of that before the applications come out over the summer, then you can really hit the ground running and be efficient with the essay writing process, which is the heavy lifting aspect of this process. On average, we see applicants writing 10-20 drafts of their essays for the top programs. Our double admits this past year (people who got into HBS and Stanford) wrote a minimum of 12 drafts of each essay (the max was 27 in case you’re wondering).

Why does it take so long? Because iteration is actually part of the process of making your applications, especially your essays, as good as they can possibly be. Here’s a general example. Draft one of an essay is where you take a shot at one of the themes you had in mind. Draft two is about taking that story or theme up a level so that you are focusing on one clear idea. Draft three is refining that content so that it’s going to fit within the word limit. Draft four is about shuffling the flow of the essay so that the reader can more easily “skim” and still understand the power of what you’re trying to say. Draft five incorporates more of your feelings and the “why” behind the stories in the essay. Draft six incorporates comments that your colleagues gave you about how you’re coming across. Draft seven is where you refine the way that you explained your key stories to make them more “to the point”. Draft eight is where you add on a powerful ending that helps explain your overall motivations. And so on, and so on. This process varies by person, but in general, plan on the essay writing phase taking 25+ hours per school. Don’t rush this – it’s critical.

So back to our main point: if you know that heavy lift is coming, plan for it. Start now and trust me, you’ll be glad you did. You’ll feel more prepared and more confident when you finally hit the submit button in the fall.

Below is the timeline that we generally recommend (showing round 1 as a proxy).

And as always, reach out to us with any questions! We are still taking clients for round 1 and round 2 of this year’s application cycle. You can request a free initial consultation with one of our MBA admissions consultants by completing the form located here:

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