Understanding the MBA Application Process: Five Things You Can Be Doing Right Now


Yes, it’s only January and it may seem like you have plenty of time before the first round of MBA application deadlines. However, there are several crucial things you can be doing right now to give yourself a leg up on the MBA application process (and reduce your stress level in the fall).

Our overarching recommendation is that you look at the list below and lay out a month-by-month timeline for the year, assuming everything will take longer than you think. Best case, they don’t and you’re ahead of the game; worst case, they do and you’re still on track.

1) Schedule Your Class Visits for this Spring

People are often surprised – not in a good way – that there really isn’t much time to visit schools in the fall before round 1 application deadlines. And you really want to go while classes are in session (i.e., not over the summer).

If you plan to apply round 1, which you should if you’re already thinking about the MBA application process, schedule your visits in the spring. Not only does this help ensure you’ll get them in, it also allows you to interact with students while they’re not in the throes of recruiting and highly stressed (plus both first and second years will be able to share insights into their recent recruiting experiences).

School visits help you assess which schools may be the best fit for you and provide valuable essay and interview ammunition such as the specifics of clubs, classes and the school’s culture that are challenging to conceptualize from merely reading the website. Those who visit almost always write better essays than those who don’t, in our experience.

2) Take the GMAT or GRE ASAP (Seriously – Just Schedule the Exam and Don’t Look Back)

Knowing your GMAT or GRE score early in the MBA application process is helpful in a number of ways. While a test score is far from the only data point schools consider, it should be a factor as you hone your list of target schools and begin researching them.

Further, if your score isn’t what you hoped it would be, knowing this early on will provide time to take extra classes in advance of applying, providing an important counterpoint for schools to consider. Or, you might attempt a retake or even switch tests if you’ve hit a roadblock on the one you initially attempted.

Last but not least, by taking that burden off your plate, you can focus on the higher-level, strategic aspects of the MBA application process such as defining your story and goals.

3) Get Those Coffee Chats on the Calendar

An MBA is more than an academic degree. It’s a holistic experience with many aspects that are hard to understand without having been there yourself. Seek out people in your network who can talk to you about their MBA experiences.

Not only will having these conversations early help you collect information to accelerate your process, it could also lead to stronger advocacy for you by these individuals if they write your recommendations later on. Everyone likes to see someone being proactive!

4) Be Honest About Your Weaknesses…So You Have Time to Do Something About Them

It’s not hard to find information on what the schools are looking for. Think through where your areas of weakness are and create an action plan to address those issues over the coming months.

Typical areas of weakness include low undergrad GPA, low GMAT / GRE score, limited extracurricular involvement, limited leadership experience, etc. Though you can’t change the past, you can always mitigate the potential negative impact of anything that’s less than perfect on your profile.

5) Start Thinking About Your Goals ASAP

Being able to articulate why the MBA is the right degree for you and what you plan to do with it is extremely important. There are limited spaces in each top MBA program, so they want people who they know will leverage the MBA to do great things. For 75% of people we work with, defining their goals is one of the hardest parts of the process. It takes time, conversations, research and sometimes more than a little soul searching.

We encourage you to start this process early. As a tip, we have most of our clients begin by looking at the job placement reports for their target schools and looking at the LinkedIn profiles of people whose careers may interest them (co-workers, family friends, etc.). Then we get much more methodical, but this preliminary research helps you to get a sense for the lay of the land.

If you want help creating a personalized timeline in advance of your MBA application process, reach out to request an initial consultation.

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