Start the New Year Right! Do These Five Things to Get a Leg up on Your MBA Applications

Goodbye 2020 and hello 2021!  While it seems every New Year comes with a sense of optimism and hope for the future, this year takes that sentiment to the extreme. Perhaps you’re planning for a fresh start in more ways than one by applying to MBA programs this fall. Congrats on taking that leap – from my own experience, business school is truly a transformative undertaking, both personally and professionally.

While it may seem like you have plenty of time before the first round of MBA application deadlines, there are things that you can be doing right now to give yourself a leg up (and reduce your stress level in the fall). Take a look at the list below and start laying out your timeline for the year, assuming that everything will take longer than you think (it generally does, right?).

1. Begin Researching Programs

While in-person campus visits may still be on hold, it’s never too early to start your school research. The pandemic has forced schools to get creative – from virtual campus tours to Zoom information sessions to admissions officer blog posts, there are ample ways to learn about your programs of interest. This research helps you assess which schools may be the best fit for you and provide insight into 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. In our experience, those who do thorough research almost always write better essays than those who don’t.

2. Take the GMAT ASAP (Seriously, Just Schedule the Exam and Don’t Look Back)

Knowing your GMAT score in advance can help you a) better focus your school research, b) determine whether you need to take extra classes to offset a weaker score, c) ensure ample time to retake the test if needed and d) focus on the higher-level, strategic aspects of the application such as defining your story and goals. Here is some food for thought as you plan your standardized testing approach.

3. Get Those Coffee Chats on the Calendar

An MBA is more than an academic degree – it’s multi-dimensional experience many aspects that are hard to understand without having been there yourself. Seek out those in your network who can share their MBA experiences. Having these conversations early will not only help you collect information to accelerate your process (e.g., information on school cultures and post-MBA career paths) but could lead to stronger advocacy for you by these individuals if they write you a recommendation later. Everyone likes to see someone being proactive!

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

It’s easy to find information on what the schools are looking for in applicants. Think through your areas of weakness and create an action plan to address them in the coming months. Typical areas of weakness include low undergrad grades / GPA, low GMAT score, limited extracurricular involvement, limited leadership experience, etc. You can’t change the past, but you can work to mitigate the impact of anything that’s less than perfect on your profile.

5. Start Thinking About Your Goals ASAP

Clearly articulating why the MBA is the right degree for you and what you plan to do with it are 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 the majority of our clients, 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 start 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.

As always, reach out for an initial consultation if you are wondering what next steps should be for you.

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