Planning the Timing of an MBA Application
Whether applying to business school after a few years in the workforce or directly following undergraduate studies, applicants are sure to have hectic schedules and many demands on their time. There are many steps involved in the business school application process, from selecting schools to preparing for the GMAT, lining up references and completing the actual application. It is advisable to prepare well in advance, as these tasks can quickly become overwhelming, particularly while balancing a full-time job or full-time studies.
It is also important to realize that the due dates of the different pieces of the process require that preparation begin well in advance. To begin business school in the fall, candidates should start preparing in January of the year prior to enrollment. While a year-and-a-half lead time might seem extreme, consider that with first-round applications being accepted during the fall prior to enrollment, the GMAT should be taken during early summer. That leaves the first part of the year as the best time to research schools, assess the resume for holes, and prepare for the GMAT.
Fix Gaps in Resumes
If you are beginning to create a plan in January for applying to business school you are in good shape. Take advantage of the lead you are giving yourself to do a thorough evaluation of your resume. If there is a certification that you are close to completing, finish it. Maybe there is an opportunity to strengthen your management experience by taking a larger role on a project at work. Perhaps there is a chance to make more of an impact in the extracurricular organizations you participate in through more hands on involvement. Don't try to reinvent yourself, but if there is an opportunity within your grasp for better building on the skills that you would like to showcase, now is the time to seize it.
Similarly, if your undergraduate record is a weak spot in your resume, an early start gives you time to find ways to compensate for that weakness. If you never took accounting or statistics, take a course in the spring, or make plans to take a summer course. If your undergraduate grades do not reflect the level of performance you feel you are capable of, retake classes at a nearby college and be sure to achieve high marks.
The spring is a good time to visit the business schools that are on the top of your list. Application deadlines for round one of admissions are in early fall, and you will get a more accurate impression of the campus during the regular academic year than during the summer.
During your visit, take the opportunity to speak with students, sit in on a class if that option is offered, and ask the questions you have about the program that will help you determine if it is a good fit. Take copious notes about the traits of the school that make an impression on you. These notes will be useful later as you fill out essays and answer questions about your interest in the school on the application.
Many business schools keep track of who has come for campus visits, so in addition to being informative, your trip may be viewed as a positive expression of interest in the school on the part of the admissions committee.
Prepare for the GMAT
The spring is a good time to begin your preparation for the GMAT. For many, studying for the GMAT is one of the most time-intensive parts of the application process. Many applicants study on average 100 hours for the GMAT. If you decide to take a course to prepare for the test, courses range in duration from one intensive weekend to an eight-week course.
Alotting time for a course should be built in to your planning. The GMAT should be taken for the first time by June so that if you feel you want to take a retest (at least 31 days later) you have time to take one in July before beginning work on your essays.
Begin work on Application Essays
Harvard Business School has been releasing its essay requirements in late May. That is the earliest, but others follow not too long afterward, with many releasing essay guidelines in mid-July.
Some experts suggest planning to devote a month to each essay. Even if your write an essay in a weekend, you should go back to it several times to make sure it accurately reflects your strengths, goals, and your interest in the program.
Be sure to have someone else read it to make sure there are no embarassing grammatical errors that you are overlooking, and to make sure what made sense to you when you wrote it will make sense to someone else reading it.
Prioritizing Rounds of Application Deadlines
By this point you should have narrowed down the list of schools to which you would like to apply. Ideally the list includes a combination of "safe schools", where you have a good chance of getting in, "competitive schools", and "reach or dream schools". Those only want to go to business school if they can get into a top-ranked school need not include "safe schools" on their list.
Most business schools have two or three rounds of deadlines, with the first in the fall and the second in December. Acceptance rates for the first and second rounds are similar, but acceptance rates drop sharply for the third round. A good strategy would be to apply to the first few top-choice schools for the first round deadline and the next few for the second round.
Many applicants have found they underestimated the amount of time it took to put together a complete, solid application. Applicants may find the decision of how many schools to apply to will be a question of application quantity versus quality. Some experts are now suggesting that applicants apply to four to six schools in total.
A couple of months before the application is due, it's a good idea to contact and, ideally, meet with the people who will be writing your letters of recommendation. You will want to clearly explain to them your goals and why you want to go to business school.
If your recommenders supervised you on projects that motivated you to apply for business school, you might want to draw that connection for them. You may also want to remind them of some of the work you have done for them, particularly if you feel that work underscores your professional strengths. If they have reviewed your work positively in the past you can remind them of that too.
Some applicants to business school share their personal statement essays with the people who will write their recommendations, as a way to better communicate their long-term career goals.
Not all schools conduct interviews, but for those that do, invitations to interview for first-round applicants may arrive around November. Be prepared to communicate your strengths, goals and interest in the MBA program during the interview - essentially everything you communicated in your essay. It doesn't matter if you are being interviewed on campus or by a local alumna/alumnus. Schools insist they treat both types of interviews equally.
Harvard Business School has added a "reflection essay" to its application, which is due 24 hours after the interview. If interviewing at Harvard Business School, plan to free up time to submit the reflection essay. Thank you letters for interviewers are okay, as long as they are polite and thoughtful.
Expect to begin hearing about first-round applications in December and second-round applications in February or March. Calling the admissions office will not help, so it's just time for patience. Some schools send out all acceptances at once, others stagger it a bit. Hopefully soon you will be deciding between offers.