Often, the most challenging part of an MBA program is simply getting in. It’s a stressful process for prospective students to organize transcripts, recommendation letters, résumés, GMAT scores, and more! While you won’t be able to control every aspect of your application process, here are a few things to keep in mind as you begin your preparations:
Prepare for the GMAT* Now
*or GRE – take a look at the JEM blog about GMAT vs. GRE for some insider tips.
It’s easy to try to put this off until the last minute because test preparation can seem daunting. Perhaps you don’t remember all those obscure geometry rules that you once did in high school, or it’s just difficult to find time with full-time work. However, I would at a bare minimum get a feel for how far away you are from your target by doing a bit of review and taking a practice test (there are free practice tests available on the official GMAT website). Everyone wants a 700+, but unfortunately it doesn’t always come easily. As many test-takers can tell you, the GMAT is not like the SAT or GRE – it’s more agile and requires more than rote memorization. Begin to familiarize yourself with the exam sooner rather than later, and then make a game plan. Your GMAT score will stay good for 5 years, so if you have some time in your schedule, push yourself to take it sooner and leave one less thing to worry about. Future you will thank you later!
Do Your Research on Different MBA Programs
I’ve encountered enough students who start off by telling me that they want to go to ONE specific school, and that is it for them. “Harvard or Bust” is the name I gave this attitude. However, there’s no guarantee that any student will be accepted into a single program, so it’s important to consider why you want to pursue an MBA and what your goals are afterwards. Then, you can start to look at various programs that will align you with those specific goals. Some things to keep in mind are what kinds of classes they offer (though you will still learn so much more on the job), and, most importantly, what kind of job opportunities the school will set you up for after. Try to find out what companies recruit at those schools and whether those are places where you’d like to work. The research pays off when you get accepted into a program that is a great fit for you!
Here are some common considerations when choosing an MBA program:
- Specializations and faculty of the program
- Quality of the alumni network
- Duration and location of the program
- Culture and diversity of the program
- Cost of the program
- Career opportunities for alumni
Make a Calendar of Relevant Application Dates
You may already have a calendar that you use to keep track of daily and weekly and monthly appointments and reminders. If adding an extra layer of important dates to the system you already use works for you, then go for it. However, keep in mind that sometimes having a specific place to track all relevant details of your application process can be helpful. I have had students track their dates successfully using a large wall whiteboard with space for a calendar and space for lists. I’ve also had students successfully track their dates using an excel spreadsheet. There’s no one right way to do it -- choose a way that works for you.
Track important pieces of each application, such as:
- Test prep and practice tests
- Test date
- Transcript request
- Request for recommendation letters
- Resume finalizing
- Essay finalizing
- Application dates for ALL programs on your list
Start Networking and Keep Networking
Schools like to see that you’ve done your homework, and it doesn’t hurt if you can have someone advocate for you. Universities want to see that you have beyond just a surface-level interest in the school, so start checking their websites for events (in-person or online) or connect with the admissions team to put you in contact with alumni. Of course, if you can use your own network to talk to alumni, that’s great as well. Just keep in mind that while you are doing research on the school, you always want to maintain a good impression with whomever you connect with. You simply never know who knows who, so while you can certainly ask somewhat candid questions while learning about a school, you want to be polished in every interaction.
Don't Over- or Under-Think Your Goals
One of my students recently fretted over the fact that he did not know exactly what he wanted to do upon graduation. “What if I can’t land the particular job that I say I want?” While it’s true that you do need to present a pragmatic plan for your career, there’s no one tracking whether you follow through on your stated plan. Admissions committees understand that there are many factors that impact a career trajectory. The important thing is that there’s a reasonable plan that you feel confident in and that the school believes they can realistically help you achieve your goal. Be sure that your story is authentic though because you don’t want to sneak your way into a program either. At the end of the day, the program wants to see you succeed because it makes them look good. If you can give them the confidence that you have a logical plan that is mutually beneficial, then don’t sweat it If things don’t play out exactly the way you had it mapped out originally.
You've got this!
There will invariably be other aspects to consider during your application process, but these are great places to start. There are plenty of additional free resources available online such as example essays from admitted students, résumé templates, and more! If you’re looking for some expert guidance, an admissions consultant can also help you gain clarity, elicit compelling stories for the committee, and help you present the best version of yourself. However, it’s always smart to start preparing yourself by digging in on your own to form initial ideas and questions for what you need the most help with.