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Applying to Business School

The business school application process can be long and nerve-wracking. The number of decisions that need to be taken can be overwhelming, especially if you’re also working a full-time job. From deciding on the schools, figuring out financials and finding recommenders, the entire process can seem confusing.

In this post, we’re going to give you a list of things you need to address before you start applying, during the application process, and after you’ve been accepted into a business school.

Things You Should Do Before Applying To a Business School

While the application process itself is extremely important, preparing yourself for it a few months in advance is also crucial to your chances. From taking the GMAT to reviewing your resume, there are many things you need to do before you start filling out your first application.

1. Ace the GMAT

Undoubtedly the GMAT is an extremely important component of your business school application. Give the test the respect it deserves. Research potential test dates and register for the one that leaves you with plenty of time to prepare. It’s recommended you leave enough time between your GMAT and business school application deadlines to re-take the test if need be.

Most people need between 3-6 months to prepare for the GMAT. While preparing, aim for a score of 20+ points above the average for the school you are applying to. This will allow you to track your progress as you take practice tests. If you run into trouble with specific sections, enlist the help of a private tutor.

2. Understand Your Motivation

An MBA isn’t like an undergraduate degree, where you go to college because it seems like the next logical step. Instead, an MBA is a highly specialized program. Due to limited seats, the admissions office wants to accept candidates who can demonstrate how an MBA is the next logical step in their lives.

Explore your motivation for wanting an MBA degree. Ask yourself if it’s going to help you shift careers? Or help you improve your business? What are you hoping to get out of an MBA, and how does the school you are interested in fill those needs? The more you think on this, the better prepared you will be to address applications and essay questions.

3. Contact Recommenders

You need to send the strongest possible recommendations with your application. In order to get the best recommendations from your network, start contacting them well in advance of the deadline. Reinforce the relationship before you ask for the actual recommendations.

Meet with this network of people a few times prior to finalizing the list of schools you are applying to. Share your reasons for wanting an MBA. You want to be sure they understand your motivation, and how this ties in with your career trajectory, so they can echo these thoughts in their recommendation for you. Once you’ve asked for the recommendation, give them at least 4-6 weeks to complete the recommendation forms.

4. Visit a Few Schools

A school visit can really help you nail down which school matches your needs best. Make sure you visit while classes are in session, usually between September and April, so you get a firsthand experience of what the environment is like. You’ll get a whole lot more from one visit than you will from endlessly reviewing websites and brochures.

Talk to current students one-on-one as well as attending the officially organized Q&A sessions organized for prospective candidates. This will help you write a more specific and personal application, as well as ensure the shortlist you make consists of schools you will get the most out of.

5. Fill Any Gaps in Your Resume

Before you start applying, you need to take a hard look at your resume and analyze it for any “gaps” that would weaken your application. For example, you might have a stellar work record, but not enough extra-curricular activities. You could spend the next few months honing in on these “gaps”, take up some charity work or leadership positions either through work or local clubs.

Similarly, you could look into strengthening your academic base by taking some part-time courses. Or you could re-take the GMAT if you feel you can get a better score. You should review your resume with a critical eye, and if possible ask a mentor to do the same and provide you with additional feedback.

6. Consider Hiring an Expert

You’re going to be spending thousands of dollars on your MBA. Hiring admissions experts to help you with your application can be a sound investment, as it will substantially increase the odds of you getting into your ideal school.

Before you decide on the expert, thoroughly vet them. They should be willing to share their success rates, provide references, and have been in the industry for a few years. Look for experts that have solid background in the industry and, preferably, have been on admissions committees for business schools in the past, so you can get insight into the application process.

Almost 40% of business school applicants use an admissions consultant, so make sure you’re not at a disadvantage and consider hiring one yourself.

7. Finalize School Selections

When you start thinking about your MBA, you will need to run through a long list of potential schools. Ideally, however, you should only be applying to 4-6 schools only. Because targeting too many schools will leave you stretched thin, make you lose focus and reduce your chances of success.

Things to do During the MBA Admissions Process

Spend a considerable amount of time ensuring you have all your ducks in a row before you start on any of the actual “application process”. This will help ensure you have a solid application, resume, and are able to better convince the admissions office about your suitability for their program.

1. Give yourself enough time

The first thing you need to do is mark each school’s application deadline (round 1 and round 2) on a calendar. Working backwards from these deadlines, start finalizing dates for getting recommendations, scheduling campus visits and other things you need to get done. List down all the requirements for each school and mark the deadlines for each of them. Figure out how long it will take you to prepare for your GMAT, if you haven’t already taken it. Work out dates for each application, ideally addressing each school individually.

Recommenders should ideally get 4-6 weeks to finish their recommendation letters. Before they write these, you should meet with them to explain your motivation for business school and make sure they have all the information they need for the recommendation letter. Aim to apply to each school in their first or second round. Ignore the third round for now. Most of the class is built from the first two rounds, and by the third round they only have a few spots left to fill.

2. Engage with the admissions office

This doesn’t mean you show up at the admissions office and become a nuisance. Instead, you should take some time to email the admissions office and find out if they offer a personal consultation to applicants. This can help you decide whether this is the school for you or not.

By engaging with the admissions office, you will be able to better align your application to what the school is looking for in applicants. It can also help solidify your decision to apply to that particular school, as well as offer you insight into how supportive the school’s administration is.

3. Build a personal brand

If you were asked to describe yourself in under one minute, what would you say? A strong personal brand will help you write stronger application essays instead of something boring and superficial. Putting together stories that help convey your personal brand will allow you to showcase your various strengths through concrete examples.

Applicants with a strong and compelling brand can differentiate themselves from the pack and can grab the admission committee’s attention. Each school wants to admit students who have a clear sense of who they are, what matters to them, and where they are headed in the future. Work on developing your personal brand so that you can provide this information clearly through your application components.

4. Prepare for the interview

The interview is an important component of your application. Treat it like any professional meeting. Prepare for it by meeting with several people, ideally mentors, or an admissions consultant if you’ve hired one, and having them grill you. Talk to alumni, if you know of any, and find out what kind of questions you might be asked.

Practice your stories and “elevator pitch” out loud. Make sure you are getting your point across by having different people listen to you and provide feedback. Think of intelligent questions that can help improve the overall impression you make on the interviewee.

5. Get feedback

Feedback is extremely important. Having someone on the outside review your application components: your essays, interview preparation and even overall strategy can make the difference between an average application and one that gets you into you target school.

Have friends, mentors, and even family review every written component – especially the essays – for specificity, tone and clarity. Narrative writing is subjective, so you might get conflicting opinions. That’s ok. Essentially you want to make sure that someone reading your essay understands the point you are trying to make, and potentially look for conflicting information or anything that could be added to further strengthen your application.

6. Complete one application at a time

If you’re applying to 4-6 schools, you have probably set aside months to finish the applications. But don’t make the mistake of going back and forth between applications when completing them. Pick your top choice school and complete that application first. You are going to spend the most time on your first 1-2 applications, so make sure it is on school’s that are most important to you.

Once you’re done with the top schools, you will start to notice that the remaining applications will be easier to complete. A lot of the information will be overlapping, and even though you will write new essays for each application, you will find them easier to complete. Focusing on one school at a time will also help you pull together the best application for that school, as you can keep in mind the specific considerations they have for candidates.

7. Leave time for review

Don’t finish your applications at the nth hour. Plan to leave a week or two after all the applications are complete so you can take a few days off from reading your essays and come back with fresh eyes for a final review. Also use this time to make sure you’ve addressed every requirement the school has.

When reviewing your application, list down the characteristics the school looks for in candidates, and then review your application based on this criteria. Do you check all the boxes? Did you get across all the points you needed to make? Is your personal brand obvious? Will someone reviewing your application have a complete picture of you, and does it match the picture you wanted to build?

Things to do after You’ve Been Accepted

After months of stressing over business school applications, you finally got accepted into a program. Congratulations! While you may think that your work is done – till you start school, that is – you’re wrong.

To get the most out of your business school experience, you need to address a few things before your session starts. These might simply be courteous things, like thanking your recommenders, or larger issues like financial planning.

1. Thank everyone

And by this we mean everyone who, in any way, helped you with your application. This includes friends and family who reviewed your essays, mentors who provided guidance, admissions consultants you might have hired and also the people who wrote recommendations for you.

Plan out how you can thank each person individually. The minimum you need to do is send thank-you cards or emails, but you can consider getting small gifts for those who wrote recommendations, or taking them out to coffee or dinner.

2. Review all student information

Once you are accepted, you will start receiving mail from your business school. Review each item that comes in, noting down the actions required from your end and deadlines for each. This can include your enrollment deposit, information on housing, campus, course content or any of another important matters.

Read all the fine print carefully. Make sure you know what is required from your end, and submit everything that needs to be submitted at the right time. You don’t want to lose your spot because of a missed payment or registration deadline.

3. Talk to your classmates

These are the people you will spend the bulk of your next two years with. Reach out to as many as you can find, and start connecting with them. You will be surprised to see how helpful, and convenient, it can be to adjust into a new environment when you already know a few people.

There might be online communities on social media for people who have been accepted into the same business school. Some business schools encourage their future classes get together and meet prior to class commencement. Discuss the application process, their plans for the program (and beyond), and maybe work out housing solutions together.

4. Visit the campus

Now that you you’re accepted in a business school, make sure you visit its campus before your program formally begins. Meet the admissions officials and counselors the school has for students, and introduce yourself to them. Walk around the campus so you can get a better idea of what your student life will be like.

This would also be a great time to analyze nearby neighborhoods and start figuring out where you will be living. Maybe the school has on-campus housing you can take advantage of. You might have special considerations, for example young children, so look at this visit as a way to figure out all you need to take care of before you actually make the move.

5. Look into relocation

Ask the admissions office if they provide help finding housing or not. Don’t wait to figure this out till the last minute, and then find yourself scrambling to find accommodation. If they don’t offer help, you need to start looking for housing yourself.

Beyond looking at just the housing, also start thinking about how you will handle the move. Are you currently employed? When will you be leaving your job? How much time does that leave for you to pack and move? If your new housing is smaller, what will you do with the extra furniture and belongings? Figure all this out as far in advance as possible.

6. Work on your financial plan

Studying at a business school is a major financial investment. Chances are you can’t afford to pay for it all yourself, so you need to start looking into scholarships, loans, assistantships, and grants that will help you pay for your education. Ask the school for all the information they can provide you, and do some extra research online.

Once you have outlined your options, read all the fine print thoroughly. Make sure you only sign on the dotted line once you are absolutely sure of what the payment plan is. If you’re getting a scholarship, educate yourself on what is required to keep this scholarship. You don’t want to lose your scholarship because you didn’t realize it was dependent on your grades.

7. Further educate yourself

You want to start business school with your best foot forward. Look through the course material, and figure out where your academic gaps lie. You want to address these before you start school so you’re not starting at the back of the pack.

This could mean taking a few online or part-time courses to introduce yourself to unfamiliar material that will be covered in business school. You could also take the simple step of subscribing to a business magazine – such as the Wall Street Journal – and keep abreast of market trends.

8. Consider your future

It’s not too soon to start thinking about your post-graduation options. Think about, research and prepare for the opportunities that this specific business school offers you.

Look into potential local businesses you could intern at. Take a look at the alumni network, and what events the school holds that will allow you to network with them. Look into the school’s post-graduation employment stats and create a formal strategy that will help you get your dream job after you graduate.

9. Get feedback

Very few applicants ask for feedback from the admissions office after they’re accepted. You’ve been admitted, yes, but this doesn’t guarantee success in your studies. You’re missing out on a great opportunity to hear about how you can improve yourself to get the most out of the school.

You may find that there were certain portions of your application which could have been stronger. Maybe there are academic gaps you could address? You won’t know till you ask. Try and get a complete picture of how your application was perceived, and work on the gaps that are mentioned.

Hopefully this complete guide can easily be turned into a checklist of things to do when applying to business school. Staying organized can help you turn in the strongest application possible, so make sure you haven’t missed any important steps.

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