The Ideal Timetable To Do A B-School Application (featured in Poets & Quants 05/08/14)

June 05, 2014 | by Matt Symonds

If it’s appealing to throw together your business school application the week before the deadline, think twice. Admissions can easily distinguish between last-minute applicants and those that have put considerable time and effort into their application.

SCHOOLS OFTEN FILTER OUT THE LAST-MINUTE APPLICANTS

Did you think it was an urban myth that candidates apply to Columbia with an essay that refers to why they want to go to Wharton? As former directors and associate directors from the top schools, our team at Fortuna Admissions has read applications that make this error, or confuse an application deadline with a birth date. Too often, we had no choice but to reject an applicant who’d done a crummy, last-minute job on his application, even when we could see that the fundamentals were there, because presentation and preparation are critical, especially in a highly competitive applicant pool.

WHAT SHOULD YOU START WITH AND WHEN SHOULD YOU START?

Below are some of the areas that we recommend you start working on in the months ahead to help you make it to the “accept” pile.

Academics
We’ll assume that your undergrad is now behind you (though if you’re still in school and looking at HBS’s 2+2 or Yale’s School of Management Silver Scholars you can obviously still positively impact your grades). But don’t assume there’s nothing you can do at this stage to enhance your academic profile. If your Bachelor of Arts is too short of quant courses for the likes of HBS or Stanford, now is the time to sign up for an online course in accounting, calculus, or statistics. UC-Berkeley extension online is frequently suggested, with many other courses and night classes also available around the world.
And of course it’s best not to leave your GMAT studying to a few days in early September.

Gap analysis
It can take a while to think through your story, to determine how to “pitch” your candidacy, and to establish the unique aspects of your profile that could catch the eye of your admissions file reader. We suggest getting some advice from someone who can hold up a mirror to you and give you some feedback on your strengths and weaknesses as a candidate, and help you develop a narrative around your strengths that builds a sufficiently compelling picture for the school to want to get to know you better. You may want to approach both a mentor, and a friend – to get a few different takes on your profile.

Career planning
It’s ok, though common, to say you want to work for McKinsey/BCG/Bain or a popular tech company, but what do you really know about these sectors, and can you identify the skills that make you a good fit? As our colleague and former Assistant Director of Career Services at HBS, Malvina Miller Complainville, explains: “You can’t come up with a credible career plan in an afternoon. Career planning requires multiple steps, and the best way to start is with an in-depth self-assessment. This self-assessment is a process that cannot be rushed. Once you’ve done this you can begin to focus on a function and an industry.”

Leadership development
Business schools select candidates who’ve thoughtfully planned how to get leadership development opportunities out of their jobs, hobbies, sports, and community work. Think of this as developing a pattern of leadership.

Admittedly, being one out of 100 in your analyst peer group may not mean that you have the title of leader, but leadership can take on varying forms. Have you informally helped colleagues with projects, tying together loose ends pre-deadline? Did you mentor the new intake of junior staff? Have you taken on leadership with external organizations that you’ve been supporting? It takes several months to plant the seeds for relevant initiatives and find ways to “step up” and take advantage of sometimes hidden opportunities.

Extracurricular engagement
As admissions directors, we weren’t particularly impressed by the investment bankers who began volunteering at the animal shelter two months before the application deadline. Sure, go ahead and help the kittens – just don’t claim a lot of credit for it in your application. If you do, the short time frame makes your volunteering efforts look calculated and cynical. If your extracurriculars are a bit light, the time to expand your involvement is at least six months (ideally 18 months+) before submitting your application.

Research and outreach
There can be tremendous differences in each school’s personality, student life, teaching methodology, leadership development approach, recruitment opportunities, etc. So it’s key to take the time to make yourself a well-informed applicant. You’ll also need to demonstrate your passion for the school, which is hard to communicate if all you’ve done is read the school’s website. Plan to attend school events, reach out to alumni through their networks, and ideally visit a school’s campus.

Recommendations
Your recommenders might think the world of you, but if you only give them a few days to write your recommendation, the end result will almost always suffer from a lack of depth. We could identify the letters that were put together at the last minute, and referred only to what the applicant had done recently, because the recommender didn’t have the time or energy to provide input that reflected the entire period that the recommender had worked with the candidate. So plan accordingly, sit down with your carefully chosen recommenders three or four months ahead of the deadline to discuss your MBA plans.

Final review
Once you’ve compiled all the different elements of your application, applaud yourself and take a break. Then a day or two later, return to your application with a fresh pair of eyes, and review everything again. It’s often at this point that candidates notice some important information that’s missing, or spot some unintended repetition.

Suggested timeline
Every applicant will have a different timeline, because the amount of time they need to invest in GMAT prep, preparing their essays, and so on will vary. But here is a sample timeline for a candidate planning to apply this fall:

May
• Develop a plan for how you’ll research schools and develop a short list of target schools. Attend school events and/or visit campuses; network with alumni.
• Assess your strengths and weaknesses
• Determine if there’s anything you can do to compensate for your weaknesses (e.g. build your extracurricular profile, take extra quant courses, etc.)
• Select some options for recommenders. If you haven’t been in contact with them for a while, make efforts to reconnect and build your relationship with them. Spend some time chatting about your MBA plans with them. Get them on board.

June
• Finalize your list of target schools and create a timeline (which schools to apply to and in which round)
• Begin writing your essays. You’ll likely go through several iterations and should get someone else to review them and give you feedback.
• Brief your recommenders on what is required from them and agree to a timeline

July
• Write the GMAT
• Collect any supporting documents you need to submit (e.g. university transcripts)

August
• Prepare your resume and online bio data form
• Get someone else to review them and give you feedback

September
• Finalize your essays, your resume, and online form

One week ahead of application deadline
• Submit your application. Don’t leave it to the last minute, in case you have to deal with any last minute issues!
For additional tips, read through the complete Poets and Quants article: http://poetsandquants.com/2014/05/08/the-ideal-timetable-to-do-a-b-school-app/

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