The following blog is adapted from our article featured recently on Poets and Quants.
In the last few days, top MBA programs including HBS, Stanford, Wharton, MIT Sloan, INSEAD and Columbia have announced their Round 1 deadlines for the upcoming year’s MBA applications. First up is HBS, with a September 9th deadline and other schools’ R1 deadlines follow shortly thereafter. With around four months left to prepare your applications, are you doing what you need to be ready in time?
We’ll assume that you’re pretty busy at work, whether it’s dedicating your time to client engagements, a new product launch, a startup or something just as time-consuming. Since these are many of the kind of experiences that appeal to the admissions office, you probably can’t afford to slack off at work to focus your energy on applying to MBA programs. Keep in mind that you will be relying on a glowing letter of recommendation from your manager so now is hardly the time to pull back at work.
You also don’t want to neglect your time spent on other meaningful activities outside of the office, or on activities that you enjoy. These will be great examples to highlight what matters to you, with opportunities to demonstrate your collaborative mindset and potential for leadership. Make sure not to let these fall by the wayside as you think about ideas for your business school essays. This type of engagement is also important for your own sense of balance.
And how about the GMAT or GRE? If you haven’t taken the exam yet, or have a score that is not as high as you would like, you should devise a plan for a rigorous study schedule. It might be sad to think that data sufficiency and critical reasoning have become your new best friends on a weekend night, but the reward – or possibly the penalty – is all too real.
Let’s assume you can realistically spend six hours each week working on your MBA applications between now and Round 1, that leaves you with about 100 hours to meet the HBS September 9th deadline. Where should you focus your time in order to get the best ROI on that time? Our team of former admissions directors at Fortuna came up with some some ideas on how to best prioritize.
Self-assessment – Take some time (a few hours) away from the office, phone and email to reflect on your individual strengths and weaknesses, what you will contribute to business school, your reasons for pursuing an MBA and how you anticipate your career developing in the future. Establishing greater self-awareness and assessing where you stand right now will build a strong foundation for then developing a compelling application for when it’s time to apply.
Invest in your extracurricular profile – At this point, we recommend that you invest your time in activities where you already have a track record instead of diving into something completely new. Consider what you’re doing outside work, and think about whether there are ways to get more fully involved. Are there opportunities to deepen your engagement and find ways to demonstrate relevant skills – such as working collaboratively on a team or leadership – through your extra-curriculars?
Researching the schools – Learning about schools takes time, but it’s important to build up your knowledge of the various MBA programs and get a good sense of which schools would be a good fit. Find ways to gain exposure to the school communities through alumni networking, school visits, and online research. Understanding which areas of study or school clubs appeal to you can also be a good way to uncover additional information at a deeper level.
Visit the campuses (if at all possible) – With so much valuable information available online, it can be tempting to think you can learn all you need to know about business school without leaving your desk. However, there’s no real substitute for an in-person visit to the school and taking in the feel of the campus community. Keep in mind that most schools do not offer summer sessions, but you can arrange for campus visits in the early fall. Make sure to plan for time off from work well in advance. Also sign up on the schools’ websites to be notified of any special events that may take place near your location.
Differentiate your work experience. Are there professional projects where there’s an opportunity for you to take the lead, or where you can assume a higher level of responsibility than is expected for someone of your level? Focus on developing one or two standout examples over the next few months that will really showcase your professional abilities. Consider speaking to HR or your supervisor about your application plans, and welcome any additional opportunities they might have for you to lead you own projects. It might be wise to come to them with some ideas to propose.
We have some additional suggestions for how you should focus your time before Round 1, which we will share in the second installment of this article. To continue reading, click here for Part 2.