In this five-part email series, we’ll tell you about the five steps to applying for an MBA and being accepted by your dream school. In essence, you are going to learn a process created by experienced MBA admissions consultants that, if followed, will result in your strongest MBA application.
The five steps to applying for an MBA are:
|MBA Prep Step||Ideal Time Line: Months Until the Deadline|
|Foundation Building||12+ months|
|Capabilities Building||6-12 months|
|Strategy Formulation||3-6 months|
|The Last Mile||Final Month|
The first thing you may notice is that we’ve suggested a timeframe for each MBA Prep Step. This is the timeline under ideal circumstances. If you have less time, you’ll just need to move through the steps at a faster pace!
Our proprietary MBA Prep Steps™ were inspired by a conversation with a former admissions board member from Harvard Business School. He told us that a successful application to a highly competitive business school doesn’t start a few weeks before the MBA application deadline; it really starts a few years before the deadline. His point was that by the time the application deadline was in sight, everything was pretty much a given – the candidate’s academic record, GMAT score, resume, and even the experiences they’d eventually write about in the essays. The message is that you need to start gathering the raw materials and building the foundation for your business school application long before it’s time to sit down and put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard to start writing it. That’s why our first step is Foundation Building.
MBA Prep Step™ 1: Foundation Building
When you’re twelve months or more from applying, you can begin building the foundation for your future application.
Foundation building begins with self-assessment. What does self-awareness have to do with getting into business school? A lot as it turns out. Business school admissions officers believe that self-aware individuals will be more effective leaders. If I asked you right now what motivates you, what your three greatest strengths are, and what values are most important to you – would you have an answer ready? If you haven’t invested time in self-assessment, then you probably don’t — and you’re going to need to. There are tons of great books and resources that will guide you through the self-assessment process; we’ve assembled a list of many of these on our site.
Relationship building is another step in the application process that can’t be rushed. Can you name three people right now who would happily write a letter to a business school professing that you’re in the top 10% of professionals they’ve managed throughout their career? If you want to go to a top-tier school you’re going to need these kinds of relationships. Some candidates feel that there is something disingenuous about systematically cultivating relationships with people who can write their reference letters and help them get into school. Our belief is that if you wait until you need these people to start connecting with them, then it can be. Developing these relationships over time means that you’ll have had the opportunity to be of service to them long before you ask them to be of help to you.
Career Planning and Research
Just about every school you apply to is going to ask you about your career goals; so you’ll want to start your career planning work long before it’s time to sit down to write your career goals essay. If you already have your short-term and long-term career goals defined, great! If not, I encourage you to start your career research well in advance – you want to develop a statement of career purpose and start talking to as many people as you can so that you’ll be ready to tell admissions officers what your dream job is in your essays and interviews. This is an aspect of the application that a lot of candidates struggle with; so we built a step-by-step career planning process for our students, which is a great resource if you need further help in this area.
Strengthen Your Candidacy
In the months and years before you apply, you need to start thinking like an admissions officer so that you can identify the strengths and weaknesses in your MBA candidacy and take proactive steps before you apply to reinforce your strengths and counteract your weaknesses. Don’t just write yourself off for a top-tier MBA program because of a low GPA or a less than stellar resume. Given enough lead time, there are a number of things you can do to address potential weaknesses in your academic profile, resume, and leadership portfolio. To bolster your academic profile, scoring well on the GMAT can make a difference, so can taking additional college classes in business subjects. Building the foundation for a great application means taking on stretch assignments at work and racking up achievements you can feature in your resume. If you don’t have the opportunity to be a leader at work, join a community service organization and build your “leadership portfolio” by taking on leadership challenges outside of work.
In addition to self-awareness, foundation building is also about building “school-awareness.” Too many candidates rely too heavily on the rankings and what other people have to say about where they should apply. You need to invest a good deal of time and effort in “school due diligence” to determine which schools best match your career goals, academic goals, and cultural expectations. Time invested in school awareness early in the process means that you’ll be making the best-informed choice of schools when the time comes time to apply. You’ll also have tons of great reasons to share when the school asks you why you’re applying to their program.
Complete Standardized Tests
Finally, we think it’s best to get the GMAT and other standardized tests completed in the Foundation Building phase. In the final weeks and months before the application deadlines, you don’t want to have to worry about studying for and taking a standardized test while you’re holding down a full-time job and doing the heavy lifting required to assemble a great application.
So that’s it for Foundation Building — in the next article in this series we will proceed to MBA Prep Step #2: Capabilities Building. See you then!