The road to your MBA can be complex and sometimes confusing. To help keep you on track, we put together this timeline of what b-school applicants should be doing, and when.

July – August

GMAT:

“Keep in mind that your applications will become very time-consuming later this year, when you’re up against deadlines. It’s smart to focus on the GMAT now, while you have more control over your time.”

– Senior Admissions Consultant Ed Anderson. Ed served on the admissions committees at Stanford, Duke and UNC Kenan-Flagler.

  • If you’re planning to apply this fall, but you haven’t yet taken the GMAT, plan to take it this summer. That way you’ll get your scores back in time to factor your test performance into your school selection. You’ll also leave yourself plenty of time to retake the test in the fall if you aren’t happy with your first score. For information on registering for and scheduling a test, visit the GMAC’s website (www.mba.com).
  • To get an idea of what the exam involves and of what you can do to improve your performance on it, see our GMAT prep section.
  • Not sure whether you need a GMAT prep course to do your best on test day? Call us at 1.800.809.0800 to discuss your situation. We’re here to help you!

School and Program Selection:

  • If you haven’t already done so, decide what kind of MBA program you want to attend: full-time, part-time, or EMBA. To learn more about these different options and the trade-offs involved in picking one over the other, see this archived David’s Corner on “Understanding Your MBA Options.”
  • Once you know what type of program is best for you, it’s time to narrow down the list of business schools you intend to apply to this fall. Don’t make the mistake of thinking all of the top b-schools are alike except for the name. They’re not. Each school has its own approach to management education, its own institutional culture, and its own admissions preferences. You’ll increase your admissions chances by considering which schools are your best fits, and why.
  • Think about planning some school visits this summer and fall. It’s a good idea to visit the campus of any school you’re seriously considering, if you can. There’s nothing like the experience of being on-campus and interacting with staff, faculty, and students to give you an idea of what actually attending a program will be like. A campus visit can provide some helpful material for your b-school essays, too. For many b-schools, taking the initiative to visit campus can be a decisive factor in your application outcome.
  • Don’t include any schools on your list that you genuinely wouldn’t want to go to if you were admitted – but don’t limit your list to so few schools that you risk being shut out, either. You need to be realistic about the admissions chances that even well-qualified candidates face at the top schools. If your top priority is to begin an MBA program next fall, you should plan to apply to several different schools, including at least one that you’re fairly confident you would win admission to.

Academics:

  • Do you need to mitigate a low GMAT score and/or a low undergraduate GPA? If so, this summer is a good time to take the college courses that you can use to build an alternative transcript. Look for courses that are demanding enough to prove to an admissions committee that you are capable of performing graduate-level academic work.

Extracurriculars:

  • Summer is a good time to think about the extracurricular activities that can give your application an edge. Think about what you do outside of work. Will those activities support your case for b-school admission? Would you benefit from increasing your level of commitment, or by getting involved in additional groups or activities? Would you benefit from stepping up to a leadership position or launching a new project? If you do decide to take on new activities or duties, it’s wise to realize you’ll risk giving admissions committees the impression that your involvement was motivated only by the desire to beef up your b-school applications.

Applications:

“It’s a good idea to create a grid in which you match your stories to the essay set for each school’s application. This gives you a visual tool to see if you’re properly communicating your positioning across the entirety of the application before you begin writing individual essays.”

– Senior Admissions Consultant Nicole Witt. Nicole earned her MBA at Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management, where she served on the admissions committee.

  • All fall applicants should start a file with the information and documents they will need to compile their applications later this year. It should include copies of college transcripts and any previously submitted MBA applications.
  • More schools will release their application deadlines and essays this summer. Start keeping a list of the deadlines for the schools you want to apply to, noting which round you want to apply to which school in. Leave yourself enough time to compile applications that convey your fit for each school. Most likely, this will require considerable customization from one application to the next. Also keep in mind that there’s a tradeoff between applying early and waiting to apply with a more complete application. The relative advantages and disadvantages of early versus later applications depend on the applicant and the school.
  • Start making notes of the story themes and ‘wow’ factors that you will use in your applications and essays. Although many b-schools won’t release their essay questions for a few more weeks, you can count on encountering some version of these 3 questions: Why do you want an MBA? Why is this the right time for you to get one? Why do you want to get your degree at our school? Think about the life experiences that you can use to illustrate your responses to these questions, and that will differentiate you from the many other qualified applicants who will be applying to the same programs.
  • Look over your resume. Does it support your reasons for wanting to get an MBA and your post-MBA career goals? Remember that it will be read by b-school admissions committee members, not recruiters in your industry. Accordingly, be sure your resume is prepared in accordance with a business-school-admission-friendly format.
  • It’s not too early to contact the people you will ask to write your letters of recommendation to see if they will be available and willing to do this for you. You want to choose people who can give different perspectives on your work and leadership abilities. Let each person know why you would value their recommendation and what experiences or strengths they could discuss in their letters to support your application story and themes.
  • Also consider whether you might benefit from including an additional, optional recommendation letter to your file in order to substantiate a story theme or ‘wow’ factor, highlight your strengths, or, possibly, mitigate your weaknesses.

Our MBA Admissions Timeline page will be updated on September 1.

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