The MBA application process is really more of a marathon than a sprint, but many candidates make things harder on themselves than necessary by ignoring certain tasks until late in the game. Here we will cover some pragmatic and practical steps you can take to avoid feeling rushed and to ensure that all the parts of your application are as strong as you can make them before you submit. With some foresight and planning, when the schools start releasing their essay questions in June and July, you will be able to focus solely on them, without the distraction and demands of some of the other parts of your application.
The first step is to prepare your resume now so that come October, during the latest stages of the application process, you will need to make only small modifications and updates regarding your most recent position, if necessary. By working on your resume now, you can give it your full attention, without the distraction of essay writing. Further, because the activity naturally requires you to reflect on your skills and accomplishments, it will remind you of certain meaningful experiences and achievements. In this way, preparing your resume can be an invaluable stage of the brainstorming process for your essays, so that when the time comes to start writing drafts, you already have some clear ideas for strong narratives you can use.
A second step to take now is to start identifying your recommenders (even if you do not approach them about the task for several more months) and gathering intelligence on each of the individuals you are considering. We find that one of the most frustrating parts of the application process for candidates is connecting with and motivating recommenders, so the more time you give yourself for this task and the earlier you begin, the better. Strive to find out whether your recommender has written letters for anyone else and whether he/she tends to generously dedicate time to employee feedback and review sessions. One of the best windows into your possible recommendation process with an individual will be the previous experiences of others who also called on that person for assistance, so you may want to speak with these earlier applicants to learn about what their experience was like. By identifying recommenders who will be helpful and supportive, you will potentially alleviate the stress of missed deadlines and unpredictable letters.
Similarly, take time to reconnect with previous supervisors who could be strong potential recommenders, but with whom you may have fallen out of touch. You do not want to be in a position where you are calling a former supervisor for the first time in a year and asking him/her for a large chunk of time on a tight timeline. If you identify someone whose time you expect to need, make contact now and keep the relationship alive over the next few months. By doing so, you will be in a much better position when the times comes for your recommenders to begin letter writing.
If you plan to remain with or return to your current firm after you graduate from business school, do some research now to learn whether your company will sponsor all or part of your MBA. Firm sponsorship obviously confers financial benefits, but it also offers some additional power with respect to admissions. The schools know that company-sponsored candidates will be employed upon graduation and that their post-MBA goals are thereby “guaranteed,” which improves their attractiveness as applicants. However, securing firm sponsorship can be a timely process. We have worked with clients who have needed to apply for such scholarships 1.5 years before their proposed programs would begin, and you obviously do not want to be applying at the last moment if this is the case at your firm. Similarly, we have worked with clients whose companies did not originally have sponsorship programs but created them when the candidates brought forth the idea—a process that can take months of bureaucratic haggling. So, this is certainly a task you should undertake now.
Finally, another step that can free up some time later is preparing your responses now to the short-answer sections of your target school’s application—the portions of the forms that pertain to your work history, community accomplishments, scholarships, and other such criteria. These sections do not tend to change much from year to year, and many candidates choose to postpone addressing these “details” until the last moment. By doing so early, however, you can avoid an enormous headache later. Furthermore, as with updating your resume now, you may discover stories in the process of completing these sections that will prove quite useful when you are later writing your essays.
In this article, we have outlined several tasks you can complete (or at least begin)right away that will help you be better prepared for the application process when it begins in earnest and will likely spare you some valuable time. Even if you take only a few of these steps, you should be well ahead of your competition and poised for a well thought out, lower stress experience, which should in turn maximize your chances for success.