To effectively apply to b-school, especially top schools, you must improve the elements of your application that are still within your control, such as the GMAT, letters of recommendation, and essays.

What do you need to know?

The business school application is a comprehensive compilation of your personal, educational, professional experiences that allow you to provide admissions committees with your personal "story" and "brand." This is your opportunity to run your personal marketing campaign and your target audience is the admission officers reading your application. They need to be convinced that you fully have defined your brand and that your brand and goals are aligned with the schools' program objectives. All parts of your application should consistently tell the same story about who you are and what you are seeking from a business school education. Each of the following components will tell a slightly different part of the story that makes you who you are so be sure it accurately reflects who you are.

  • Work Experience

    While you can attend to business school directly after undergraduate graduation, it is fairly uncommon, especially at the top schools. The average work experience of business school students ranges from 2 years to 5 years. Make sure to provide meaningful information on your resume that will further enhance your brand. Avoid listing your job description. Use 4-6 bullets per job and include your key accomplishments. Use numbers, percentages, values or dollar amounts to quantify your claims. Beware of exaggeration about your role and achievements. Some schools tend to consult with faculty, alumni, or even a web site listed on a resume when they suspect that the truth has been embellished. Any suspicion of impropriety can cause your application to be rejected even with strong statistics.

  • GPA

    The rigors of some majors are well known by admissions committees. Therefore, your GPA will be examined according to the difficulty of your program and the competitive quality of your undergraduate and graduate institution. If you are an international student, your university program will be evaluated against programs in your country. In addition to evaluating your GPA, some programs will look at your transcript to assess what, if any, quantitative courses you took as an undergraduate and how well you performed.

  • GMAT

    Given the vast differences between the educational and professional experiences of candidates, business schools use the GMAT as the one standard measure to compare candidates from around the world. The test provides admission committees information that helps them predict your academic performance in an MBA program. Candidates must register for and take the GMAT prior to filing the business school application in order to ensure that scores reach the school by application deadlines. Any GMAT scores from the last five years will be reported to the business schools you select to receive your scores and business schools will generally consider only the highest score.

  • Essays

    Along with your GMAT score and your interview, the essays are the component of your application over which you have the most control. You can distinguish yourself from your peers with a similar academic or professional work experience by writing compelling stories about your passion, goals, and reasons for wanting to pursue an MBA. To ensure that you essay gets proper consideration for its content it's imperative that you follow directions, answer the question, and do not exceed the word or page length limits. There are reasons these instructions are given and an admissions committee can and sometimes does disqualify candidates for bending the rules.

  • Additional Coursework

    Your undergraduate grades may not accurately reflect your current abilities. Perhaps you were immature, unfocused, or a late starter. Enrolling in a post graduate program or simply taking classes like Micro-economics, Statistics, Calculus, Accounting, and/or Finance can help boost a less than stellar undergraduate GPA. That being said, you will still be required to explain (not excuse) your low grades in college somewhere in your essays (typically in the optional essay).

  • Interview

    Your interview is another excellent opportunity to demonstrate your maturity and readiness for business school. The interviewer can be a student, an alum, or an admissions committee member. The interview, which typically runs about 30 minutes with 15 minutes for follow-up questions at the end, should be treated like a job interview. So show up early and dressed professionally. Be informed, polite, enthusiastic, engaged, and answer the questions succinctly and honestly. The policy and implications of interviews vary greatly; some schools interview every candidate while others will only interview a select number of candidates. Generally, if you are offered the opportunity of an interview you should make every effort to do so.

  • Recommendations

    Choose people who know you well and who can support your goals. They need not have impressive titles. However, they should be your champions. A letter from your current manager is certainly preferred. But, schools will accept one from a former boss, a project manager, a client, or colleague, if getting one from your boss could become a liability. However, you should include a note briefly explaining your decision. If the school asks you for two, do not send them three or four for extra measure. Accurately following instructions is the key to submitting a complete and well received application.

  • Timing

    Last, but certainly not least is when to apply. The simple answer is: when you are ready! No one should feel compelled to apply until they are absolutely convinced that they have all these critical components in order. Far too many people decide at the last minute to apply to business school, and fail to get in because their application is clearly rushed or their GMAT score is not competitive for the schools they are targeting. The process is very daunting and requires careful planning and seamless execution.

    Click here to view a typical application timeline.

    Time Management

    Over the next 12-18 months you will have many things to manage. The advice that all successful MBA applicants will give you is never underestimate the amount of time it takes to juggle work, GMAT study, essay writing, relevant application components like recommendation letters and transcript requests, story themes building, networking, following up, personal commitments, career and school due diligence, informational interviews, and many more. It is critical that you have a complete sense of where you need to be by closely monitoring your own customized time line. Below is a sample timeline of a typical MBA applicant many tasks can overlap or simply fall between the cracks. So, Plan your year and beyond wisely, effectively and productively.

      Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
    March GMAT Prep Begins,
    Start school research and explore career interests,
    Contact professional coach to develop game plan/application strategy
    Schedule school visits,
    GMAT Prep
    Continue school visits and conduct due diligence,
    GMAT Prep
    Follow-up with "Thank You" emails to school admissions and students,
    GMAT prep
    April Practice writing,
    Develop good themes and stories for essays,
    GMAT Prep
    Strengthen network,
    GMAT prep
    Essay writing practice continues,
    GMAT prep
    Continue research and assess fit with industries and functions,
    GMAT prep
    May Networking follow up and follow through begins,
    GMAT prep
    GMAT prep
    GMAT Prep,
    Sign up for summer classes in Accounting, Statistics, Micro-economics, Finance or Calculus
    GMAT prep ends,
    Take GMAT
    (if ready)
    June Assess GMAT weaknesses and contact instructor Continue GMAT prep,
    Follow-up with coach/counselor
    July Download school essays,
    Start R1 essay writing,
    Enroll in GMAT Prep class or tutoring
    Meet with recommenders to discuss career goals and present themes for letters,
    Request school transcripts
    Submit R1 draft essays for review by trusted reader/advisor Take GMAT
    (if ready)
    August Continue refining essays Revise essays,
    Follow-up with recommenders
    Revise essays
    September Consider possible GMAT Retake,
    Revise essays,
    Update resume
    School Visits Resume,
    Additional GMAT Prep begins,
    Revise essays,
    Follow-up with recommenders
    School Visits,
    Early Decision applications due
    October Prospective Student Weekend Attendance by invitation only,
    R1 Applications due
    Present essays for remaining R1 and R2 review (7-9 weeks required to refine essays and complete package) Submit revised essays for review Take GMAT
    (if ready)
    November Prospective Student Weekends(on-going) Revise essays Revise essays Update Resume Holiday
    December Submit R1 for early Consortium deadline Revise essays Schools in recess (no classes to sit in),
    Update Resumes,
    Follow-up with recommenders
    Admissions Decisions begin
    January Submit R2 school deadlines R2 school applications due including fellowship deadline for Consortium and some schools,
    Classes resume
    Begin essays for R3/R4 submission  
    February School visit recommended      

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