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I’m thinking about applying to B-schools in the fall of 2013, but most deadlines are 9 or 10 months away. What should I be doing between now and then?
Round 1 Go-Getter
Dear Ms. Getter,
In addition to consulting students on business school applications, I also teach GMAT courses. This question tends to come up in every January class as people set their New Year’s Resolutions to apply to B-school. (In fact, we’re running a New Year’s Resolution Exclusive right now, where go-getters like yourself can save up to $1000 on our consulting services! But I digress….)
You’re giving yourself a BIG advantage by starting early with your b-school prep! Admissions Committees (Adcoms) can see right through an application that’s been rushed at the last possible moment. Here are my recommendations for getting a jump start on Round 1 applications:
- Take (or retake) the GMAT: While admissions officers will review your business school application holistically, if I had to pick one element that was most important, by itself, it would be your GMAT score. Why? While a strong GMAT score will not automatically assure you admission to top schools, a poor one can certainly keep you out. Did you know that’s Stanford GSB’s average GMAT score is now a 730? This means that for every person they admit with a 690, they must admit two people with 750s to maintain their average—and a 750 is an incredibly tough score to come by! Competition is fierce and your GMAT score is one of the few elements of your application profile that you still have the ability to improve.
- Hone your career goals: Almost every MBA program is going to ask you about your short- and long-term career goals. But if most people are going to b-school to figure out what they want to do in life, or their goals change once they get into the program, why would Adcoms even ask this? When you add up the costs of tuition, living expenses and lost income, going to a full-time MBA program could be upwards of a half-million dollar decision for some professionals! This is a huge life decision, and Admissions Committees want to see that you’ve done an appropriate level of due diligence. At the very least, you should have some idea of the post-MBA opportunities most interesting to you and how you would pursue them.
- Research your target schools (I mean, really research them!): I can’t tell you how many people I speak to who say, “I only want to apply to Harvard, Stanford and Wharton.” When asked why, they respond incredulously that those are the top-3 schools, so OF COURSE they want to apply to them. However, your experience at HBS will be vastly different than at Stanford. While rankings are a good place to start, simply scanning down the rankings and applying to the top 5 is not a good strategy. In my opinion, your #1 criteria for selecting target schools should be whether they offer the recruiting and employment opportunities that fit with your career goals. For example, if you want to go into a niche role like Real Estate development or financing, does the school send any grads into this field? Even if you plan to pursue a more traditional track, you should ensure that your path is reasonable. Conducting this level of research now will help you avoid a lot of disappointment and struggle after you get in!
- Talk to real people: Ms. Getter, if you can find a B-school website that doesn’t use the words Leadership, Teamwork, Innovation, Experiential Learning, Global Focus and Ethics within 2-3 clicks from their home page, I’ll personally pay you 10 bucks. If your research consists of the U.S. News rankings and the schools’ websites, it will be incredibly difficult to tell the difference among programs. I highly recommend visiting campus, sitting in on classes, speaking to current students and recent alums, and attending admissions informational sessions as a key part of your research. Many schools also publish contact information for leaders of student clubs on their websites. Find some clubs that you’re interested in and reach out!
- Take on additional responsibilities: About this time of year, many aspiring MBAs realize that B-schools look for extracurricular and community involvement, so they decide to go out and volunteer for a bunch of random organizations, thinking they just need to check off the “volunteer” box in their applications. Admissions officers will clearly see that you started these supposedly altruistic endeavors just a few months ahead of your application to b-school. There’s no sense in cynically volunteering for all sorts of organizations just a few months ahead of applying, but if you have a passion for certain cause or organization, you can certainly take on some additional leadership responsibilities or get more active. Schools don’t just check off a box if you have volunteer experience; they see your involvement as evidence that you’re interested in contributing to the community around you and will continue to do so as an alum of their program. Schools want to get in the headlines for the great things their graduates are doing in their communities, not for the latest ethics scandal of a prominent alum! Beyond extracurriculars, you can also volunteer for additional responsibilities at work. Is there a project that you can lead? A special committee you can serve on? Or even an intramural team that needs a captain? Show that you’re willing to take initiative and that your superiors are willing to rely on you for positions of leadership. You can mention these experiences on your resume or in essays, and your supervisors may include them in their recommendations.
As you prepare for your business school applications, I hope you find these tips to be helpful! Our Veritas Prep Admissions Consultants have admissions experience at the top-ranked business schools and will be able to offer more specific suggestions for you to prepare. Take advantage of our New Year’s Resolution Exclusive to save up to $1000. Since we don’t count hours, you’ll work with an admissions expert for several months on your application strategies for no additional charge!
As we like to say here at Veritas Prep, “Success favors the prepared.”
If you’re thinking about applying to business school, call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today. And, as always, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!
Travis Morgan is the Director of Admissions Consulting for Veritas Prep and earned his MBA with distinction from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. He served in the Kellogg Student Admissions Office, Alumni Admissions Organization and Diversity & Inclusion Council, among several other posts. Travis joined Veritas Prep as an admissions consultant and GMAT instructor, and he was named Worldwide Instructor of the Year in 2011.