MBA Admissions Timeline: When You Should Take the GMAT, Ask for Recommendations, and More

ChecklistAs we are putting final touches on R3 applications, it is already time to start thinking about the next application cycle for many of you.  This is especially true if you want to apply in R1.  Deadlines that seem distant always have a way to sneak up on those who are unprepared.  To help you in the planning process, we thought it would be useful to outline what a well thought-out timeline for a successful business school application might look like.  This is written for the average applicant; some might be able to pull it off in a much shorter period (not recommended), others, such as non-traditional applicants, might need a lot more time.

For the purposes of this exercise it is useful to divide the complete application into the following streams of work:

  • Tests: GMAT or GRE, and TOEFL (for most international applicants);
  • School selection: school visits, desktop research, primary research or informational interviews with alums;
  • Online applications: essays, resume and general information;
  • Recommendations: selecting recommenders and preparing them to write amazing recommendations.

Roughly speaking, the above work streams are listed in the order they should be approached.  There is certainly some overlap between the different streams, and you should build in some flexibility in your timeline.  The best way to develop a timeline is to work backwards from admissions deadlines.  Starting with the online application, it generally takes about 3 months to complete the essays, resume (which might have to tweaked for each school) and gather all information you need to complete the online application.  For a September deadline, it means you should start brainstorming and drafting essays in early June.  It is generally a good idea to complete the resume first as it serves to create a summary of who you are and what you have achieved.

Regarding your recommenders, you should prepare them to write those amazing letters of recommendations.  Don’t just tell them which schools you applying to and send them the email with instructions.  Instead, provide them with an updated resume, relevant examples of leadership and an overview of what themes you are trying to convey in your application.  (Having started the essays and resume already you will be well prepared for this.)  This should happen about 6-8 weeks before the first deadline, or by early July for a September deadline.

School selection starts with desktop research, includes class visits (international applicants should try to attend local information sessions), as well informational interview with alumni and current students.  Be sure to check the visiting schedule well in advance, as most schools do not offer class visits around final examinations.  Try to complete these by April (after that things you run out of options).

Standardized test results serve as an important indicator of academic abilities in the Admissions Committee’s eyes.  If you are striving for admissions to a top tier b school, you should be aiming to get it around average for that school.  This means you might have to retake it more than once.  (Non-traditional applicants, including military, get a break typically.)   Your GMAT and GRE also serve to inject some realistic expectations into your short list of schools.  Hence, getting tests out of the way early is really ideal.  For a typical applicant the tests should be completed about 4 months prior to the first deadline.  For September deadlines, it means the official GMAT should be taken in April, allowing sufficient time to retake the test if necessary.

In summary, for a September deadline, here are some milestones you should try to hit in order put yourself in the best possible situation when applying to b school :

  • GMAT: complete by April for a September deadline (4 months prior);
  • School selection: finalize by June, after taking the GMAT, and extensive primary and secondary research (3-4 months before deadline);
  • Recommendations: provide recommenders with all necessary information to write amazing letters of recommendations in early July (2 months before deadline);
  • Online applications: begin essay drafts in early June (3 months before deadline), and iterate many, many times!

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By Marcus D.  Learn more about him here, or find the expert who’s right for you here!  Visit our Team page today.