Your MBA Application Timeline for Round 1 Deadlines
Applying to business school is so much more than the moment that you press the “Submit” button on your application. Savvy applicants know that the work they do months before they apply can make or break their candidacies. No matter what time of year it is, there’s almost always something you can work on to improve your chances.
Fortunately, we’ve got you covered. We’ve polled some of our most experienced MBA admissions consultants and put together this timeline for how you can prepare for Round 1 application deadlines submissions:
End of June - Early July
GMAT and GRE Scores
It’s time for GMAT test prep. You need to take a practice test immediately to see what you need to work on. This will give you a starting point for your GMAT plan. Once you have a GMAT score that is well in range for your target schools (ideally, your score will at least be close to a school’s average GMAT score), then you can skip down to community involvement.
1) If you didn’t get the score you were looking for... do not walk - run! You need to get a plan in place if you are going to be ready for Round 1 application submission deadlines. In general, you get what you pay for when it comes to professional test preparation. Choose a budget that works for you and select either a self-study option if you learned best outside the classroom in college (sub-$1,000), a live course option either online or in-person depending on what is most convenient for you and what will keep you disciplined ($1,000-$2,000), or private tutoring for the most personalized guidance and effective use of time (over $2,000).
2) You need to make time for your GMAT score because without it, you won’t be competitive at top MBA programs – no matter how compelling your essays are. This warrants repeating because of the sheer volume of applications these schools receive. Over 80% of business school applicants are qualified to attend a top program, and one’s GMAT score will serve as the first gatekeeper to help admissions committees weed people out. We’ve noticed a really important trend in our research: If you are 35 points below your target school’s GMAT average, you will be in the bottom 10th percentile of the accepted class. To break this down even further, are you going to be one of 40 admits to Stanford GSB that has a low GMAT score? Of a class of 417, in a pool of 8,116 applicants, do you have a stand-out factor that is amazing or unique enough to justify your acceptance? Your GMAT score matters.
3) Show initiative by enrolling in extra courses. If you majored in a “soft” subject in undergrad (i.e. a major that was not quant-heavy), you are either going to have to knock the GMAT out of the park, or you are going to have to show how hard you are working on improving your quant skills by enrolling in additionally coursework at your local community college or university. The grades you receive from this extra course will be important, so dedicate time and focus to the class. Since you are already mid-way through summer semester by early July, you may need to find an abridged course online or work through a class independently to show your dedication. Harvard Business Review offers a variety of courses that are self-directed as do many other top tier programs.
Community Involvement and Volunteering
Now is the time to fill in any holes that you may have in your profile/resume, and a place many applicants are lacking is in their community service work. One trap to be cautious of in your application is a sudden spike of volunteer activity. Admissions committees know what you are doing, and they read this behavior as being phony. Instead, go back to a cause you used to volunteer for, or to an organization that you used to work with and recommit to that cause. Suddenly saving Amazon tree frogs three months before your business school applications are due can come across negatively and actually hurt your chances of admission. Engage in meaningful community involvement, then you can talk about it in your essays with a clear conscience.
It’s June, so you may have missed the opportunity to audit a class at one of your target schools, but it’s not too late to join the mailing list or to look for recruiting events in your area. This will give you a chance to connect with current students, prospective students like yourself, and admissions committee members. Professors may still be on campus so see if you can snag an informational interview with them, especially if they teach a course that truly interests you.
Get the most out of your interactions with these folks. Think about your fit with them and within the school. Are you basing your school choice solely on rankings? Of course, we understand that top-tier programs are the focus of your hunt, but don’t forget about fit. A former director of admissions at Tuck suggested that you use this time to ask tough questions – not every interaction is YOUR interview, so make sure you are asking questions too! For example, what is something that really surprised you/let you down about the program when you started? What’s something that you didn’t expect?
Focus on Your Professional Growth and Career Achievement
Continuing the theme of authenticity, look around your current position at work and carve out spaces for potential leadership. Is there a new initiative that you can launch? Is there a company project that needs a manager? Even if the leadership experience is small, it will still show your commitment to professional growth, and it will demonstrate that you’ve been professionally entrusted to manage others. If you’ve been up for a title promotion, but haven’t made the meeting appointment to speak with your supervisor – do it now! These things might seem small, but any promotion or leadership experience will help your application stand out.
Clean Up Your Resume
Your resume needs to tell a story to the reader – just like introductory expository writing, you should NOT assume that admissions committees are professionals in your discipline. Another piece of resume writing advice is to check your numbers. Reporting numbers that exaggerate or seem implausible will stand out to admissions committees, but not necessarily in the way that you want. Resumes that boast of 50% revenue growth in a large company over a small period of time, make you look like you’re lying. While it might be true that you were on a team or in a division that helped make this number a reality, fluffing up your resume by calling your division’s success your own personal success does not leave a favorable impression.
Keep in mind that MBA admissions committees will look at thousands of resumes just like yours, so try to add something in there about yourself that differentiates you from the pack. For example, one successful admit who worked with Veritas Prep added flair in the personal interests section of her resume. She said her personal interests were: private equity in emerging markets, data analysis, and Kendrick Lamar. And guess what? It worked.
Establish Initial Contact with Recommenders
It’s no secret that admissions committees strongly prefer your letter of recommendation to come from a direct supervisor. That being said, they also understand the circumstances that might inhibit you from asking your current supervisor (i.e., loss of job, loss of income, etc.), so it alright to contact a previous supervisor for a recommendation.
Another reason to contact your previous supervisor is if you’ve been working with your current supervisor for less than 6 months. The recommendation won’t hold a lot of water if you are still in the “honeymoon phase” with your new boss. This new supervisor won’t be able to talk about your progress over time or about any past initiatives where you changed direction from what you usually do. (Still, admissions committees at top business schools do hold a strong preference for a recommendation from a current supervisor, as long as you’ve worked with them for 6 months or more.)
When reaching out to reconnect with your recommenders, you need to think about your relationship with the person and their own communication style. If you were close, it is likely worth it to start off with a catch-up email to reestablish the connection. If you weren’t close and you know that they are pressed for time, you may just want to come right out and say why you are re-establishing a connection with them. Again, at this point, you don’t have a lot of time to beat around the bush, so use your discretion and think about how this person would prefer to be approached. Reflect on your options, make a choice, and then reach out to him or her so that you have a solid plan in place when it comes time to apply.
Consider Informal Interviews and Job Shadowing
Your post-MBA goals are one of the most important parts of your business school application. You’re going to need to explain what you want to do and how an MBA from whichever school you are applying to is going to help get you there. Loosely defined post-MBA goals will not help you out when it comes to crafting a compelling response to the commonly-asked question, “Why an MBA, Why Now?”
One of the best ways to ensure that you have solidified post-MBA goals is to do some research into where you said you want to be. If you want to start a new biotech company, have you talked to people who have actually done this? Have you job-shadowed to stay up to date in the industry? While this sounds like something we might suggest to a college freshman who hasn’t yet picked a major, it’s actually quite useful advice. Anyone can write that they are interested in, “micro-finance in developing nations,” but not everyone will have a well-researched and clear understanding of what that means. Know everything you can possibly know about your post-MBA goals, so that when it comes time to write your essays you’ll have an easy time selling that vision to the admissions committees.
End of July
Veritas Prep consultants, who are some of the most experienced MBA Admissions consulting team in the world, suggest that you do your due diligence when it comes to school selection. While there will certainly be prestige associated with your top-choice dream business school program, there are other factors that you must also consider.
For instance, fit is huge. There are so many applicants who have their hearts set on Stanford GSB for the innovation and sustainability aspect, and they completely miss out on Berkeley-Haas because it never occurred to them to check out the classes and the focuses at other top-tier programs. Look at the courses, research what the programs are known for, make connections with current students to talk about that fit. Prestige will always be important, but this is your life, and if your post-MBA goals are well defined, there may be another top-tier program out there that you haven’t even considered.
Our Consultant of the Year suggests that applicants keep a matrix of schools and as they research fill it in. A great way to get started on research is to check out the Veritas Prep Essential Guide to Top Business Schools. This will get you started researching the courses, the professors, what the school is known for, and hopefully give you a real feel for the school so that you can make school selections accurately.
Start Working on Your Essays
For most MBA applicants, essay writing is the most painful part of the admissions process. We have all heard applicant horror stories about the hours upon hours spent rewriting and refining their essays. You can expect to dedicate more time and energy to essay writing than any other part of the MBA admissions process – perhaps even more than the GMAT! With that in mind, there are steps you can take to make the process less overwhelming, more efficient, and slightly less painful!
Essay topics are released in the summer, and as you might expect, most eager applicants go diving into the essays right away. At Veritas Prep, we recommend that you take time to digest each topic before you decide what to write about. Talking with someone can really help you uncover those essay topic gems that will ultimately turn your essay into a work of art. Our admissions consultants are amazing at helping applicants brainstorm what they want to write about. If you’re on your own, utilizing outlines can be really helpful during this part of the process. The interesting thing is that more often than not, applicants will think they know exactly how to answer the essay prompt, but there may be something truly unique right in front of you that you aren’t seeing.
Coach Your Recommenders
The letter of recommendation is a critical component of the business school application. It provides the admissions committee with a third-party, “objective” analysis of your candidacy that can truly make or break admission into a top business school program. The admissions committee looks to the recommendation not only to support what you have conveyed in your essays, but also to demonstrate the impression and impact you’ve made on the individuals with which you’ve worked. Given its tremendous importance, you need to carefully manage the recommendation process. It’s important that these recommendations not only emphasize your professional capabilities, but they should also give the admissions committees an idea about the kind of person you are – a glowing review that showcases your personality will go a long way.
Essay Edits and Review Drafts
Have someone who knows you well read your essays. If they can tell you the question that you are answering without knowing it, then you are doing a great job of answering the prompt. A person who knows you will be able to tell you if the essay matches your authentic self, but a huge advantage to working with an admissions consultant is that they can tell you how your authentic self is coming across to an objective person who doesn’t really know you.
Even the brightest minds can make silly mistakes. Last year an applicant (who had not been working with us) came to us frantic because she was on the waitlist at Stern and accidentally sent the Admissions Committee an email about how desperately she wanted to be part of the Tuck community… Awkward! Another set of eyes on your MBA application essays never hurts.
Submit R1 Applications
Some MBA application submission deadlines are as early as September. Once you submit your application, breathe. Don’t continue to pore over the application because you might find some small typo and completely obsess over it. Once you’re done, acknowledge the hard work you’ve put into you applications. Now you get to experience the truly hard part of the business school admissions process: waiting.
If you missed the opportunity to visit your target schools in the spring, there’s no time like the present! We don’t recommend you make attempts to interact with admissions committee members, but we do recommend you sit in on classes and talk with current students. This way, when the acceptances come pouring in, you’ll know exactly which MBA program feels like the right fit for you. Plus, this will give you something pragmatic to do while you are waiting.
For most business schools, being offered an interview is an excellent sign. (Although some schools, such as Kellogg, offer interviews to everyone, so less of a great sign there.) The important thing to remember during your MBA interviews is what we’ve been trying to tell you along: be yourself. It may sound cliche, but if you don’t practice, this can actually be really hard to do.
The interview is a critical component in the business school admissions process, as you will be providing the admissions committee with a personal dimension that doesn’t always come through in the review of essays, test scores, recommendations etc. The interview allows an applicant to put a face to their application and convey the passion they have for a school. It also provides the admissions committee with an opportunity to evaluate interpersonal skills, communication skills, and the applicant’s sense of direction and focus. The interview can be the very means by which an applicant sets himself/herself apart from the pack, so make sure you are well prepared before you head into interviews of your own.
Round 2 Deadlines
Now that you’ve been through Round 1, tackling any Round 2 applications will seem like a breeze. Okay, maybe not exactly a breeze, but you will have a clearer direction and hopefully a better sense of who you are as you prepare to submit during the most popular MBA admissions round.
Round 1 Decisions
Round 1 decisions for most schools are released in December. If you are accepted by the schools you apply to, congratulations! Now is the time to decide which MBA program you will attend, and start arranging things like scholarships and moving to campus.
If you were rejected by the schools you applied to, it is good to review your submitted applications to determine why you were rejected. In doing this, it will be important to review each rejected application as honestly as possible. Go back and ask yourself why the admissions committee may not have wanted you. Was your GMAT score too low? Did you clearly answer all of the essay prompts? Does your work experience show you as a leader? Answering these questions will help you figure out what went wrong, so that the next time you apply, you know what areas to address.
If you are having trouble analyzing a rejected MBA application, you can always reach out to Veritas Prep for a rejection analysis. We have consultants who specialize in business school re-applicants who can work with you on your areas of weakness so that you won’t be rejected during future rounds.