By now, the festivities of the holidays are coming to a close and we are beginning to look toward 2016. Most of us will end this year by reflecting what we accomplished — or did not — in 2015. A few of us will begin to plan for 2016 and will make New Year’s resolutions. Since I focus on helping prospective MBA candidates apply to business school, my team and I are working through the holidays to help our clients put the final touches on their business school applications in preparation for the early January deadlines. Over the years, I have worked with various personalities. While everyone gets stressed out, the anxiety varies depending on whether they began to work on their essays 6 months versus 6 weeks before their deadlines. So, if asked what would be the best tips I could share with prospective MBA applicants who aim to apply to business school in 2016 for entry in Fall 2017, here is what I would say,
“Make these three New Year’s Resolutions and stick to them!”
Resolutions #1: Start the MBA application process early
This tip sounds silly and simple. I thought the same thing many years ago when I would give this as advice. However, I have seen no shortage of applicants who wait far too late to get started. Here is my thought process on why to start early: Many top MBA programs release the new application questions in the summer. If you are applying in Round 1 (due in September/October), you want to give yourself at least two months to work through the essays, letters of recommendations and all the myriad activities of applying. Applying in Round 1 gives you the added benefit that there are more available spots for you to be considered, assuming you are a competitive applicant. However, if you need additional time to balance work/life/ and the business school application process, then Round 2 will be a better option for you.
Regardless of which round you choose to apply, you will need time to decide if you need to retake your GMAT, to obtain your official college transcripts, and more importantly, you need time to have various rewrites of your essays. Your answers will be better organized if you give yourself time to think through your responses.
Moreover, you may be deciding how to present your best application and making decisions such as — what about my test scores? In these scenarios, as MBA admissions consultants, we are often asked if implementing a new approach — such as taking the GRE would be a better strategy to become more competitive. There is no easy answer for this question because it depends on the person and the schools you are applying for admission.
We even wrote an entire blog on this issue titled The GMAT vs. GRE Conversation.
Nevertheless, I will tell you that we invest a lot of time helping our clients think through this and other MBA related application issues. You will do yourself a huge favor if you allow time to be on your side…So for the first of your resolutions: Start Early!
Resolution #2: Learn how to Tell Your Story
From my experience, many MBA applicants struggle on how to best sell themselves. Expressing who you are and what you want to achieve professionally does not always come easy. While many of us are high-energy, confident individuals, we seem to clam up when asked “Why do you want to go to business school?” I asked one of my past clients why they were attracted to Harvard Business School and their answer was, “Because it’s a good school.” While true, the answer was not complete because our client had not yet thought through why HBS would help them become a stronger leader. Think through how an MBA will help you achieve your goals. Think through how you will contribute to the program, what specific aspects of the program you can leverage, and how is the school aligned with your vision as you prepare to pursue your business school education.
At the end of the day, The Most Important Part of the MBA Application is…You!
Every successful MBA applicant must go through a soul-searching journey to truly find “Your Story.” It’s a journey that you must take alone, and when completed with an open-mind, the end result will be authentic, positive and you will leave a memorable impression with the admissions committee about who you are.
Resolution #3: Find the best school for you
Because of the nature of what we do, we speak with highly motivated, determined MBA applicants almost on a daily basis. Not all possess the full package to be “shoe-ins” if they were to apply to the Top 5 MBA programs, but almost all want to apply to Harvard, Stanford, or Wharton. While we support our clients’ ambitious desires, several want to apply to these schools for the wrong reasons. Applying to earn an MBA must be rooted on whether or not a specific school can help you achieve your goals. While a school’s reputation is important, you cannot become single focused and apply to a school solely based on brand name recognition. The school has to fit you! Take advantage of this time to connect with alumni and current students, or even better, plan trips to visit the schools and classes (make it fun by planning these trips together with a visit to see family and friends!) Fit is more than a ranking. More importantly, admissions committees will only accept applicants who have successfully conveyed why their school is a right fit for you. You must get this part right!!
One of the probing questions we ask the individuals we speak with is targeted to their financial goals. We ask, “If you were able to achieve your financial goals by attending a different school, would you still be proud of your accomplishment?” In the 10 years we have asked this question, we have not yet had anyone answer us with a “No.” The personal goals for applying to business school focus on a combination of three things: 1) advancing your career, 2) switching your career, or 3) increasing your earning potential. Many MBA programs can help you accomplish this, but it’s your job to find the perfect school that fits you.
For those of you who have great full-time jobs today, are married, are non-traditional applicants or are still exploring your options, we wrote a blog focused on Which Type of MBA Program is Right for Me? Understanding the options available to you if you are debating between Full-Time, Part-Time, or Executive MBA program will also help you figure out which school is the best fit for you. So do your research.
As 2016 gets closer, the New Year will bring new things. 2016 is your year to make strides to earn your MBA. Start early, focus on your story, find your school and you will become one more MBA graduate making a big difference in this world!
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Jesse A. Mejia is the Founder & CEO of MBA Catalyst, an MBA admissions consulting firm committed to helping you tell Your Story. Jesse has been quoted by the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and has been a featured guest on National Public Radio. He is a member of the National Speakers Association and is a sought after speaker on the topic of personal economic empowerment. Jesse is the author of Dual Track: Graduating from College with Options and is currently writing his second book, ¡Rise Up, Mi Gente! A Roadmap for Latino Young Professionals to Achieve Success in Corporate America.