There’s a belief- and it’s wrong. MBA candidates think that business school starts after they quit their jobs; after they take the popular global summer trip to Barcelona, Monaco, Phuket, or Paris; after they’ve shipped their cars, moved into the MBA residential hall or apartment; and after they’ve completed Pre-Term with its scavenger hunts and rugby games. Nothing could be further from the truth. The MBA is more than economics, corporate finance, and marketing classes. You can pick up a book or take advantage of a MOOC (think, Coursera) for that. The full-time MBA is an experience and it begins the moment you decide to pursue it.
Our team has helped a diverse group of clients over the years. Their interests, goals and backgrounds are as individually unique as a snowflake. And yet, one thing is common: they are completely caught off-guard by the intensity of the business school application process.
- Full-Time Jobs- You’re still at it, and trying to do a great job in case you’re not accepted. Your boss doesn’t care that you’re applying to business school. The projects are still on-going, meetings are still held, and the deadlines are quickly approaching. You’ve heard that saying that the MBA core is like drinking from a fire hose? I’d say that balancing your time commitment of writing effective essays while working a demanding job is the equivalent of at least drinking from a water hose.
- Moving Parts — If you’re applying to more than one school, you’ll quickly learn how much the application instructions vary. Kellogg has a video essay. Consortium has pointed directions for your header and footer. Some schools ask for your short term and long term goals in 150 characters, and others in 250 characters. The deadline for some schools are PST, while others are EST. And let’s not get started on interview procedures. Your organizational skills and attention to detail will be tested before you step foot on campus.
- Expense — Candidates know that they need to prepare financially for their tuition and living expenses while on campus. What most people are surprised by are the expenses related to just getting accepted. Trips for class visits and diversity events add up quickly, yet, many schools expect that you’ve visited campus at least once. Application fees for most programs are upwards of $200. Add in test prep and fees, interview attire and preparation, and thank you gifts for your recommender (because yes, you need to let them know you appreciate them spending time away from their lives to help you pursue your dreams), and you could find yourself spending more than $5,000 before you’re accepted. Oh, and once you’re accepted, you do know that you have put down a deposit to hold your spot in the class, right?
- Vulnerability & Self-Discovery Process — This is underestimated. Like every Stanford applicant, I faced that infamous question “What matters most to you and why?”. Let me tell you this….no one had ever asked me, and I’d never given it a thought. I can tell you that what I talked about in that essay, I’d never uttered to another human being. I’d never explored what drove me and why I made decisions the way that I did. And I’d worked hard before, but I can’t think of a time where I was as focused, dedicated and tuned in as I was when I set my sights on an MBA. The single most valuable thing in the entire business school process from the moment you decide to apply, to the moment you graduate — and likely beyond- is the self-discovery you undertake.
Without a doubt, the best thing that you can do for yourself is START EARLY. Let me say this again: START EARLY. There’s a reason we’re sharing this post so early in the year. Why are you waiting until the fall to BEGIN??? Please get that out of your head. Do you know how much of a favor you’d be doing yourself by starting today? Do you have any idea how many opportunities you miss by waiting until September? You can take advantage of class visits in spring and stand out as the only applicant there (Plus, that famous professor of real estate that you want to meet, she’s only teaching in the spring). Current MBA students are likely coming to a city near you for a summer internship. Coffee chats with students nearby equals cheap and easy networking! And why are you waiting to take your GMAT or GRE in the fall, when you’ll be in throes of essay writing? The scores you achieve now will still be valid and prep courses are held year-round. Your application year is the the only “year of business school” you can control. Pace yourself, get ahead of the game and set yourself up for success!
Shaquita Basileo is Director of Social Media and Marketing and an Admissions Consultant with MBA Catalyst. Her clients have received acceptance and fellowships to top MBA programs, and many continue to seek her advice in their career searches. She is a 2007 graduate of Stanford Graduate School of Business and has experience in the IT consulting and retail industries. Shaquita lives in Falling Waters, West Virginia with her husband and daughter and teaches fitness classes for fun. For more information about MBA Catalyst, visit http://www.mbacatalyst.com or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.