There’s a lot of stress involved with applying to MBA programs. Researching schools, finding the right fit for your experience, brainstorming essays, scheduling time to write, re-writing three or four times, reaching out to your mentors to write letters of recommendation, and a whole host of other boxes that need to be ticked just to submit a complete application.
The application process is so complex because the admissions committee wants to select candidates that are a perfect fit for their program AND because they want to make sure that successful applicants are ready to do some serious work.
What can you do to make sure that you’re as competitive as possible? Once admitted, what can you do to make sure you’re ready for the academic challenges ahead of you? Below are four steps that top admissions consultants suggest will help prepare you to make the most out of your MBA experience.
Conduct Meaningful Research
Admissions consultants unanimously agree that one of the biggest differentiators between accepted and dinged candidates is the amount and quality of school-specific research that is demonstrated in an applicant’s admissions essays. This means that applicants need to thoroughly understand how a specific school’s offerings match up with that applicant’s short-term and long-term goals. In-person research rings the truest here. If logistically and financially possible, visit your target schools, sit in on classes that are related to your goals, meet your future professors, get emails, and take notes. Visiting your target school will give you the most authentic understanding of a school’s culture and ethos, giving you a far more realistic impression than the marketing copy on the admissions website. If like what you discover, having visited the school will help you communicate that authentic connection in your application.
In addition to boosting your application’s competitiveness, conducting thorough research into your target programs will prepare you to hit the ground running if you’re admitted. Having a list of courses you’re excited to take, clubs you’re ready to join, and people you can reach out to for coffee means you’ll start making an impact from day one of your MBA program.
Prepare Seriously for the GMAT
The Graduate Management Admission Test, or GMAT, is one of the essential requirements for most MBA programs (see what institutions use GMAT exam), and in addition to crafting authentic application essays, a good GMAT score is a huge boost for an applicant’s competitiveness.
The GMAT consists of four sections: Analytical Writing, Integrated Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Verbal Reasoning. Applicants can prepare for each GMAT section through a variety of methods, including purchasing test-prep books, using apps, and participating in GMAT prep courses. It is suggested that applicants spend at least three to four months preparing for the test.
It is also important to give yourself a time buffer between taking the GMAT and applying to your target programs in case you want to make an attempt at improving your score. Top US MBA Programs such as HBS and Wharton generally require applicants to have GMAT scores above 700 out of a possible 800. The closer to 730-735 you can get, the more competitive your application will be.
Remember all of those email addresses you wrote down on your campus visit? Use them as you’re preparing your application to your target programs and after your admission as you’re preparing to enter your first semester. Reach out to professors to see if you can get ahead on required reading, or if there are any exciting research projects that you could jump into.
Schedule a coffee chat with an alumnus, they can probably give you some tips on which courses and professors completely changed their professional outlook, where the best places for group study are, and where to get late night pizza.
If making a campus visit simply isn’t possible for you, make use of the internet to network at your target schools. Almost all of the networking ideas already listed could be taken advantage of digitally, though the response rate may be slightly lower. Additionally, most university club presidents and officers have their emails listed on the club’s websites. It only takes a quick email to find out which club projects you might be interested in.
Sharpen Your Skills
If you’re pursuing an MBA, it’s likely that you’ve been out of school for a couple of years cutting your teeth in your chosen industry. While you’ve gained a ton of valuable real world experience, it’s unlikely that you’ve kept up with every academic skill you’re going to need to get the most out of your MBA program. Brush up on your technical finance skills and economics concepts by taking a free online refresher course or going through old undergraduate textbooks.
Keeping up to date on the latest trends in business is also important for making valuable contributions in class discussions. If you don’t already do so, it’s probably a good idea to subscribe to one of the major economic dailies or weeklies like Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times or The Economist.
With the increasing importance of big data and data analytics in business, it would also be wise to familiarize yourself with basic programming and data analytics concepts before starting your MBA. These skills can be attained through online courses, YouTube, or more formal academic routes. Being technically proficient will really help your group projects and could make you an invaluable team member, opening doors to more post-MBA opportunities.
On top of conducting in-depth research of your target programs, preparing for the GMAT, networking, and sharpening your academic toolkit, it’s also important to prepare emotionally for your MBA experience. You’re about to dive into one of the most exciting, but intense experiences of your professional and academic life. You’re probably not going to have as much time for catching up with your family and friends, so make sure they’re prepared for that new reality. Additionally, making the most of your MBA experience may mean reprioritizing many of your leisure activities. Luckily, university campuses are set up to help busy people stay fit, healthy, fed, and rested. Take advantage of those resources as you embark upon this exciting adventure!