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Admissions Edge step 3: How to plan your application timeline and enhance your MBA profile

Caroline Diarte Edwards of Fortuna Admissions - March 09, 2017

How to plan your application timeline and enhance
your MBA profile

If you’re thinking about applying for an MBA next autumn, now’s the best time to start preparing. While it’s never too soon to begin, seven months is a solid window to develop your application, allowing time to assess – and enhance – your candidacy.

You’ll need it.

Schools want to understand your motives. Their applications are designed to solicit thoughtful analysis of your personal growth, future potential, and how you intend to transition into the next stage in your career.

Seven months and seven points can make the difference between a good application and great one.

1. Self-assessment

Thoughtful introspection is always the starting point – you’ll want to clarify your motivations and future aspirations, as well as the unique elements of your profile that distinguish you from others. Glean varying perspectives on your potential strengths and weaknesses as a candidate by inviting candid feedback. Trusted friends, mentors, and colleagues are invaluable sources of guidance. They’ll help shape a narrative that’s compelling and persuasive for admissions committees.

2. Academic strength and background

Your grades and GMAT scores are fundamental, but don’t stress if your previous studies or scores aren’t up to scratch. And, don’t assume you can’t enhance your academic profile at this late stage. If you’ve taken the GMAT already and aren’t happy with your score, prepare to retake it. (Sorry!) It could be time to consider a prep course that maximises the study time you still have. If your undergrad degree lacks maths, stats, and analytical courses and your GMAT quant isn’t stellar, you’ll need to prove you can handle the course load. Take time to enrol in a course—either online or at a local community college. It’ll demonstrate your abilities and your commitment to your personal future.

3. Career vision

Developing a compelling career vision is a critical part of your narrative as an MBA candidate. It’s about conveying a clear picture of where you’ve been, where you’re going, and why an MBA is imperative for getting there. More importantly, b-schools also want to see you’ve given considered thought to why their programme in particular will make the difference in helping you achieve your highest aspirations.

4. Leadership and extracurricular development

Adcoms want to understand what you’ll offer their MBA community, its alumni network and, ultimately, the world. It’s about demonstrating your leadership credentials – how you have led a team project, mentored others, created positive impact, gone beyond yourself. Seek ways to take on more responsibility on the job and through community involvement or extracurriculars that genuinely reflect your interests. And, give yourself six months to tackle appropriate challenges.

5. Research and outreach

Look beyond the rankings: Every MBA programme has a distinctive identity, culture and teaching methodology. Reputation matters, but so does a school’s community customs, alumni network, curriculum, faculty, location, and recruitment opportunities – especially when it comes to assessing the best school for you. Adcoms are practised at judging whether a candidate has a sincere affinity with their school and has taken the time to scratch beyond the surface.

6. Recommendations

Recommenders are your personal champions, witness to both current excellence and future potential. Ensure recommenders bring energy and effort, not to mention goodwill, to writing your letter of recommendation by giving them ample time to craft it. Reach out several months in advance, making time to meet in person (or video chat) to discuss your MBA plans and aspirations. Be sure to agree upon a timeline for returning letters and check in with them as the deadline approaches.

7. Final review

After you’ve assembled all the elements of your application, take a break—at least two days without a single glance—before doing a final review. Your fresh eyes provide the opportunity to spot errors, inconsistencies, or unintended repetition. It’s often in this final pass that a missing element becomes clear and falls into place.

This suggested timeline for pacing yourself has helped countless applicants in your position. You’ll want to customise a unique work plan, as the time and effort needed to enhance your extracurricular profile or prepare for the GMAT inevitably varies.

May (or sooner):

  • Make a plan for researching schools to discern each programme’s identity, assets and fit.
  • Create a list of target schools and network with alumni. Visit campuses and/or attend fairs or local events.
  • Assess your strengths and weaknesses, then identify ways to enhance your candidacy (e.g. enrol in a quant course, build your leadership profile).
  • Identify potential recommenders and get them on board.

June:

  • Prioritise your final list of target schools and segment into round one and two applications.
  • Begin drafting your essays and identify one or more trusted readers to offer feedback.
  • Brief recommenders on exactly what you’ll need from them and agree on a timeline.

July:

  • If you have not taken the GMAT yet – don’t leave it later than this.
  • Cull additional supporting materials for your application, such as university transcripts.

August:

  • Revisit your resume and prepare your bio data form.
  • Review your social media presence and ensure content reflects positively on your profile.

September:

  • Finalise and proofread your essays, resume and online form.
  • Stay in touch with recommenders to ensure they’re on track.

One week before application deadline:

  • Submit your application. Allow several days of buffer time for any last-minute complications.

This kind of advanced planning means devoting a few hours a week at the outset. But it goes a long way toward positioning your excellence with less stress and more confidence.

This is the third in a 12-part series for Prodigy Finance by Fortuna Admissions on how to boost your chances of getting into a top business school. Stay tuned for more.

The Fortuna team are former admissions gatekeepers from top-tier institutions including Wharton, INSEAD, Harvard Business School, London Business School, Chicago Booth, NYU Stern, IE Business School, and Johnson Cornell.


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