As you flip the calendar to 2024, perhaps you are putting finishing touches on Round 2 MBA applications so you can attend your dream business school later this year. If that’s you, get back to work! But if one of your new year’s resolutions is to take the next step in your career, read on.
Perhaps you are considering applying to MBA programs to matriculate in 2025. Every day counts as you build your business school profile before visiting schools this spring and writing essays over the summer.
Here are ten things you can do now to get ready for business school:
1. Prepare for the academics.
MBA cohorts comprise students with a very diverse mix of academic backgrounds, and this diversity creates a robust learning environment. Although applicants who have studied economics, business, engineering, or accounting are often well equipped to perform in a business school classroom, students who pursued undergraduate degrees in the humanities may need additional preparation. If you haven’t taken a math class since high school, consider enrolling in a pre-MBA math course so you can dust off your quant skills and be ready to hit the ground running. If your undergrad performance was less than stellar, look for ways to show the admissions committee that you will be a strong student in their MBA program. See “Can I Get into a Top MBA Program with a Low GPA?” for insight on demonstrating your readiness for the rigor of an MBA program.
2. Put the GMAT/GRE behind you.
Some business schools have evaluated the success of students who were admitted without taking standardized tests and are continuing to offer waivers. Stay on top of the situation, but don’t count on this being the case moving forward. Trust me, you don’t want to be preparing your applications while taking your standardized test. MBA programs are truly test agnostic, so you should take the test on which you will perform the best. Create a study plan and then execute it—and remember that there is no shame in taking the test more than once! See “GMAT, GRE, or Even EA—Which Test Should I Take?” for more guidance on selecting a standardized test.
3. Strive for outstanding performance at work.
MBA admissions committees will evaluate your professional experience based on the number of years you have worked as well as how you have progressed, what skills you have developed, and whether your experience will add a valuable and/or unique perspective to the business school classroom. What does this mean in real terms? Be prepared! If you need extra help or don’t understand what is expected, ask for support from a trusted colleague or mentor. Make sure you are delivering everything that is asked of you. Identify what matters most to those who matter most in your company, and then figure out how you can become a subject matter expert and add value in that area. Keep in mind that this may be above and beyond your “day job,” at which you must excel.
4. Be open to new ideas and perspectives.
Take advantage of opportunities to meet new people and learn about their backgrounds, life experiences, and perspectives. This could be at work or through outside activities or travel. Learn to look at challenges and opportunities through the eyes of others. Engaging with individuals who are different from you will allow you to build your EQ (emotional quotient), which is valued in business schools because it is essential for becoming an effective business leader. Business schools want to make sure they are putting together diverse cohorts of students who value the perspectives of others and will ensure that everyone’s voice is heard. If you haven’t worked or engaged with individuals who have differing perspectives, look for opportunities to do so now.
5. Consider the impact you hope to make.
Think about what you love about your work and what you would prefer to do less of. Set up informational interviews to better understand what those in more senior roles in your organization do, or look beyond your current company and investigate an industry that intrigues you. Find out how your current skills and knowledge might add value in alternative roles. Take time for introspection and self-reflection. What motivates you? What impact do you hope to have in the world? These are big questions that you can’t answer in a single sitting.
6. Ask questions and listen to understand.
Be an active participant in meetings at work. Take notes so you can ask clarifying questions. If you are not engaged, your manager may sense that you are not interested or don’t understand. As you listen to others, don’t just listen for the purpose of responding to what they are saying; listen with the intent of truly understanding their perspective. Flexing these skills now will help you to develop as a leader.
7. Observe and make note of leadership qualities.
Pay close attention to leaders in your organization and beyond. Which of their traits do you admire? What do you wish they did differently? Look for ways to develop your leadership skills. You don’t need to have a formal leadership role; you can lead in a variety of ways. Perhaps equally important, be aware of leaders who are less effective and understand why. Document what you witness so you can avoid similar behaviors.
8. Ask for constructive feedback.
Your recommenders will be asked to share details about a time when they offered you constructive feedback and how you handled it. Make a habit of asking for feedback at work, internalizing what you hear, and making a plan to address it—and then follow up to confirm that you have addressed whatever you needed to improve. Thank those who offer guidance on how you can improve. Some may not deliver the message in the most eloquent way, so learn to discern constructive criticism when it is poorly communicated, and don’t take the feedback personally.
Crafting a compelling narrative for business school doesn’t happen overnight. Take time now to document your short-term goals, accomplishments, achievements, and failures. Reflect on what you have learned and how you might improve. Having notes that highlight your motivations, passions, interests, and goals will enable you to quickly develop an application strategy.
10. Use your free time wisely.
In business school, you will need to juggle classes, club activities, and recruiting. MBA admissions committees will be looking for evidence that you can find balance and are not one-dimensional. Working long hours can be par for the course for early career professionals. In your limited free time, be mindful of what you do. Perhaps you want to pursue a passion project, or maybe you are committed to making a positive impact in your community.
Ready to get started? Reach out for a free consultation to discuss your business school profile, learn what you should do over the next seven to eight months to best position yourself, and discover how Stratus can help you gain acceptance to your dream MBA program.