Although September may seem far away, preparing now for Round 1 applications will enable you to develop a well-thought-out and comprehensive application. Starting early gives you time to put together the strongest application possible. Here are seven things you should be thinking about in February:
1. Reflect on the question “What do you want to do?”
It’s not a trick question but one that you will want to answer for both yourself and admissions committees. Admissions teams are assessing if your goals are ambitious and achievable and if their program can help you get to where you want to be post-MBA. So, you will be helping them (and yourself!) by defining your short- and long-term goals clearly and then building a case based on your skills and experiences to show that this is the right path for you. In addition, you should develop an elevator pitch about your goals to deliver in conversations with students, alumni, and admissions teams.
2. Spend time doing self-assessment and reflection.
Relax. Forget that you are thinking about getting an MBA. Instead, think about your proudest moments. What are the landmark experiences that have shaped who you are? What really motivates you? This is an important step in identifying the unique strengths, skills, and experiences that you will bring to a business school classroom. Identify the building blocks of your experiences that have prepared you for your future goals.
3. Identify gaps or weaknesses in your profile.
Although you have identified your strengths, now is the time to identify your growth opportunities. Assess your weaknesses in key areas such as academics, leadership, community involvement, and global exposure. Did you have a lower GPA or not take a math class in college? Consider taking a “math for management,” accounting, or statistics course to demonstrate your academic abilities. Have you not been able to give back to the community because of long work hours? Look for opportunities to lead within your work community. Are you strictly an individual contributor at work? Look for an opportunity to get involved in a leadership position in your community. Have you not had exposure outside of your home country? If you work for a global organization, look for opportunities to collaborate with other global teams remotely.
4. Create a plan to address your weaknesses.
Assess what is realistic to achieve before your applications are due and what weaknesses an MBA might help you address. Write down a week-by-week plan and share it with a friend or mentor. Develop checkpoints to determine what is working and schedule time to adjust. If the last year has taught us anything, it is how to adapt. Be realistic about what you can achieve, and prioritize quality over quantity. If you have not had the opportunity to volunteer in the community, identify an organization that is aligned with your career goals or passion and get involved. Think creatively! Review our blog post Build Your MBA Leadership Profile Through Community Involvement for some ideas. Ask your manager for new opportunities at work, such as managing a project or mentoring junior-level staff. Think about how you can create a more inclusive environment in your workplace.
5. Establish a GMAT/GRE test and study plan.
First, decide which test is right for you. (See GMAT, GRE, or Even EA—Which Test Should I Take? for some guidance.) Next, schedule a test date, ideally in April, that you can work toward while still allowing you time to take it again. It is common for MBA prospects to take a test up to three times. Determine your best method of study. Sign up for a test prep course if that is your ideal mode of preparation. Otherwise, develop a study plan and stick to it. The best way to maintain momentum is to study a little bit every day. Building a testing plan will enable you to have multiple attempts at your chosen test before you start your applications.
6. Attend school info sessions and talk with students/alumni.
While the pandemic makes it difficult to visit campus, all schools have worked to get as much information on their websites as possible. Research schools. Sign up for information sessions or student chats online. Research a school before you participate in a coffee chat or info session (see Five Ways to Stay on Track with Your Virtual Research) so you can ask questions to learn how that program will help you to achieve your goals.
7. Compile a list of three or four people who could be your recommenders.
Think about who would be enthusiastic about you attending business school. It is more important to have someone who knows you well and can share specific examples of your contributions than someone who has an impressive title. For more thoughts about selecting recommenders, check out our blog post 4 Steps to a 5 Star MBA Recommendation.
Getting started now will help make the application process less overwhelming and enable you to present your best self in your applications.