If you are reading this thinking “I’ve got lots of time before the Round 1 2024–2025 deadlines,” think again! Although September may seem far away, preparing now for Round 1 applications will enable you to develop a well-thought-out and comprehensive application by reflecting on your story and creating the strategy to pull out all of your strengths. Starting early gives you time to put together the strongest application possible, so here are seven things you should be doing in February:
1. Reflect on the question “What do you want to do?”
This is not a trick question but one that you will want to answer for both yourself and admissions committees. Admissions teams are assessing whether your goals are ambitious yet achievable and if their program can help you get 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 as well as their specific resources (think classes, clubs, and experiences specific to that school) 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 as you network to learn more about each program.
2. Spend time reflecting and doing self-assessment.
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. While assessing your strengths, identify the building blocks of your experiences that have prepared you for your future goals and will help you contribute to the classroom and school culture. If you think of this as a gap analysis—and a new career is your goal or future state—this is the “what you have to build on.”
3. Identify gaps or opportunities in your profile.
Each MBA program has a class profile for their current class. This can give you an idea of a “typical” admit. Spend more time looking at ranges than averages/medians. Think about your profile in terms of academics, leadership, community involvement, and global exposure. Did you have a lower GPA or not take a math class in college? Consider taking UC Berkeley Extension “Math for Management” or an MBA Math, 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 and contribute either in the community where you live or in your work community outside of your specific role. Are you strictly an individual contributor at work? Look for an opportunity to take on 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 global teams remotely.
4. Create a plan to address your opportunities.
Assess what is realistic to achieve before your applications are due as well as what opportunities 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 then schedule time to adjust. Be realistic about what you can achieve, and prioritize quality over quantity. If you have not had the opportunity to volunteer in your community, identify an organization that is aligned with your career goals or passion and get involved. Think creatively! Review “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/EA 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 and even switch tests. The new GMAT Focus has a new scoring methodology, so it is not yet clear what a good score is. That is okay—more information will be available by April.
Next, 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. Also, find out whether the schools to which you are applying offer test waivers and if you might qualify. Generally, to receive a test waiver, you will need to show you have sufficient quantitative background to be successful in quant-based classes.
6. Attend school info sessions and talk with students/alumni.
All schools have built tons of online and virtual resources. Research a school before you participate in a coffee chat or info session (see “Five Ways to Stay on Track with Your Virtual School Research”) so you can ask questions to learn how that program will help you to achieve your goals. Sign up for information sessions or student chats online. Through these interactions, find relevant classes, clubs, and experiential learning opportunities. Leverage your network and LinkedIn to find and reach out to current students and alumni at these programs (see “25 Questions to Ask Students and Alumni While Researching MBA Programs”). These conversations will be extremely beneficial when you are writing about why you want to attend a specific school. The more you can demonstrate what you know about a school, the more love the admissions committee will feel from you.
7. Compile a list of 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 “Four Tips for Selecting the Right MBA Recommenders.” Although you don’t have to choose them right now, identify three or four people who might be good recommenders, and then develop a plan to either improve or maintain your relationship with them over the next six months.
Getting started now will help make the application process less overwhelming, balance the work over a longer period of time, and enable you to present your best self in your applications!
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