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Top tips for your Business School Application from an Expert MBA Consultant

June 6, 2019 - Helen Szyra, Kaplan MBA Consultant

Ready, steady,........ go. The first full time MBA deadlines are ages away, right? No, the time will shoot by and it will soon be October, however if you plan well, and start now, you can have a great application to submit.

Before we get to the planning, let me give a simple overview of how to win an MBA place. Top Business schools are looking for two key things from a candidate:

  • A genuine need for an MBA. Think of the positive reasons rather than you just being desperate to leave your current job. Is it that you want to progress in your current industry? Do you want to enter a new industry? Do you lack specific skills or network? Do you want to find new opportunities? Do you need a business education in a specific country? What are your goals? Where do you want to be post MBA? ....and so on
  • A positive contribution from you to your school, peers and class. Think about who you are and what will that allow you to share or add to your chosen school. Is it professional expertise, experience, cultural diversity, personality, leadership, sports drive, entrepreneurial thinking, creativity, network? Whoever you are, you have something to offer. Do some deep introspection and you'll find your attributes or combination of attributes - this will help you create a "theme" for your application consisting of five or six key attributes (e.g. Leadership (all MBA's are leaders!), entrepreneurial, creative, innovative, analytical, driven, never give up, open-minded, international, people-person etc …) words that describe whoever you genuinely are. A word of encouragement - you don't need to be one of those super-duper candidates that adorn school websites - we all have something that will add value, even if we might not even know it yet. Ask your friends, family, teachers, professionals (like me, at Kaplan) - you have something. Having worked with hundreds of candidates, it never ceases to amaze me how many people don't see themselves as interesting people or are too modest to see their strengths. For example, one candidate was incredibly worried that "all" he did outside of work was to play chess, however playing chess suggests a strategic mind. After much probing, his "hobby" was even more impressive, as he had won a chess championship of a province in China; populations in provinces range from 500K people to over 100 million! So jot down all your achievements, skills, activities, even from childhood; it's spooky just how many entrepreneurs started by selling sweets in the playground. Don't limit your examples to academic experience or work; spice up your story from sport, charity, languages, anything that shows key parts of your theme, character or values. One story I'll always remember showcased a candidate's communication skills. While trekking in a particularly dangerous country, he was robbed at gunpoint, yet talked his way out of being shot! "Uniqueness" is mentioned over and over in applications but unique means "only one" so, as there are very few truly unique experiences, you don't need to be the only person on the planet or application pool to have done a particular thing. Even marathons now make their appearance quite often in applications, so it is your combination of experiences or your diversity such as your roles, languages, ethnicity, gender, and many other things, that will add strength.

Some lower tier schools may just be looking to fill places so aim as high as you can; be realistic but ambitious.

So what do you need to do? Here are some key activities:

  • Research and choose the right business schools for you. This means curriculums, locations, class size, extracurricular activities, exchanges, internships, deadlines, scholarships offered, clubs, networking groups, industry links, recruitment fairs, and on and on. Genuine interest will help you learn what individual schools offer and let you differentiate between programmes and schools. Google has made this research so incredibly easy. The more you know, the better a candidate you will be. This is especially noticeable at interview time. When I conducted interviews for a top 5 MBA school, it was obvious who really knew the school and who was bluffing.
  • Register for and visit business school open days or MBA events. July through August is holiday time for many university students so, if possible, visit before then and go to events, which can be easily found on specific school MBA web pages. Also attend more general events like QS MBA Tours. Make sure you register early, as places on events at popular schools get booked up. Not only will you learn a lot, you will meet faculty, admissions or students, and get a "feel" for the place where you'll be studying for up to 2 years of your life. Importantly, you can add this valuable nugget that you've visited the school in one of your application essays.
  • Prepare for the best GMAT score you can get. The GMAT is not like most previous exam tests you've done, so generally speaking, you'll need a minimum of 3 months study to get a high GMAT. In fact, why not make life easier by giving yourself more time to get a score that makes your application as strong as possible. Extra time is important if you need it before the submission deadline. Kaplan's expert GMAT instructors can give you more information on the GMAT. They have specific courses to help you on how to answer questions and what strategies will help you to answer quickly.
  • Get your recommenders on board. The earlier you ask them, the more likely it is that they will say yes as it will seem like ages away. If you ask one week before the deadline, you're likely to hear "I'd love to but have no time". Ensure the recommenders know that they are strongly recommending you for the MBA. They are NOT just a reference or appraisal.
  • Brainstorm and prepare your CV, application essays/statements or creative submissions such as video statements or elevator pitches. Then write them. Kaplan consultants can help you brainstorm and review your essays. New questions for a new application year tend to be published on the school website any time from July to September, so do keep checking.
  • Source your academic transcripts. This should be relatively easy now if you have electronic versions, otherwise you'll need to find your hard copies.

To help organise all this work, I suggest plotting a timeline, whether on a piece of paper (if you're old school) or on a word /excel page, or even using some project management software if you are that way inclined. Work backwards from the deadline date with "submit application", in fact go back one week before the deadline as that helps prevent the crazy last week panic and late nights before submission. Some schools such as Columbia have rolling deadlines and even early decision deadlines, which means it's an advantage to apply well before the deadline, whilst most schools still have rounds, e.g. Harvard has two rounds, in Oct and Jan, whereas IESE had five this year. On your timeline or under the line with individual Gant chart type lines, fill in any activities you will need to (e.g. take GMAT, study GMAT, attend MBA open day at LBS and so on). Of course you are unlikely to stick to it rigidly, but it helps to see all the activities you need to do, or cross off those that have been done. A word of warning, some people overdo the planning, I've seen candidates who have intricate plans that go on for pages, for a 500 word essay. Those people often never actually apply, so do plan but remember it is only a tool to help you have an overview, get everything together, and to spark memory and action.

These key points should help guide you in the right direction. If you are going through the process and want more guidance, our expert MBA Consultants, like myself, can help you with any application questions you might have. Now just type MBA schools, MBA ranking or anything combined with MBA into Google and get your research started today. GOOD LUCK!