When it comes to the MBA admissions process, planning ahead = getting ahead. If you have big dreams of being accepted to a competitive program, it’s never too early to prep for your business school applications.
If you spend this time wisely, crafting the perfect MBA application should be a cinch. Do yourself a favor and start working through this list of the 10 ways you can prepare to apply to business school.
10 Ways to Prepare for MBA Applications
1. Study for and take the GMAT/GRE.
If you planned to spend less than a week casually flipping through your GMAT/GRE study guide and then receiving a score worthy of your dream school, dream on. We recommend MBA applicants spend about 6-8 weeks and a total of 100 hours studying for this important test. While some students choose to multitask and prep for their GMAT/GRE as they work on their application, do yourself a favor and have this squared away long before you have to start composing your essays. Keep in mind that no matter how prepared you may be, it’s possible to get a score that disappoints you. Leave some time — about 30 days — to prepare for a test retake (or two).
2. Decide where to apply.
The first step to determining your dream program is to have a clear understanding of what you’re looking for in a business school. While this process will include extensive research on your options (more on that in a second), you first have to spend some time in serious self-reflection. This will not only help you find your perfect program, it’ll allow you to craft the perfect application.
Things you must know about yourself before deciding where to apply:
- Your future goals
- Your strengths and weaknesses
- Your learning style
- Your personal brand
- Your experience
- Why you need an MBA
- Your stats (GMAT/GRE score, GPA, etc.)
Once you have a grip on who you are as an MBA candidate and your dreams for the future, you can start researching business schools. It’s important to do things in this order so you completely understand what you need in an MBA program. No matter how prestigious a school may be, it may not be the best fit for you. And don’t forget that there’s no better way to know if a program is the right fit than to immerse yourself in the day-to-day on campus. If possible, use this time wisely by going on school visits.
As you research MBA programs, keep the following in mind:
- Teaching method
- Campus culture
- Extracurricular opportunities
- Career services
- Acceptance statistics
- Areas of focus
- Program options
Take all the information you’ve gathered about yourself and different programs before creating your list of 2-3 reach schools, 2-3 on-par schools, and 1-2 safety schools. Narrowing down your options can take some time so be sure to get started on this process as early as possible!
3. Beef up your quant credits.
There’s no way around it: MBA applicants must be able to demonstrate proficiency in quant. If you’re planning to apply to business school and haven’t scored well in past quant courses or if they are missing from your transcript, now is the time to start researching classes at your local community college. We recommend taking at least one algebra, calculus, microeconomics, business, and/or stats class before you apply… and make sure you get a good grade.
4. Participate in some extracurriculars.
Business schools are looking for candidates they believe will positively contribute to the campus culture so it’s important to show your involvement in extracurriculars. If you have little to report in the way of volunteering, mentoring, and community engagement, it’s time to get involved. Keep in mind that the admissions committee is certain to look at the dates of your extracurriculars so it’s best to participate in some activities long before application season, if possible.
5. Prepare your resume.
There’s no need to wait until applications are released to get started on your resume. Trust us, writing this single page will take longer than you think. Don’t approach your MBA resume like you would a job resume. The admissions team is looking for candidates with unique qualities, experience, and skills so be sure to highlight your strengths, provide statistics wherever possible, and give examples of leadership and teamwork.
Use this time to create a working version of your resume. No matter how perfect you feel it may be, it’s always wise to reevaluate your resume after your receive your application and write your essays. If necessary, make changes to keep your application from being too redundant. For example, if you describe your experience at a particular job in one of your essays, you don’t need to go into detail about that role in your resume. Save that space and dedicate it to another one of your admirable qualities that will impress the admissions team instead.
6. Prepare for the basic essay questions.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to know exactly which questions you’ll be required to answer for your MBA applications. However, there are some standard prompts that you are likely to see… and if these questions don’t show up on your application, they will surely be asked in your interview. Take some time now to prepare answers to the most commonly asked MBA questions so you have one less thing to worry about once applications are released.
5 Common MBA prompts:
- Why do you need an MBA?
- What are your future goals?
- What makes you unique?
- Tell us about a time when you showed leadership.
- Describe a time when you failed and what you learned from it.
7. Practice interviewing skills.
Before you know it, your applications will be submitted and you’ll start the interviewing process. Don’t let this critical time sneak up on you! Start practicing your answers to common questions (see above) far in advance to ensure you won’t be thrown any curveballs. And for those of you who get cold feet in shopping mall dressing rooms, you might want to start preparing your perfect interview outfit now.
8. Get into the routine of an MBA student.
If you want to thrive in business school, get into the groove of a new schedule long before your first day. Make sure to establish healthy bedtime habits and pick up more reading. It might take you a little while to get back into the groove of being a student, but the earlier you start enforcing a routine, the better off you’ll be.
9. Create a list of potential recommenders.
It’s never too early to start thinking about who might be the ideal people to write your letters of recommendation. Create a list of your top options before your applications are released, keeping in mind that the best recommenders are people who have worked closely with you and can attest to your skills and qualifications, Then, once the application is released, determine how many recommenders you’ll need. Ask your top picks and keep the others on a backup list just in case any of your #1s aren’t available.
10. Have a consultation with an admissions consultant.
Working with an admissions consultant could be the difference between getting accepting and getting denied. If you have glaring application weaknesses, are applying to competitive schools, need help staying on track, or could use a second set of eyes on your essays, resume, and short answer responses, there’s no doubt that you will benefit from receiving expert help.