I just finished a 12-month process to get from GMAT to putting down the $2,000 deposit for Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. In some ways, it has been a spectacular process of self-discovery, and in others, it has been a grueling process of painful disappointment. I’ve been fortunate enough to benefit from the MBA applicant community, and I’d like to pay it forward by sharing a bit about my experience.
I graduated from a Top 5 engineering school in 2011, and, after receiving offers from a few of the large management consulting firms (not M/B/B, but other well-known consulting firms), ended up going to work for a small procurement consulting company in Atlanta. After there years working primarily on logistics projects, I decided to pursue an MBA to open additional career opportunities, specifically in supply chain management.
In March of 2014, I began preparing to apply to MBA programs, beginning by taking the GMAT and deciding where to apply. I felt like the GMAT prep classes were ridiculously expensive and weren’t that much better than studying on my own, so I bought a couple of prep books (including one online prep software) to help me prepare instead. I ended up taking it in May and getting a 750.
After knowing my GMAT score, I was ready to decide where to apply. I talked to a number of admissions counselors, and they were very helpful, but I didn’t feel comfortable spending the thousands of dollars that most of them charged. I ended up using TouchMBA’s free school selection help as well as my own research (including talking to a number of current or former students) to determine which schools I would be applying to in each round. I settled on applying to Stanford GSB, HBS, MIT Sloan and Kellogg in round 1, and then Emory, Georgia Tech, and either Fuqua or Tuck in round 2.
Long story short, I ended up getting into Kellogg with a scholarship and got waitlisted at MIT Sloan. I think I would have gotten into Sloan off the waitlist if I could have committed to going there without a scholarship, but that’s neither here nor there. Kellogg actually told me my answers to their video essay questions was one of the major factors in getting a scholarship.
But that’s enough about me. Let’s get to the stuff that you’re really want to know about: how can I help you get more money at better schools?
What I did right:
Start early – By prepping for the GMAT in March and April and taking the GMAT for the first time in May, I had one to two months to prep for the GMAT and one to two months to research schools before first round applications came out. Even if I wasn’t happy with my first GMAT score, I would have had plenty of time to study some more and retake it. The earlier you begin, the better your application will be. Plus, you will have the opportunity to apply in the first round. Applying in the first round signals schools that 1) they’re your top choice (or one of your top choices) and 2) that you had the discipline to prepare ahead of time.
Do your research on the schools – There are hundreds, maybe even thousands of MBA programs, and you’ll get burned out after finishing three applications. You can probably tough it out and finish five to six applications if you really want to, but doing the research ahead of time is much less stressful and ultimately leads to a better application. If you want to go into brand management or investment banking or technology, you should have a clear understanding of what programs are the best for those areas. Trust me, it will help in literally every step of the process
Planning what schools to apply to in each round – By planning out what schools I was applying to in each round, I got the best shot at scholarships at the schools I was most interested in, and had an opportunity to apply to backup schools if necessary. Plus, I could focus 100% of my efforts on the first round applications until those applications were due, then take a one-to-two month break before beginning on second round applications if necessary.
What I did wrong / what I didn’t anticipate
Didn’t apply to schools in different tiers in the first round – All of my first round applications were to top 7 programs. I thought it would be a good idea to apply to all of the tough schools in the first round so that I could apply to second-tier schools in the next round. What I didn’t consider is that some of those second-tier schools may have offered me scholarship money. If I had gotten into a top-tier school without a scholarship, I wouldn’t have had the option of a scholarship at a second-tier school because I wasn’t applying to them until later. A number of my peers had those options and, to be honest, I was jealous of them. In retrospect, I would have dropped one of the top schools from the first round and added Emory or Tuck in round 2 (if you have a slightly lower GMAT, I’d recommend applying to two top 7 programs and two second-tier programs in the first round).
Didn’t consider recommendations for the 2nd round – I had two recommenders do all of my applications in the first round. They provided great recommendations, and it turned out great for me, but I have a strong suspicion that I would have either had to add another recommender for the second round or watched the quality of the recommendations fall. Just like I started to get burned out after three applications and a waitlist, my recommenders were getting burned out as well. If you are planning on doing 5+ applications, make sure you have at least three, preferably four recommenders.