Putting Off The GMAT? How to Get Unstuck

Three years ago, I spoke with an MBA applicant who wanted to apply first round. She was set on it. But then an email with some hesitations came and then another. And then her GMAT didn’t go as planned.

Ok, it will be second round. A good idea.

But then it still wasn’t quite right, and who knows what else she was going on. She didn’t apply that year. But she got in touch the next year and wanted to apply. She had retaken the GMAT and was going to take it a third time maybe.

She wanted to get matched up with one of our consultants. They spoke and got along well. But then no. The third GMAT was still too low. She wouldn’t be applying this year.

She called the other night. Maybe this will be the year? Maybe not. There’s still waffling going on. It’s more than the GMAT, but I can’t tell what. There’s an urge to apply but then an urge to retreat.

I saw a similar thing in one of my favorite pro bono college applicants once. She’d been accepted to two great schools, but she couldn’t decide between them. There were financial considerations at play. Each day she’d make a new decision. Finally she had to just pull the trigger and choose one. She did. But now that she’s there, she isn’t sure about it. One month in, she was already thinking about transferring.

Fear of commitment, people. It doesn’t just happen in relationships. We get stuck, and we can’t move forward. Some of it is about fear of the future, sure. A lot of it is about clinging and attachment to your current scene…even if you’re not that happy.

My college applicant knows herself pretty well. She recognized during the application process that a lot of her resistance and procrastination was because she was stuck and afraid of growing up and leaving her family. I’m not sure what’s up with the business school applicant. But she’s hesitant to take the step forward and apply, and she’s finding every excuse in the book not to. Maybe she shouldn’t go to business school? But she’s treading water in her current job situation, dissatisfied but attached, unwilling to make the leap.


The stuck thing is a big one. You get so comfortable with where you are that you avoid letting it end, even when it has to. So many of us get stuck during the application phase. It’s similar to resistance in that you avoid what you need to do to move forward, like writing essays, but it’s a bit more of full-blown denial or sadness. You won’t do it. You won’t register for the GMAT, and the months go by. You won’t talk with your significant other about where you want to apply. You don’t make appointments with your potential recommenders to discuss writing your recs. You’re like a mule with your hooves pushing into the ground: “I’m not doing this!”

We get stuck when something is ending and we don’t feel ready to let it go. Maybe it’s a natural ending, like your analyst program being mover. Maybe it’s an ending that requires some thought on your part, like your current relationship being over. Maybe it’s a bigger ending, like your extended adolescence being over. Big stuff. Heavy. It deserves respect and attention.

You need good endings to make space for great beginnings. Until you get closure, you drift around and miss the next big opportunity in life. You don’t move forward in life as a whole until you learn the lessons and pass the tests of your current grade. You can’t start business school until you apply. Our friends and family will see this stuckness in us. My college applicant had conversations with me and her friends about her Peter Pan syndrome, feeling afraid and attached and unwilling to move on with the natural course of life.

I sort of joke with the MBa applicant about it, but she’s not quite ready to see that she’s treading water. Could be your parents, manager, coworkers, friends, girlfriend, boyfriend, or anyone who calls you out on resisting the natural course of moving forward. Try not to hate the messengers, because they are trying to help you.

  • Hi Sandy, I understand the cycle that you’re in, and I know how hard it is to be there. I have exercises in the book on thinking through the why, where aspect of going to school. It might be worth looking at those. Quickly though, you are a different person now than you were in college. The MBA is focused on doing something with the degree. Thus the assignments and the studying feel different from college (for many people). Also, there are ways to do it part-time and/or in the evening which would bring costs down and perhaps make it less stressful for you (though it’s a lot of work). But, I’d also let your mind get really big and consider if the MBA is something you feel like you have to do or should do. I have a lot in the book around self-discovery that could lead one to not applying to business school. You may have put yourself in a box, and there could be options out there that would feel more inspiring…your life may end up looking very different than you imaging, but it could FEEL like a perfect fit. Hope that helps a little. Trust yourself.

  • Sandy

    Dear Katie,
    Really Thanx a lot from bottom of heart, for your article…It was great feeling reading your article..I am 29 and really dealing with all these situations..everytime i keep procrastinating the things and my Prep for MBA, thinking that why a change…and when i go back to work i find myself totally stuck up i keep pulling my hairs and saying go for it ..But then again…It has become a vicious circle for me past 2 years….And now to add it to worst when i am preparing for GMAT,i am doing it halfheartedly thinking about all the thoughts you have mentioned..worried about future after MBA, will it be worth the hefty fees i pay for doing it..will i be able to study the way i used to in colleges after 6 years now . In the end i just sleep trying to think about it another day..If you can help me dealing with all this i will be very thankful to you..it can change my life for ever,……………………..

  • divya.khurana82@gmail.com

    Dear Katie,

    I must say that with every sentence I felt as though someone wrote the entire piece on my behalf. Every emotion, feeling you described is EXACTLY what I am going through right now. I am starting bschool this fall in Europe and have been through everything which you mentioned.

    Thank you so much for your piece. I am extremely relieved to hear that I am not the only one!

  • Emily, glad the excerpt spoke to you. I’m the author of Earn It. Totally agree that we often have to face some fears to get unstuck. That’s a constant hurdle that I’ve seen in myself, application and coaching clients, yoga students and everyone I’ve ever met. Of course, as you know, there’s a lot of freedom on the other side of fear. Take care, Katie

  • Emily

    This was really nice to read. It is comforting to know others have similar “stuckness” as myself. I recently quit my job of 5 years and am moving to San Francisco from Boston. It was a decision that took years to make (and many failed attempts to do well on the GMAT). I learned sometimes to get unstuck you have to do something that scares you! The decision to change everything was not easy (nor is it the best choice for everyone), but it’s proven to be one that has inspired me. I don’t feel stuck anymore and the world again holds so much potential.