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.

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