How long should you take to prepare your B-school applications?
If you are tempted to throw together your MBA application the weekend before the deadline, think again. Admissions officers can easily distinguish between a hurried list of accomplishments and predictably routine career goals versus a thoughtful exploration of your personal growth, and how you intend to make an impact or transition to the next stage of your career.
And while they undoubtedly help, it is not your blue-chip employment record and stellar GMAT score that will guarantee your place, as the ding reports on Poets&Quants confirm. In a world of instant digital access and last minute bookings, you might be able to pull off a term paper, company presentation or surprise weekend before Monday morning comes around, but are unlikely to do yourself any favors with this approach when asked to describe what matters most to you (Stanford GSB), discuss how you would advance the mission of the business school (MIT Sloan), explain when you started to think differently (Chicago Booth), or choose a song that expresses who you are (UC- Berkeley Haas).
With so many schools looking to understand your motives to pursue not just any MBA degree, but their MBA, it’s not a bland response about a particular course that is featured on the school’s MBA homepage, hommage to the school’s reputation, or a friend who is currently studying at the school that is going to make you stand out in a competitive applicant pool.
SCHOOLS CAN GENERALLY SORT OUT THE LAST-MINUTE APPLICANTS
You thought it was an urban myth that candidates apply to Wharton with an essay that refers to why they want to go to Columbia? As former directors and associate directors from the top schools, our team at Fortuna Admissions have all read applications that make this mistake, or confuse an application deadline with a birth date. Beyond an admissions policy that systematically rejects applicants who are only a few days old, such oversights were often part of a wider application that was clearly compiled in hurry. Too often, we were obliged to turn down a candidate who had done a shoddy, last-minute job on his application, even when we could see that the fundamentals were good, because presentation and preparation are important, especially in a highly competitive admissions game. This kind of preparation indicates to the admissions officers that the process, as well as the content, matters to the applicant.
There are plenty of analogies that describe the need to take time to prepare for an event or particular project – training to run the marathon or acclimatizing to climb a mountain come to mind. But maybe the triathlon is a little closer to the mark, given that the event involves three distinct disciplines. You might be ahead of the field after the swimming section, but fall behind on cycling or run out of steam on the concluding run to the line.
When it comes to business school, you can’t afford to count on grade point average alone to give you academic credibility, when there is work to do to deliver a competitive GMAT score. And remember that there are hundreds of others with shiny red bicycles from McKinsey, Goldman or Google, and perhaps they will outrace you. Furthermore, a lackluster or impersonal recommendation is a bit like finding all your effort going to waste as you struggle with leg cramp at the end of the race. On the other hand, careful planning can make the difference to help you cross the finish line.