There’s a rule of thumb in MBA applications: Start studying for the GMAT in March – a year before you intend to enroll. Why? Just think about all the steps that come with applying to business school.
First, you have a resume, where you must condense your academic and professional background to a single page and reflect the “how” and the “why” more than the “what” and the “when.” Second, you’ve got the essays. While adcoms are requiring fewer of these written responses, they’re still a tool for revealing how you’ll be an invaluable voice in your class (and why you’ll be successful after you graduate). And letters of recommendations usually aren’t dashed out in a week or two, either.
Beyond the application, you may need to take classes or MOOCs to brush up on the fundamentals (and smooth any concerns about your mastery of finance or statistics). Not to mention, schools are seeking candidates who show career growth, leadership experience, and extracurricular interests. Without those, your candidacy is dead on arrival. Picking the right school also requires reflection – along with frank conversations with faculty, students, and alumni. While ranking and reputation make for good copy, you’re better off focusing on fit. Ultimately, a school’s culture, strengths, and network yield the greatest return.
In short, you have months of work ahead of you. But it all starts with the GMAT. It is the great equalizer, the one rubric where students can be compared side by side. Score a 700 or above and you’ll snag an adcom’s interest. Hit 650 or lower: time to lower your expectations (or re-take the test).
If you haven’t taken the GMAT yet, you’re behind in the application process. For starters, experts recommend two to three months of GMAT study, which takes you to the middle of fall. The problem? Round one deadlines have generally passed by then, with timelines ranging from September 9 (Harvard) to October 1 (Wharton and Stanford) to October 20 (Fuqua). And applying in the first round comes with some big-time perks. Generally, adcoms view first-round applicants as the most committed candidates. Plus, there are fewer candidates then, which can mean greater consideration for their applications. Don’t forget, nearly all first rounders are guaranteed to hear back before the holidays (if not sooner).
So is it too late to apply? Absolutely not! In fact, schools receive the largest number of applications in the second round, which concludes in early-to-mid January. The advantage? Second rounders have more time to polish their applications. The disadvantage? Many offers have already been made, meaning you’re competing with more people for fewer seats (i.e. your application had better stand out). And the later you take the GMAT, the less time you have to re-take it if you need to raise your score.
So what are the best practices for studying for the GMAT? This spring, the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) produced a handy infographic, which includes a listing of what to expect on the GMAT, and how to create a study plan. This summer, GMAC also updated its GMAT Handbook, which includes directions for scheduling your exam, a breakdown of what to expect on exam day, and steps for receiving and evaluating your score.
To access these resources, along with helpful columns on GMAT preparation and test-taking, check out the next pages.
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