Getting a Jump on Next Year’s MBA Application
It’s never too early to get a jumpstart on your 2015 application. In fact, if you’re looking to join the ranks of the Class of 2018, you may already be behind your peers.
Shawn O’Connor, a Harvard MBA (and JD) who founded Stratus Admissions Counseling consulting, writes in U.S. News & World Report that when people ask him when they should start prepping, he always replies with “now.”
“I have found,” he argues, “that while there are official deadlines and barometers for progress, the secret to reaching admission to one’s target MBA program is developing and executing a strategically sound long-term strategy.”
In particular, starting early allows candidates to identify potential gaps and weaknesses that they can bolster before they need to apply. In his latest U.S. News column, O’Connor examines several key areas where prepping early can increase your chance of admissions later on.
And community service tops the list. “Due to the time and energy poured into careers,” O’Connor writes, “I see many applicants with insufficient community service or extracurricular leadership. If you start to work now to obtain leadership roles then you will be in them for almost one year before Round 1.” Spending a year or two engaged in community work before you apply demonstrates an authentic interest in a particular industry or cause. However, O’Connor warns, find something that resonates with you. “This will enable you to talk passionately about the experience during interviews and in application essays.”
Similarly, O’Connor advises clients to take leadership roles at work. “Students need to have great personal and professional stories to write about in their applications in the fall,” O’Connor observes, “but now is the time to create the experience that will go into the application.” He adds that applicants should seek out opportunities where they can demonstrate quantifiable “impact,” which includes managing people and complex processes.
O’Connor also encourages clients to beef up their academic credentials before applying, citing his own experience as an example. “Before I successfully applied to Harvard Business School, I took statistics and accounting courses even though I had a high GPA. This filled in some gaps in my transcript, as I… needed to take classes that demonstrated that I had the quantitative skills to be a successful business school student.” This is also an avenue for applicants with low GPAs, whom adcoms may dismiss as lacking the discipline and brainpower to thrive academically.
International experience is another area where O’Connor believes applicants can gain an advantage. In his experience, adcoms are placing greater emphasis on some kind of international background. And some of that, O’Connor notes, can come through work. “One option is to seek out an international service project in the next 8-10 months before the Round 1 deadline. Such a project can take shape by working with a team that is spread throughout the world or working in another country for such a period of time.”
Finally, O’Connor counsels students to strategically appeal to potential recommenders. And the key word here is “strategically.” First, applicants should understand how a recommender fits into their overall plan? For example, they should seek out different recommenders who can commend one’s technical expertise verses their ability to lead and get things done. O’Connor also stresses that you should make it a point to take steps now to display specific characteristics that you will want this person to write about later.” What’s more, applicants should remain in contact with potential recommenders. “Keeping this recommender updated on what you are currently working on and your goals for your career will enable them to write you a stronger, more complete recommendation.”
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