Although some MBA programs have begun releasing their application essay questions for 2018–2019, including Harvard, Columbia, Wharton, and the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, a lot of schools still have not. But this does not mean you need to wait to get started on your applications. You can get quite a bit done during this quieter period, which will leave you more time to focus on your essays later. Here are some tasks you can begin addressing right away:
- Register online with all the schools you are targeting, and open the applications by creating a username and password. (We recommend casting a wide net!) Even if a program has not yet published its essay questions, the more administrative part of the application is likely open. Enter your details and your parents’ details, and upload your transcript (see task #2). Use this time to get some of this detail work out of the way. The more “admin-y” side of applications can be both cumbersome and easy to overlook. You do not want these tasks hanging over your head at the last minute. And registering for the applications now has the side benefit of getting you on the schools’ mailing lists.
- Order your transcript! Different undergraduate institutions deliver transcripts in different ways: some provide a locked PDF, some issue an unofficial report, others only distribute hard copies via snail mail. Order this document now so you have plenty of time to receive it (and upload it, per task #1!). If you receive a locked document, print it out and scan it so you can easily add it to the schools’ online applications. You do not want to be dedicating valuable time to this kind of thing later in the process.
- Actually look at your transcript. Review your transcript the way an admissions representative might. Did you take any quantitative courses in undergrad? If not—or if you got a D in that freshman year stats class—consider taking a course now such as Math for Management (offered by the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley) or HBX CORe (offered by Harvard Business School) to mitigate this gap. Business schools want to know that you have the quantitative chops to succeed in their programs, and these kinds of classes can help you demonstrate that if your transcript does not.
- Leverage your network. Use Facebook and LinkedIn to find friends and friends-of-friends who are currently enrolled in or recent graduates of the programs you are interested in. See if they might be willing to hop on the phone with you for 20 minutes to talk about their experience at the school and share any advice they may have. Ask them about their favorite classes and professors and what the job market looks like. See if they can introduce you to anyone with a similar background or goals. These conversations will not only help you determine your fit with a program but also give you fodder to make your essays more interesting and compelling. And perhaps even more importantly, schools want to see that you have done your homework on what they have to offer and truly understand how their program is right for you.
- Take your networking a step further. This is especially important if your contacts at an MBA program are limited. Look into whether the school has an admissions/student ambassador program. Admissions committees use these programs to help spread information about what the MBA experience is really like at the school from a student perspective, and these ambassadors can provide valuable insight and advice to prospective applicants like you! If a business school you are targeting has such an offering, reach out to schedule a call with one of its student representatives.
- Check out alumni and student referral programs. Some programs, such as the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and Johnson at Cornell University, let their students and alumni submit informal recommendations of applicants. These types of recommendations are not a silver bullet that will get you accepted, but they can certainly help in situations when schools are deciding between similar candidates. If you have a personal connection to a student or graduate of an MBA program you wish to attend, consider asking that person whether he/she would be willing to submit such a recommendation on your behalf.
- Attend an information session. These sessions are great opportunities to learn more about a program, ask questions, and even get a sense of your competition in the applicant pool. Many schools now host online information sessions—so at a bare minimum, make sure you attend these.
- Subscribe to school newsletters and to those from knowledgeable MBA sources like mbaMission and Poets&Quants. A lot of great information is available out there! Schools will sometimes provide additional insight into their essay questions or what they expect or hope to see (or not see!) from applicants during the admissions process. The program’s admissions director might even post a video with tips and suggestions. Keep yourself informed! You never know what you might learn.
- Spruce up your resume. Getting your resume right can be challenging and time consuming, and starting now will save you a lot of time in the long run. Does your resume clearly demonstrate your career progression at work? Have you shown your impact and quantified your results? Are all your significant extracurriculars from undergrad and today included? Take a hard look, and get to work sooner rather than later making sure your resume conveys your key information in a way the admissions committees will appreciate. For examples, see the models provided in mbaMission’s free Resume Guide.
- Freshen up your extracurriculars. Have you volunteered with Habitat for Humanity for years—just not this year? Have you historically helped out at a local homeless shelter but have not had time to do so lately? Show the admissions committee your leadership outside of work and that you are a multidimensional candidate by making time and re-engaging with past extracurriculars and community activities now. Rather than taking on a whole new extracurricular at this point, sometimes getting back involved in something you have done before or are already passionate about is easier—and may better show your commitment and values.
We know it is only June and application deadlines still feel very far away, but they will be here before you know it! The more you can accomplish now, while you wait for programs to release their essay prompts, the smoother your application process will ultimately be. And for additional support, sign up for a free 30-minute consultation.