It’s the final throes of spring, and thoughts may drift to your favorite baseball team, sitting in the bleachers on a warm spring evening, watching the mascot’s antics and avoiding the “kiss-cam.”
And then… it REALLY sinks in: Spring is nearly over (June 21 to be precise). If you haven’t started already, it’s high time to consider your business school application strategy.
Together with Scott Woodbury-Stewart of Target Test Prep, our team at Fortuna Admissions has put together a short “to-do” list to consider in the final days of spring, as you prepare to enter (queue anticipatory music….) APPLICATION MODE.
Many MBA applicants believe that preparing for the GMAT and preparing for the applications themselves are mutually exclusive; first comes the focused GMAT/GRE prep, and the test, and perhaps a re-test, then once you have your score, you turn to the application itself with its essays, letters of recommendations, resume and interview.
Both Scott and I can affirm that working on these critical aspects in tandem is actually advantageous: You get to exercise the parts of your brain that you may have neglected since 11th-grade calculus, while also considering how to present what really matters most to you and why in 500 words. Each aspect of the preparation gives you respite from the other; so, when you are tired of data sufficiency, you can take a long look at your life goals.
HERE ARE SIX WAYS TO GEAR UP FOR THE APPLICATION CYCLE AHEAD:
- Seize the moment for sincere introspection. While few top schools have released application essay questions (most come out in late May/ June), the overarching questions asked by admissions offices do not change all that much thematically. Take some time in those precious transitions – on your commute, or your run, or between episodes during your Sunday afternoon binge-watching – to think about why you feel an MBA would be a good next step for you professionally and personally. What do you hope to gain? What do you hope to contribute? Brainstorm ideas freely; whatever you may be thinking about, and eventually you can hone that group of ideas into a coherent value proposition. The upside is that when the essay questions are released, you are starting ahead of the gate – and have a good foundation for how you may want to approach the more nuanced questions.
- Have a good look at your resume. Most applicants have resumes that are only as up to date as their latest job search – and that may have been two years ago! Take the time to add in any additions to your professional or personal achievements, and update projects you are working on currently, and keep your unique audience in mind (MBA admissions, not job recruiters). Do you feel it’s time to drop references to college activities from your list? If you have been out of school for three-to-five years, you can certainly hone that bullet point down, making room for more recent engagements and activities. Do the words you’ve chosen really highlight just how much you have brought to your organization?
- Identify key individuals for your letters of recommendations. Then, reach out to have an honest discussion that you’re thinking about applying to school. Most recommenders don’t appreciate last-minute requests, and by offering the heads up that you’re considering the process, you open up a great way to find out if they’re best suited to be your outspoken champions. It gives them at least three months to seek guidance from you about what kinds of traits and abilities you want them to highlight, and to consider how they can best support your candidacy.
And, while you are thinking about the qualitative parts of your application preparation, you can simultaneously get ready for the quantitative parts as well.
- Determine your baseline score. Before going full throttle into your GMAT prep, you need to determine how far you are from your score goal. First, spend some time familiarizing yourself with the GMAT. Get comfortable with how questions are structured, and spend some time learning the basics of GMAT quant and verbal. For instance, review the vital quant formulas and concepts you’ll need to know to successfully answer GMAT quant questions. After all, if you’ve forgotten the area of a triangle formula (area = (base x height)/2), how can you expect to answer questions involving the area of a triangle?
Once you feel that you have a solid base, take a full-length official GMAC practice exam. The results of that exam will provide an overview of your strengths and weaknesses and, most importantly, will allow you to see how far off you are from your score goal so that you can determine how long you may need to prepare in order to achieve your goal.
- Set a realistic Time Frame Once you have completed a practice exam and see how far off you are from your score goal, you need to set a realistic time frame that will allow you to hit your GMAT score goal. For example, if you score 500 on your initial practice exam and would like to score 720 (220 points off your score goal) on the GMAT, then you should ideally give yourself around 5+ months to prepare for your GMAT. However, if you score 650 on your practice exam and would like to score 700 (50 points off your score goal), then you may be able to achieve your score goal in 2+ months.
In any case, a key component of GMAT success is making your prep a top priority. Scott recommends that his students’ study for 2+ hours each weekday and 4+ hours each weekend day for a total of 18+ hours a week.
- Develop and Follow a Comprehensive Study Plan. Once you’ve set a time frame, you will be almost ready to dive into your prep. However, a key to your success will be staying organized throughout the preparation process. So, before you begin, be sure to map out a study plan. Ideally, you want to follow a study plan that is linear, thorough, and structured. Furthermore, since there is so much verbal and quant to learn, you’ll want to organize your study plan in a way that allows you to learn each topic individually and practice answering questions based on each topic to develop mastery.
For example: Let’s take the quant topic of exponents. You would first spend time learning all the appropriate concepts within exponents: multiplication with exponents, division with exponents, addition/subtraction with exponents, estimating exponents, etc. Having learned those concepts, you would engage in focused practice by answering many questions involving those concepts. Once you would become skilled in answering such questions, you would move on to the next topic. By proceeding in such a way, you can ensure that you are thoroughly learning each GMAT quant and verbal topic.
Start now, and you can actually enjoy the final days of spring, prepared for the application process ahead. By the time the playoffs come in September, you’ll be well on your way to an outstanding application package.
Judith Silverman Hodara is Co-Founder of MBA admissions coaching firm Fortuna Admissions and former head of Wharton Admissions. Scott Woodbury-Stewart is Founder & CEO of Target Test Prep. For a candid assessment of your chances of admission success at a top MBA program, sign up for a free consultation.