If you are considering applying to business school, these are the questions you should be asking yourself right now: While you may be ready for business school, will your application be ready for early-January deadlines? Will your application be the strongest application that you can submit? Or might you be a substantially more compelling candidate in September of 2021?
As you contemplate next steps, below are six questions you should be asking yourself. Your answers could be “Yes,” “No,” or “I’m not sure yet!”
1. Are you at peace with your standardized test?
The GMAT or GRE is just one component of a holistic evaluation that, along with your undergraduate transcript, allows the admissions committee to determine whether or not you are ready for the rigor of its program. While some MBA programs, notably MIT Sloan, are test-optional, (at least for now!) the admissions committee is still looking for evidence that you can be successful. Still, you do not need to have a 730+ score! Take a look at the median score and 80% range of the programs you are targeting. If you are 10-20 points below the average, in most instances, you should not be too worried, but should carefully consider whether or not you can demonstrate your readiness in other ways, like through math or economics classes that you took during college or more recently. If you are 30-40 points below a program’s GMAT average, you will really need to show quantitative competencies elsewhere, perhaps through analytical tasks at work. You may just need to take the test again, switch to the GRE, or consider an emerging option, the Executive Assessment.
2. Is your work experience solid and sufficient?
On average, incoming students at the top business school programs have four to five years of post-undergrad professional experience. But admissions committees are looking beyond just the number of years; they want to see progression and impact from your work. Those reviewing your application will be looking for evidence that you have made contributions—perhaps by managing people, projects, or budgets. If you have three or more years of experience and your work profile will not change dramatically in the next nine to ten months, then apply now. If you are on the lighter end of work experience and have a promotion or big project on the horizon, you will likely be a stronger candidate if you wait. If you have lost your job because of the economic downturn, this does not necessarily disqualify you from being ready to apply. Several of my former clients, who are now enrolled at Chicago Booth, Berkeley Haas, and Duke Fuqua, were unemployed at the time they submitted their applications.
3. Is your leadership profile compelling?
MBA programs are in the business of developing future business leaders, but they do not create leaders. They are looking for students who have previous leadership experiences and have begun to shape their leadership profile. Did you hold leadership roles during undergrad through which you began to test out your leadership style? Have you spearheaded projects at work? Do you manage a team? Are you actively engaged with a community activity or corporate initiative through which you are honing your leadership skills? Your leadership potential should be evident from your resume, essays, and recommendations. Consider how you might enhance your leadership profile in the months to come.
4. Are your recommenders going to call you out as “best in class”?
As one of my colleagues often says, “Asking a recommender to write five or six business school recommendations the Monday before Thanksgiving is like gifting them with a holiday fruitcake.” Have you discussed your MBA plans with your manager? You want to select two individuals who will be your champions and can share specifics about how you have contributed in your role and what, very specifically, you have done to make an impact. You need to prepare your recommenders to write compelling reports by sharing your goals and reminding them of projects that you have worked on that they might highlight. Most importantly, you need to determine whether or not your recommenders can commit to timelines and put in the necessary thought and effort so that this piece of your applications is impactful.
5. Have you taken time to get to know the programs to which you are applying?
There is no Common App for business school. Each MBA program has selected essay prompts that it believes will elicit responses that will allow it to identify the best candidates from which to create a diverse cohort. You must take the time to research each school to which you are applying in order to understand the program’s values and identify resources that align with your goals and areas of interest. Although making campus visits and sitting in on classes is not an option due to COVID-19 restrictions, the playing field has been leveled as all schools are offering virtual campus tours, webinars, and coffee chats to prospective applicants from around the world. You will need to immerse yourself in these resources so that you can reveal your fit with your target program. If you can’t make your case, thousands of others will!
6. Do you have a compelling narrative?
Business schools are looking to accept unique and competitive applicants. Do you have a story to tell that showcases why you need an MBA, why now is the right time, and what role you would like to pursue post-MBA? You should be able to tell this story in a one-minute elevator pitch as well as in a 250- or 500-word essay in your application. In an interview, you must be able to provide responses that tie your past experiences and motivations through a specific MBA program to your post-MBA goals. Beyond just getting a degree, can you highlight how each program you are considering would be better as a result of having you in its class?
So, what is the next step?
Whether you answered a resounding “Yes” to everything or are not quite sure, now is the time to double down and move forward with the application process. Stratus Admissions Counseling can help you assess the go/no-go decision.
If you answered an outright “No” to any of the above questions, consider waiting until next year to apply. Give yourself the time to identify and address areas of weakness in your profile so you can get accepted to your dream MBA program.
Still unsure? Whether you are applying in the next two months or the next two years, Stratus can help you submit the strongest possible applications. Reach out for a free 30-minute profile evaluation with one of our seasoned MBA admissions counselors.
Susan Cera is a Senior MBA Admissions Counselor at Stratus Admissions Counseling. She earned an MBA from Duke Fuqua and holds a BA in Economics and Computer Science from Dartmouth College. Susan has a wide range of business experience, from economic consulting for anti-trust litigation to product management for early-stage technology companies and founding a nonprofit. She spent ten years evaluating MBA applications and selecting candidates to admit to Duke Fuqua. Susan has been coaching MBA applicants since 2015.