Round 2 deadlines for the top business schools are one month away (January 5 for Harvard Business School and Wharton, January 6 for Stanford GSB). If you’re someone who does your best work under pressure, now’s the time to activate if you’re applying to a top school for an MBA in round 2.
It also means getting strategic about where you focus your time and effort (view my related article, 5 Must-Dos Before Your Hit Submit). Six months ago, you had the opportunity to shape your profile, so with roughly four weeks to go – interrupted by multiple holidays – it’s all about presentation and polish.
Here are five top tips from my colleagues at Fortuna Admissions for prioritizing your remaining time and submitting an application that’s as brilliant and memorable as you are.
5 Tips for Focusing Your Efforts for R2 Deadlines
1. Account for the holidays.
If you haven’t already, check in with your recommenders, find out where they are in the process, and make sure you’re aware of their end-of-year availability in this run-up to the holidays. Do not underestimate the inevitable insanity between Hanukkah (which starts this week on Dec. 11) and New Year’s, when key people like your recommenders are preparing to set out-of-office replies. In my former role as INSEAD’s director of admissions, I fielded many a panicked call this time of year from round 2 candidates who just discovered that a recommender had left on holiday and was unlikely to submit the letter by deadline. This is where your ability to manage up comes in — anticipate what’s needed and create the best possible conditions for recommenders to write you a glowing and substantive letter of support.
2. Screen for sincerity & clarity.
MBA programs like Dartmouth Tuck, NYU Stern, Yale SOM, Carnegie Mellon Tepper, UVA Darden, Duke Fuqua, and UCLA Anderson will see a spike in round 2 applications from those who were rejected elsewhere in round 1. Given this reality, it’s vital to be even more convincing and sincere across your application materials.
“What’s essential in crafting each application is making each school believe that they’re your first choice. Of course, programs know that you’re applying to other programs — they expect that and it’s a sensible thing to do. But to win their acceptance, show them the love,” says Fortuna’s Amy Hugo in her article, How to Customize Your MBA Application. “In reviewing your MBA application, you want the admissions committee member to think, ‘wow, this applicant really gets us – let’s invite them for interview.’”
3. Audit for coherency & consistency.
Taken together, every element of the application should unify to offer a full, compelling, and authentic picture of you — where you’ve been, where you’re going, and how the MBA is vital for helping you realize your potential as a business leader. It’s also essential to avoid unnecessary repetition or duplication — use your limited real estate wisely. To this end, ask yourself the following questions:
- What are the key messages I’m trying to convey, and are they coming through across the application?
- Are there any gaps or inconsistencies that might undermine my narrative — for example, between the essays and letters of recommendation?
- Is there any unnecessary repetition between sections?
- What’s missing in terms of building a memorable and coherent picture?
4. Solicit fresh eyes for the final polish.
In addition to reviewing your application for its overarching narrative and key messages, it will need a thorough proofread by someone who can bring it fresh eyes. If you think it’s 90% to 95% complete, be sure to communicate this to your reviewer (to avoid a last-minute rework of an entire essay, for example). By January 1, it should be a matter of polishing — you don’t want to be drafting new material with mere days to go. Details matter, so cross-check self-reported data on the application form with your transcript as well. It’s always heartbreaking to see a terrific application undermined by a sloppy mistake, such as a copy-paste of one section of an essay from another application and leaving in the wrong school name. (Alas, this happens with alarming regularity.) At Fortuna Admissions, we offer an MBA Admissions Director Evaluation for those who are nearly ready to submit and want laser-focused feedback on how to maximize their chances of admission success.
5. Look ahead to the next stage.
It’s easy to get hyper-focused on submitting a stellar application — and while it’s a major milestone, it’s only the first hurdle. Keep the big picture in mind by looking past the deadline to anticipate a successful next stage — you’ll want to be a well-prepared interview candidate, and that’s not an overnight process, either. If and when you’re invited to meet an admissions interviewer, you’ll want your knowledge of the program to be current. Do this by continuing to learn about your target programs. Stay connected through admissions blogs, social media, and events and newsletters, and continue to maintain any relevant connections you’ve nurtured with alumni, current students, and/or faculty. Admissions committee members are known to inquire with connections mentioned in your essays or application, and you’ll want to be front-of-mind if they do.
Finally, pause to take an honest inventory of whether you’re prepared to submit the best possible application for your candidacy. Three weeks out is an unforgiving window if you’re just getting serious. If you’re feeling overly rushed and suspect your application will suffer, know that it’s always wiser to wait to apply when your application is at its best. (View my related article, 5 Must-Dos Before You Hit Submit.)
The MBA application is an exacting and meticulous rite of passage, but the clarity of purpose you stand to gain by the time you cross the finish line is a powerful side benefit. And of course, an offer of acceptance will quickly make the pain and suffering a distant memory.
Caroline Diarte Edwards is a director at MBA admissions coaching firm Fortuna Admissions and former INSEAD director of admissions, marketing, and financial aid. For a candid assessment of your chances of admission success at a top MBA program, sign up for a free consultation.