Most of our clients at Stratus Admissions Counseling ask us, “How long does it take to put an MBA application together?” This is a great question—and one that you should consider seriously. However, there’s a different answer for every applicant. Therefore, in this blog post, I intend to help you build your personal business school application timeline.
To start, consider the major elements of MBA applications. For most people, they include the following (generally in this order):
1. Testing (GMAT, GRE, EA)
Prep time for standardized tests can be heavy, with some of our clients devoting up to eight months to this task. Also, many people take multiple tests. What about you?
2. Introspection And Strategy Development
Explore and clearly document your career goals, craft personal strategy documents, and select your target schools. Nailing your career goals is critical, and it’s common for applicants to spend three to four weeks inspecting multiple career paths. Most people spend four to six weeks on this task.
Your business school resume is different from the resume you’d send to a recruiter for a new job, so it’s going to take some work. A good expectation is two to three weeks of drafts and iterations to get it into MBA application shape.
4. Letters Of Recommendation (LORs)
Although the applicant really doesn’t have a lot of work to do here, you still need to take it into account. Once you select your recommenders and ask them to write the LOR, give them enough time to actually write the recommendation. Most people don’t write recommendations regularly (and they’re likely very busy with their job), so have a little empathy and make sure you allow plenty of time for them to complete the LOR—especially if you’re applying to multiple schools. Lastly, sharing your strategy with your recommenders and explaining why an MBA is important for you can take some time on the front end of the process, but doing so will yield more powerful LORs.
5. School Essays
Researching schools (including discussions with current students, alumni, and faculty) and understanding your fit for them can take one to two weeks—and that’s before you even write an outline. Then, you often can leverage your introspection work to craft the essays, each of which will take several drafts to finalize. The content and essay prompts will be unique for each school, but most people move at a faster pace after they get a few under their belt. Allot anywhere from two to four weeks per school to create your application essays.
6. Online Applications
If the other elements in this list are what lies below the surface, the online application is the tip of the iceberg! There’s a lot of information to complete, and short answer questions take time. Also, there’s no spellcheck, so you have to pay attention to the details. Give yourself the time and space for this part of the process. Pro hint: if you do all of the applications in the same weekend, all of the detailed information will remain readily available, and you’ll move more quickly!
If you’re like most applicants who try to manage these streams of work in one- to two-hour daily increments with perhaps a little more time on the weekends, consider creating a timeline (like a project plan). Don’t overcomplicate it! Just use a simple Excel spreadsheet or Google Sheet and copy the format from the following examples:
Example 1: Four Schools, 21 Weeks (GMAT/GRE, Average Pace, No Overlap)
Example 2: Four Schools, 28 Weeks (Two GMAT/GREs, No Overlap, One-Week Vacation)
Example 3: Four Schools, 15 Weeks (GMAT/GRE Already Complete, Average Pace)
Example 4: One School, Nine Weeks (GMAT/GRE Already Complete, Average Pace)
Example 5: Four Schools, 10 Weeks (GMAT/GRE Already Complete, VERY Fast Pace)
Example 6: Two Schools, Eight Weeks (GMAT Already Complete, Fast Pace)
As you can see, these timelines vary depending on the situation, so here are a few things to consider when crafting your personal timeline:
Will You Work Sequentially Or In Parallel?
Can you study for the GMAT while thinking about your future career? I don’t recommend focusing on crafting multiple schools’ essays at the same time. However, if you can get the resume and recommendations moving concurrently and start the introspection process while studying for the GMAT, you might shave off a few weeks.
Have You Taken The GMAT/GRE?
If yes, great—leave it off your timeline! If not, be realistic about how much time you think this task will take.
How Many Schools Are You Applying To?
Your first set of essays will likely take longer to craft than the last set, but I assure you there’s no way you’ll be able to cut and paste from one school’s essay to the next.
Are You Planning For Curveballs?
While advising one client last year, his communication with me abruptly stopped. After nine days of radio silence (which is HIGHLY unusual), he sent me an email that said, “Life happened.” He went through a challenging breakup while also getting completely slammed at his job. This stuff happens (it’s life), and although you can’t expect it, you’ll be grateful later if you plan for it now. Thankfully, my client started early enough—we picked up where we left off, and he submitted all applications by the end of Round 1.
Similarly, you may want to consider your vacations as, well… vacations. If you’d rather spend your hard-earned vacation days relaxing and connecting with loved ones, then take a week off. Just give yourself space so you’re not stressing about essays.
How Fast Can You Work?
I recommend working on your application material at least every 48 hours, if not every 24 hours. Not only does the pace keep you moving so the work gets done, but I’ve found that momentum also drives more compelling applications.
One final point: DON’T DELAY! If you’re thinking it will take you, say, ten weeks, don’t make the tenth week the week of the school’s deadline. Leave some buffer. And if you submit it early, relax!
If you want to run some thoughts about your specific timeline by us, we’ll give you an objective and informed opinion. Schedule a free consultation with a Stratus Admissions Counselor today!