In the coming weeks, business schools will release deadlines and application details for the 2022-2023 season. But whether applications are open at your top schools or not, the time to start your business school application is now. Because you want to actually enjoy the process of applying.
Join us for an exclusive webinar hosted by P&Q on Wed., May 11 at 12 noon ET: What You Need to Know for the 2022/23 Application Cycle. It’s the first in a series of live MBA Admissions Masterclasses with the experts at Fortuna Admissions. Registration is free but spaces are limited.
This means pushing away the inevitable anxiety over ever-higher GMAT scores, M7 admit rates and the competition among talented peers. Applying for the MBA represents more than the next step in your career, but the opportunity to enter a meaningful process of self-discovery. It’s an invitation to pause amid the velocity of your fast-paced life and think about where you want to see yourself in five to 10 years, what matters most to you, and what you have to offer in both the classroom and in the wider community. If you bring awareness to the process of applying, and not just the outcome, the benefits will extend far beyond an acceptance letter.
Injecting the b-school application process with this level of self-discovery is something my Fortuna Admissions colleagues are passionate about. With round one just over four months away, I asked their advice on the key things you should be doing right now to set yourself up for admissions success.
COUNTDOWN TO ROUND ONE: 7 STRATEGIES TO START NOW
- Reflect & self-assess.
From written essays to the admissions interview, the MBA application process is rife with imposing questions designed to surface your unique traits, motivations, values, and career aspirations. Business schools don’t just want to hear about your academic excellence and professional triumphs – they want to know who you are, what you care about, and what makes you unique. Taking the time to summon this clarity of purpose for yourself is the single most important thing you can do to strengthen your application.
“I tell my clients at the start of our engagement that spending time on self-reflection is the single more important factor in determining if you’ll get into one of your top choice MBA programs,” says Fortuna expert coach Jenifer Raver, former Director, Dean of Faculty Office, Yale-NUS College & Wharton MBA / Lauder MA. “It’s not your resume, achievements, GMAT, or GPA. How much time are you willing to invest in yourself and this process – that’s the question. I’m asking you to get to know yourself.”
- Research with discernment & network.
Admission Committees are obsessed with fit, and you should be too. That’s why it’s essential to do your homework and gain an in-depth understanding of various programs. Reach out to the school communities and start networking with students, alumni, and faculty. When you do, initiate frank conversations that help you understand a school’s identity beyond its brand. Many schools have done an impressive job accelerating the quality and dynamism of virtual offerings to help students get to know themselves and their communities due to the pandemic. UCLA Anderson, for example, has an Admissions Ambassador Corps of some 120 students, and an online portal that allows you to find connections based on your professional, personal, or club interests (including links to LinkedIn profiles). MBA blogs are a font of useful and up-to-the-minute info, as are schools’ social media channels.
“Your thoughtful research ensures you know what matters to your top programs, and what matters most to you,” writes Fortuna’s Caroline Diarte Edwards in her article, How to Research MBA Programs. “When comparing schools, ask yourself: How can each program help me achieve my career goals? Can I picture myself thriving there?”
- Invest in your extracurricular profile.
What you do in your free time (what little you may have of it) is as important and interesting to the admissions committee as what you do at work, as it signals the kind of student and alum you’ll be. The most competitive MBA candidates have a level of community engagement that speaks to a sense of higher purpose, and a desire to contribute to society. Whether it’s a nonprofit board, fundraising effort, sports team, or Bollywood dance club, your extracurricular pursuits reinforce patterns of leadership and commitment. While outside activities can fall by the wayside in the face of heavy workloads, it’s vital to stay involved in at least one or two of your commitments outside of work. This demonstrates that you’re both dynamic and passionate – values highly prized by MBA admissions. Also, know that extracurricular activities that you start just a few months before your MBA deadline may look calculated and are unlikely to be given much weight. (View this related article by Fortuna’s Heidi Hillis for a deeper dive on how to position extracurriculars on your MBA application.)
- Distinguish your work experience.
Consider how you can build one or two standout stories over the coming months that will showcase your professional abilities and broaden your experience. Proactively seek opportunities that are out of the ordinary and volunteer to lead projects outside of your scope. Can you take the lead on a project at work or volunteer for more responsibility than you’d normally be assigned? Look for opportunities to show patterns of behavior that convey your leadership potential. If you can connect these experiences to your future aspirations, all the better, but the key point here is that anything out of the ordinary on your roster of experiences will go a long way to making your application more memorable to admissions directors.
- Evaluate your GMAT score.
Preparation is vital for this quant-heavy, adaptive test with non-intuitive elements like data sufficiency, but you’ll want to be strategic. The average GMAT score for the class of 2021 at Stanford GSB is an eye-popping 738; for Harvard Business School it’s 730 and Wharton 733. Candidates who score above 700 often report studying at least 80-100 hours.
If you’ve taken the GMAT and are short of the 80% range of accepted scores for your target schools, and believe you can meaningfully increase yours, it may be beneficial to retake. But if you’ve taken the GMAT more than three times (it’s typical to plateau) and are concerned your quant score isn’t going to budge, think about enrolling in an online course in finance, accounting or stats to prove your academic abilities.
- Coach Your Recommenders.
They may be accomplished professionals, but don’t assume your recommenders will know exactly what’s expected from them. Set your recommenders up for success by walking them through the process, emphasizing the importance of depth, details, and anecdotes to address specific situations and your contributions. This doesn’t mean telling them what to write – you want your recommender’s voice and authenticity to lead – but you also don’t want them to dive in blindly given the level of substance and specificity schools are expecting. Be sure to give them plenty of lead time and check in regularly.
But first, choose wisely: By far your best bet is someone who has been responsible for your development and growth and can comment in detail as well as with enthusiasm, such as a current or recent supervisor. “Frame your ask, not in terms of, ‘would you write a recommendation for me?’ but rather ‘would you advocate for me?’” writes Fortuna’s Caroline Diarte Edwards in her recent post, How to Get A Killer MBA Letter Of Recommendation. “How your chosen recommender reacts will give you a valuable indication of whether they are willing to be your champion, or if there’s a risk that they could write a lukewarm recommendation.”
After laying this important groundwork over the first 50 days, the writing of your actual application is poised for maximum efficiency. Once you have a solid foundation in place, you can turn your focus to refining your resume, completing the data form with precision, and writing (and rewriting) powerful MBA essays.
- Don’t go it alone.
As the Co-Founder of Fortuna Admissions, I’m biased about the benefits of having an expert MBA admissions coach who can guide and support you. Beyond their expertise and insight, a seasoned coach will push you to go deeper, helping to illuminate the stories and reflections you may have overlooked that will distinguish you to the MBA admissions committee.
“I’ve found that if you’re willing to meet with your coach regularly, and commit to self-reflection several months in advance, things are going to work out well,” says Jenifer. “We can always meet people where they’re at in the application process, but what we’re offering isn’t just editorial support. It’s a relationship, and that takes time. The most powerful stories are often the most personal, and those kinds of insights won’t come out in the first phone call.”
That said, a first phone call can help you assess mutual fit and what you stand to gain by investing in the coaching process. You can request a free consultation with Fortuna Admissions.
“People were coming to us seeking MBA admission coaching closer and closer to deadline, straining to do months’ worth of work in mere weeks or simply cutting corners to one-shot their applications,” says Jenifer. “I persuaded many round one MBA hopefuls to wait until round two when their applications were strongest. But the reality is that my most successful clients – the ones that get into one or more of their top choices – invariably start working with me at least four to six months in advance.”
For more insights and advice, join Fortuna’s MBA Admissions Masterclass series, starting May 11 at 12 noon ET featuring What You Need to Know for the 2022/23 Application Cycle. These live, 50-min. strategy sessions are also a chance to get your questions answered by our panel of industry experts. Registration is free but space is limited.
Matt Symonds is Co-Founder of MBA admissions coaching firm Fortuna Admissions and Co-Host of the CentreCourt MBA Festival. For a candid assessment of your chances of admission success at a top MBA program, sign up for a free consultation.