MBA Round 2 Applicants: Use This Year-End To-Do List

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s ‘Strictly Business’ MBA blog on U.S. News

The next two months will be “go time” for Round 2 MBA applicants, with numerous deadlines hitting just after the New Year. B-school hopefuls will need to manage their time wisely in order to complete several application components amid the distraction of the upcoming holidays.

Round two is typically the most competitive round, so if you need an assist to organize your time and efforts in these coming weeks, review this end-of-year To Do List for MBA applicants to stay on track and avoid becoming overwhelmed. If you plan ahead and stick to a schedule, you’ll still be able to join your friends and family for all of the celebrations without a shred of guilt for shirking your MBA application duties.

Brainstorming/drafting MBA essays: Since this portion of the application requires the most heavy lifting, allow six weeks—starting now—to draft, redraft, and produce the final edit of your MBA essays. This is the place to show off your individuality, leadership potential, and exactly why you’re b-school material. Applicants from overrepresented industries such as finance, information technology, engineering, or consulting should use the essays to focus on the aspects of your personal life that make you unique: hobbies, community service activities, passions and interests that make you stand out.

Many candidates find it helpful to kick off the essay writing process with rough drafts that go 50% or more above the required word count. While that seems like more work, it ultimately creates a better final product since the revision process helps you distill the best topics or anecdotes to support your overall application.

If you’re targeting a top ten business school and need extra insight about what the admissions committee is looking for, consider using one of SBC’s strategy guides, which analyze the qualities that each school seeks, and help applicants understand which stories to emphasize throughout their materials.

Retake the GMAT: Unless you already scored well enough to exceed your target b-school’s posted average, you might consider retaking the test to improve your score and boost your overall application quality. Though this element is highly individual, you should spend about three weeks of daily study sessions and then retake the exam. However, do not retake the test if you haven’t done any additional preparation.

Applicants often take the test two or more times before seeking a tutor or doing additional practice, hoping to somehow get lucky on the retake. Painful as it is to hear, the only way to substantially raise your score is to master the skills and test-taking strategies they require. A well-planned retake can give you the boost you need to improve your application and clear the path to the business school of your dreams.

Visit the campus: While not feasible for every applicant, if time permits, schedule your campus visit as early as possible. Most business schools opened their class visit programs in October, and admissions committees usually appreciate it when prospective students take the time to experience the learning environment in person. Ultimately, your visit can go a long way toward fueling your final decision of where to apply, and also supply content for your MBA essays that demonstrates your fit with the program.

Create an MBA Resume:  It surprises many MBA candidates when they learn that the current version of their resume is not the best format for business school applications. The person reviewing your MBA application just isn’t looking for the same specifics as a person hiring you for an engineering position or a job in consulting. You’re going to want to spend about one week as a breather between essay writing sessions to do a complete resume overhaul that highlights the aspects that are important to the program.

Rework your MBA resume so that it functions more as a narrative about your career and outside interests, rather than a dry list of responsibilities and achievements. From this document, the admissions committee should clearly understand what sort of work stories you’d be talking about in class, or what sorts of “lessons learned” you’ll be able to speak to from either your professional or community-service experiences.

Prepare for Interviews:  Interview season is already underway for round one applicants, and the following advice holds true no matter where you are in the admissions process: once your MBA interview is scheduled, you should spend 30 minutes a day prepping for the exchange.

You can never over-prepare for this all-important event in your journey to b-school; the conversation should move as smoothly as a Viennese waltz —which means no one’s toes get crushed. Pay attention to non-verbal cues, and don’t plow ahead with too much information during the interview, or become mum when a longer response to a question is in order.  The interaction during your interview speaks volumes to what type of teammate you’ll be if accepted into the MBA program; make sure you’re sending the right signals.

I hope this rough timeline will keep you on track and sane during these final weeks before we say so long to 2017 and hello to round two. Stay focused and engaged with the process, but make sure to allow some time for fun and celebration, too.

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