Don’t Let Fear Derail Your MBA Dreams

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on

Applying to business school, especially to the most elite MBA programs, is a highly stressful undertaking. You must dedicate an enormous amount of time to studying for the GMAT or GRE, go through numerous essay drafts to ensure you have presented your unique story in an engaging way and skillfully manage your recommenders in order to lock in rousing endorsements of your candidacy.

Successfully balancing all of these components is challenging and will often shake the confidence of even the strongest MBA candidates. I’d like to share some of the tips and strategies that I suggest to clients when they find themselves running out of steam during the application process.

Fear is the primary reason applicants lose the energy to continue. Self-doubt, anxiety, procrastination and generally feeling overwhelmed by this process are often the roadblocks to success.

If they knew without a doubt that they were going to get in to the b-school of their dreams, they would just run with it and get their applications done. But applicants become paralyzed by uncertainty and the fear that they aren’t doing it right. The goal then is to move through the fear and get focused.

The most important tip is to set a goal to do something every single day. When considered all together, the MBA application is daunting. But if you can break the process down into small, manageable tasks and focus on achieving them, it becomes much easier.

There’s a secret to productivity widely attributed to Jerry Seinfeld, one of my favorite comedians. The advice goes something like this:

1. Buy a big wall calendar and a magic marker.
2. Each day that you accomplish your task – such as writing jokes – put an X over the day.
3. After a few days you create a chain of X’s, and you will be inspired to keep the chain alive.
4. Don’t break the chain!

Slow and steady is a much better way to go, so make a goal to get your work done in some form every day. This consistency goes a long way toward reducing the anxiety that procrastination causes.

You may still have days of marathon essay-writing sessions, and that’s OK. But if you’re coming off a huge project at work, or find yourself working late a few days in a row, don’t fall into the temptation of rewarding yourself with a night off.

Instead, force yourself to do something productive for your application, even if it’s as simple as spending a half-hour before bed brainstorming, outlining or revising your resume. That steady pace is what’s going to help you be most effective in keeping up that momentum.

Applying to too many schools is another common cause of anxiety for b-school hopefuls. There are diminishing returns in terms of quality of applications, and you can run out of steam. Four to six schools is about right.

I also advise applicants to minimize their time on business school forums and websites, where they often run into an information overload and panicked or misinformed people who tend to feed on each other’s nervousness.

It may be tempting to check out these groups on a regular basis, but in the end time spent in this way is basically another form of procrastination and does very little to increase your knowledge of the school you hope to get into. Just keep your head down and keep the focus on making your application the best it can be.

When you do become burned out working on one application component, don’t throw up your hands and reach for the TV remote or head over to Facebook. If your energy flags when working on MBA essays, take a day to work on data forms or prepare your recommenders. The key is to switch to other tasks until you get your mojo back. Don’t let fatigue cause you to lose steam!


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