Don’t Lose that Great Idea: Keep a Notebook During Spring and Summer

By Jeremy Dann

Jack Kerouac kept a notebook before he went On the Road. Larry David’s notebook of wry observations and embryonic comedy routines was lost and then found by annoying fans on Curb Your Enthusiasm. Now, YOUR notebook should play a big part of your business school admissions process.

This spring and summer, commit to carrying around a notebook to scratch down your thoughts about your applications. Some of these might be random ideas that come to you while you’re working at your desk, sitting on a plane or braving the morning commute (if you drive, however, please keep two hands on the wheel at all times). But you should also plan to spend, say, half an hour of scheduled quality time per week with your notebook for the next several months. You may choose to use your notebook computer as your notebook in order to more easily reformat your thoughts into essay outlines.

Applications have not been distributed yet, but most of the themes are universal from year to year and should not come as a surprise to applicants. Take time to write down your preliminary ideas relating to:

1. Your main career accomplishments to date: not responsibilities or your job description, but your achievements
2. Examples of your leadership abilities
3. Your outside interests and passions and main achievements you’ve had in your “extracurricular” life
4. People and events that have influenced you
5. Your career goals after business schools”¦and your life goals
6. Areas in which you need improvement or personal development: these may be demonstrated skill or personality weaknesses you’ve committed to improve on. Also, these may be areas you have just not had a chance to develop yet.
7. How business school will benefit you: everyone benefits from “the diverse student body, world-renowned faculty and active alumni network”; you need to move well beyond this level of analysis. What specific things do you want to learn? What classes do you want to take? What would be your ideal summer internship?

Don’t settle for writing down your general thoughts. Be specific. As a matter of fact, be incredibly specific. I encourage my clients to employ what I call “microexamples” to bring their essays to life. That means finding those discrete moments that encapsulate major experiences in your life. That one negotiation session where your idea led to a breakthrough”¦the discomfort of the first time you had to fire someone”¦that phone call where you lost an important customer’s business”¦the “ah-hah” moment when you decided to invest in a certain entrepreneur’s company.

Some other things to scratch on your pad:
1. Your thoughts on what schools are right for you. What departments need to be great? What geography do you prefer? Are programs such as cross-registration important for you? Check out what one applicant did to create the ultimate school selection algorithm.
2. Who will your best recommenders be””and what do you want them to say? We’ll talk more about this in coming weeks.
3. Comments from your friends and family, and colleagues if appropriate. Your b-school application process can be a great time to buff up your ego. Sit down with your buddies and ask them: “What are the best things about me?” Sometimes outside perspectives will reveal things about your character and talents that you weren’t fully aware of. Actually, in addition to buffing up your ego, you should probably also ask these people about their feelings on your required areas of personal and professional development.

Your notes will be an incredibly valuable resource, whether you’re tackling the admissions process by yourself or working with an applications advisor.

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