Prepare Now to Apply for B-School in Round 2

MBA application tips

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.

It’s mid-December – a time when people around the world make travel plans, exchange gifts, feast with friends and family and enjoy the magic of the coming holidays and new year. However, for those applying to business school in round two, the merriment can get tamped down by the last-minute hustle required to pull together a polished application for the first week of January.

If you’re submitting your MBA application next month, here are four things you need to do right now to make the process as smooth as possible and still enjoy all the upcoming year-end festivities.

1. Manage your recommenders: By now, each person writing a letter of recommendation on your behalf should have all the necessary forms and prep materials. Gently remind them of the upcoming deadline, which you should target a few days in advance of the actual deadline to reduce your stress. And make sure they have everything they need to create a strong letter in support of your candidacy.

Don’t expect your recommenders to remember every great thing you’ve done, and definitely don’t leave this process to chance. If you haven’t yet done so explicitly, remind them of the strengths you would like the letter to vouch for – such as leadership skills, teamwork, passion – as well as anecdotes that support those characteristics.

Many programs also ask recommenders to address a weakness, so make sure to remind them of a growth area and give examples of how you have already begun working to improve this weakness. A recent performance evaluation can provide a jumping-off point for this type of question.

Remember to show your gratitude for their help, especially if your recommenders will need to take time away from their families to work on your letters over the holidays. They’ll appreciate your assistance and thoroughness and produce a better recommendation on your behalf.

2. Continue getting to know your top-choice schools: It may have been love at first sight when you visited campus and sat in on a class, but as with any relationship, a deeper dive into programs will solidify your feelings and confirm whether your top-choice schools really are the best fit. Contact the student clubs that interest you, become a devoted reader of the MBA student blogs many programs have and, if possible, reach out to alumni.

During the winter break, many students return home and host informal coffee chats with prospective students – these offer a golden opportunity to get answers to any questions you have about applying, student life, academics and more. The feeling you walk away with after having personal contact with students past and present will speak volumes about whether the choice will provide the best learning environment for you.

3. Seek feedback from a trusted source: Don’t forget to proofread, spellcheck and then proofread your application essays more. Grammar, spelling and punctuation mistakes reflect poorly on your candidacy and can overshadow other impressive qualities like a high GMAT score or interesting work experience.

At some point, though, you’ll have read your responses so many times that errors will no longer jump out at you. This is where outside assistance becomes invaluable.

If you haven’t yet sought feedback on your essays, go ahead and enlist a family member, colleague or trusted friend to look them over. Their primary focus should be on your spelling and grammar and not making you second-guess your strategy.

However, they can provide feedback as to whether you come across as an interesting person who has a lot to share with others and would be a great addition to any MBA program. A fresh pair of eyes can also see how well you have conveyed your goals, experiences and strengths to an audience outside of your industry.

Pull back for a holistic review: Over the next few weeks, take time to reflect on your essay responses to ensure that they hit all the crucial points.

Have you conveyed the passion that makes you leap out of bed every morning? Have you laid out your career goals in a sensible way, showing that you understand the industry in which you hope to work and how an MBA from X school will help you achieve that goal? Make sure you have shared the things in life that inspire you, what matters to you or what moved you to make the decisions you have made.

Every component of the MBA application is an important piece of the puzzle when it comes time for the admissions committee to evaluate your candidacy. Your test scores, transcripts and GPA will tell them something about your capacity to handle their curriculum.

Your resume shows your career progression, increased responsibilities and demonstrated results. Your recommendation letters can offer even more proof of your leadership potential. And your essays can give the committee a sense of your voice, as well as provide insight into what makes you tick.

Ideally, these pieces come together to create an intriguing, layered and thoughtful representation of the student you will be if admitted to the program. So, take this time in the home stretch to make sure your application will make a memorable impression and spark greater curiosity in whomever reads it. Once you’ve done that, it’s time to get back to celebrating the end of another year and toasting to the prospects that 2017 will bring.

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