“Time is on our side.” So quoth the Rolling Stones. Truer words were never spoken about the business school application process. Smartly investing and budgeting time is a key to generating the great essays needed to accurately represent your achievements, talents, goals and potential contributions to a top b-school admissions committee. But, if you neglect tending to your calendar and work schedule, then time will most decidedly not be on your side.
Candidates need to balance the significant investment of hours spent developing essays with the other commitments in their lives: work, family, community service, friends, etc. The best way to do this is to start to put together your application calendar and time budget months before the deadlines you are targeting. Candidates need to think about time management from a number of angles.
Finding the HOURS: Enough time to grind out those essays
Although the time MBA aspirants take to generate their applications varies greatly depending on writing ability, general work efficiency and other factors, you should basically plan on spending 40-60 hours in front of your computer working on your collection of, say, four to eight applications. This amount of time generally covers the writing, revising, editing, proofing, formatting and inputting of essays. Someone currently immersed in writing and editing as a part of his or her career””maybe someone authoring investment reports or working in corporate communications””will probably have a much smoother process than a person who has been imprisoned in Excel Hell for the last three or four years. Non-native English speakers will also probably need to plan on spending more time on their applications.
Aside from the essays themselves, candidates need to set aside the hours necessary to prep recommenders (which we will deal with in coming weeks) and continue with the reading, community service and other activities that enhance their candidacy. Oh”¦and of course, we can’t forget the hours to fun and frolic spent prepping for the GMAT.
Planning the DAYS: The best ways to structure your work sessions
Different folks have different sorts of work patterns. Some are most efficient when they can break up tasks into manageable pieces. Some work best when they can devote eight hours at a time in marathon writing sessions. MBA applicants should be aware of the way they work the most effectively and efficiently and structure their writing/editing sessions accordingly.
I recommend to most of my clients that they allocate two to three hours each time they sit down at their computer to work on their essays. Shorter sessions, I believe, don’t allow enough time for people to get into a “literary groove.” Essays should be handled holistically, especially in the first two drafts. Don’t think that you’re going to have a strong end-product if you steal 15-minutes here and 30-minutes there to generate that Wharton leadership answer. Essays composed in pieces often read as disjointed, unpolished tracts.
Most applicants should also avoid the “marathon session.” It is the rare individual who is as sharp or creative eight hours into a writing and editing session as he was at the beginning. If you need to catch up by doing extra work, trying breaking it up with a session in the morning and another in the evening.
Budgeting the WEEKS: Allow enough time for reflection and feedback
While some people think they produce their best work under intense pressure, it is extremely unwise to try to polish off a set of applications in just a week or two. Distributing the work over a sensible time period of four to six weeks lets you maintain a steady, but manageable pace. Spreading the work out a bit allows you to reflect on things you may have written over previous days; you may think of a better microexample to illustrate a certain character trait or develop much more interesting or humorous language for a specific paragraph. This will not happen if you are forced to work at warp speed.
Distributing your writing and editing over a reasonable period also makes it easier for friends, family or colleagues to provide feedback on your essays if you choose to ask them. It’s extremely unfair to ask someone to turn around comments in a 24-period, so provide them a few days to give you their comments and critiques. And of course, leave yourself adequate time to reflect on and incorporate their feedback. Don’t be one of those applicants that sends essays out to a friend in the last couple of days just for the sake of gaining the “security blanket” that comes with hearing “Great job! I know you’ll get in.” Select people who will tell you the real deal and give yourself enough time to act on it.
Finally, if you choose to work with a professional application advisor, make sure you take this into account in your calendar. Advisors in some ways make the process take longer””with the extra discussions and feedback cycles””but can also save time when all is said and done by helping make sure you don’t follow any “dead ends” in your essay writing process.
For insight into how one future applicant is getting a head start on the process, check out UniQpath’s blog. She is already struggling with some of the key questions that need to be addressed throughout this process.