Many business schools do not publish their applications until fairly close to their first-round deadlines. Despite the fact that you cannot dive in and begin writing essays or scheduling interviews until applications are posted, you still have an opportunity to plan ahead and positively impact your application far in advance. If you are thinking about applying to business school several months or even a year before the applications are due, the following will help you find ways to begin taking action now.

GMAT or GRE

The standardized test is an aspect of the application over which you still have a great deal of control. If you have not taken the GMAT or GRE before, do your best to get it out of the way before you start working on writing your applications. As busy as you may be now, it will only be worse once you add essays, data forms and recommendations to your plate. 

Preparation is essential for most to excel on the test, both in terms of knowledge and your mental state when you take it. Our Director of Test Prep advises, “Start by taking one of the free official practice tests. See what you get and how close it is to your target. See what you’re good at, what you’re struggling with, and what gaps you’ll need to fill to get to the score you want. And then, you have options.” If you have already taken the GMAT or GRE and received a below average score, consider retaking it. You should consider whether you truly gave it your all the first time around. If you think it would be possible to obtain a higher score, it is worth retaking, as the schools will look at your highest score. This is also a good time to weigh GMAT vs. GRE. While the GRE was added as an admissions option more recently, it is a very viable option that you should consider.

Invest in test prep tutoring. Given the tuition for attending business school, the financial aid money that may be in play, and the added salary down the road that comes from a top degree, there’s good reason to make that investment. Reach out to speak with SBC’s Director of Test Prep to craft a plan that speaks to your specific circumstances and maximizes the value of the test prep time. We are often asked, “this is my score and this is the score I want; how many hours of tutoring do I need?” Our answer to this question is almost always, “We first need to go through one of your recent practice tests together before assessing recommended hours and creating a test prep plan.”  For this deep dive analysis, we recommend as a first step our Trial Test Review Package.

Career Progression

Have you been in the same job, at the same level for several years? If so, what would it take to secure a promotion or demonstrate upward mobility? If an official title change is out of the question, brainstorm what you can do to take on more senior responsibilities. Volunteer to mentor a newcomer to the office. Ask to be placed on a high-level project. Take on a leadership role for which no one else will volunteer. Opportunities always exist, but the true stars are the ones that seize them!  Many applicants consider taking a new job prior to applying in hopes that it will round out their experience and show progression. Be careful about this type of move. If it does not make sense in the context of your career goals, such a move could actually hurt you. You want to convey that you are focused and doing what you can to progress towards your stated goals, not just focused on landing a great job. Evaluate post MBA career goals here.

Recommendations

Remember that you are going to ask a few recommenders to do a lot of work on your behalf. It is not a bad idea to keep in mind who you want to ask and be sure to “wow” them over the next few months. You may even want to take them to lunch and discuss your MBA plans with them so that they are not surprised when the time comes. You want to be certain that your recommenders will actively support your candidacy.  You may also get a head start on recommender packages to help prepare them for the task. Check out our tips for a killer recommendation letter.

Extracurricular Activities

If you do not have any meaningful activities in your profile, you should become involved now. Even the most overworked individual can find time to do something. Go online and look for community service groups in your community, brainstorm things that you enjoy doing and seek them out. Think about activities that you participated in as an undergrad and become re-engaged. It’s great to be able to show continuity in your interests. If you are already involved, know that the quality of your contributions is most important. It’s great to have been volunteering at a soup kitchen for the past year. But if you can say that you conceived of and led a program to grow donations or raise awareness for the soup kitchen, even better. In and out of work, any leadership role you can take on will be an asset to your application.  Many companies sponsor community service opportunities within. If you are too busy to leave the office, you may be able to find activities within your work environment.  Or, as some of our clients have done, create something of your own, that works with your schedule – on or offline. More ideas can be found here.

Essays

It is extremely helpful to be aware of what types of questions you will be asked. Although many schools change their essay questions from year to year, by reading a prior year’s application, you will get a good idea of the types of stories you will need. Knowing that you will be asked to describe a leadership experience may motivate you take on a leadership role – in or outside of work. Knowing that you will have questions about community involvement will push you to finally become involved. Sample successful essays from MBA admits are here.

School Selection

You have a better chance of being admitted to any school if it is the right school for you. Many candidates look at rankings and decide to apply to the top few schools. You will be far better off if you do your own research, talk to students and alums and, if possible, visit campuses. Doing this type of research early on will help you to better understand the schools, and quite possibly change your mind about where you want to apply. You also will be better qualified to answer the question, “Why do you want to go here?” Demonstrating an understanding of what makes a school unique and showing that you are truly passionate about attending will take you far. Compare top MBA programs here.

Low GPA 

Your GPA is an important piece of your application. Unfortunately, it is one of the only parts of the application that is already completely set. If you have a below average GPA, or low grades in quantitative/business classes, consider taking a course now to prove your academic skills. You want to be able to build a case to the schools that you will be able to succeed academically in their program, that you are taking steps to build skills that may have been lacking and that you are mature enough to balance academics with your career. More ways to offset a low GPA are shared here.

Be sure to view our content on the SBC blog and check out our B-Schooled Podcast for a treasure trove of more advice.  A full overview of MBA program application deadlines can be found here.

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