Getting Back to School

By Diana Middleton

Business-school applicants have to juggle their real-world work and family commitments with GMAT-taking, tedious applications and dozens of essays. It can be difficult to figure out when to apply””and when to tell the boss you might be leaving. Here’s how to handle M.B.A. application season:

”¢ Choose your application round carefully. Most schools have several windows in which applicants can apply. The deadlines start in November and can go as late as April. The key is to zero in on your top choice and work on that application before the others, says Stacy Blackman, founder of Stacy Blackman Consulting, which coaches individuals during the M.B.A. admissions process. But don’t wait until the third round to apply to a school you’re serious about. By that time, schools are looking for very specific types of people to round out the rest of the class, says Jennifer Hayes, senior associate director of admissions at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

”¢ Break the news to your employer. Applicants with letters of recommendation from a current employer are much stronger than those without. Ideally, you have discussed your long-term goals with your employer, so this won’t come as a surprise. Ms. Blackman recommends telling your supervisor about your ambitions two years before you apply. However, if you feel as if sharing your goal will endanger your employment, include an additional letter addressed to the admissions committee explaining your concerns.

”¢ Work harder in the office. Truth is, not every applicant will get into their dream school. Scott Shrum, director of M.B.A. admissions research of Veritas Prep, an admissions firm in Malibu, Calif., suggests finding ways to make your candidacy even stronger while waiting for a final answer. If there’s a new workplace project that needs a leader, volunteer. It will give you more to talk about if you make it to the personal interview at your choice schools, says Mr. Shrum.

”¢ Prepare for the interview. You should count on spending three weeks preparing for each interview, Mr. Shrum says. That includes checking online forums, such as those found on, to familiarize yourself with the specific questions each school tends to ask and studying the details of your application. Even if the interviewer has only a copy of your résumé, rest assured he or she is familiar with your application and will have questions regarding career changes or a spotty résumé.

”¢ If you are wait-listed, don’t panic. Every school handles wait-listed students differently. You may be assigned a wait-list counselor who will keep tabs on your progress. Other schools will instruct you to submit information to supplement your application materials. If you suspect a mediocre GMAT score is a culprit, send transcripts of accounting or finance classes you took at a community college to boost your skills, for example. Make sure to inform the school of recent promotions or new work assignments.

”¢ Plan your exit. When the acceptance letter comes, you have anywhere from four to six months to plan a departure. If your employer isn’t already aware of your plans, ask for a meeting to explain. Offer to finish any significant projects and to train your replacement, says Ms. Blackman. Work out a clear transition plan. This will leave your employer happier””and more likely to offer a positive reference. “Document all your work, make sure the files you leave behind are easily accessible,” she says. “This is still your network, and your former company is still important.”


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