Planning Your MBA Admissions Timeline
By Alex Collazo
February is a comparatively light time for us MBA admissions consultants. Last year’s applicants have largely completed their work, and next year’s deadlines won’t even be released by admissions committees for a couple more months. It’s a time to think ahead, analyze our data, and plan for the next application season—something next year’s applicants should seriously consider doing as well.
If you’re targeting the round one application cycle (and you should be, if you’re planning this far in advance), March 1stwill be about six months before your deadline. That’s enough time to have a dramatic impact on your admissions odds, even if you can only afford to put in a small amount of effort each week. Below, we’ve provided a month-by-month action plan that the savvy early bird can use to maximize their chances at elite B-schools.
Six months out is plenty of time to address gaps in your profile. At this point, you still have the ability to create new resume line items and master new skills. Consider your weaknesses: Not enough leadership? You can’t control whether your bosses give you more direct reports between now and September, but you can definitely take on other leadership responsibilities. Maybe there’s a neglected CSR initiative you could take over, or a local community organization where you could find on a volunteer leadership role. If the organization you’d like to lead doesn’t exist, six months is almost enough time to create it from scratch!
A similar approach can be applied to skill and knowledge gaps. If your resume seems light on revenue impact or quant skills, angle for projects that will help address those concerns. If you’re worried that your goals might seem implausible due to lack of relevant network, start emailing potential mentors now. Working on your MBA application in March is a fantastic feeling, because you have the power to shape the fundamentals of your admissions argument.
Now it’s time to start thinking concretely about the application itself. The piece that will take the longest lead time is your standardized tests: the GRE or GMAT, and possibly the TOEFL for international applicants. After COVID-19, some schools are no longer requiring some or all of these tests. However, given that the pandemic appears to be receding, it seems likely that a serious 2021 applicant will have at least a few schools on their list that require testing. Take a practice exam ASAP, and evaluate whether you need to enroll in a course. Many folks will find these tests easy (your author didn’t study at all and got a perfect score), others will need to study for months. You need to know which camp you fall in now, while there’s time to plan appropriately.
Toward the end of this month, admissions departments will start to release their deadlines and essay prompts for the 2021 season. This is more or less the starting pistol for the 2021 cycle!
Armed with your test scores, or at least a sense of what they will be from practice tests, it’s now time to think about school selection. You don’t have to nail this down in May, but having a sense of what schools you’d like to apply to is useful on a number of levels. Practically, it gives you specific essay prompts and applications to consider and target. On an emotional level, it’s much easier to remain motivated when you have a specific vision of “my future at X, Y or Z school” in mind. The dark art of picking safety and reach schools is very specific to your situation and beyond the scope of this post (you may want to enlist a professional admissions consultant to help!), but you should aim to start the process this month and finish it by the end of June.
If you have questions about a school, this month will also mark the ramp up of admissions departments’ marketing campaigns. There will be plenty of information sessions available for sign up, and you should take advantage. The adcom members at these meetings are ultimately there to sell their school, but the answers they provide about the application process come from a sincere desire to make the applicants in their pool as strong and interesting as possible.
The first piece of writing you should secure for your application is the one that relies on other people: your letters of recommendation. You want to give your superiors a LOT of time to get their thoughts on paper. They have other things on their plate, and you’ll need to plan on following up over many weeks. Getting your mentors into the process early can also help you better understand your strengths and weaknesses. Ideally, the people writing your letters also went to B-school themselves and can offer practical advice relevant to your specific situation.
Otherwise, June should be defined more by what you finish than what you start. By the end of this month, you should have wrapped up your testing and know what schools you’re apply to.
Now it’s finally time to put pen to paper. You should be able to open applications at all your target schools at this point, and gain access to all the essay prompts and short answers you’ll need to address. There are a lot of different ways to approach the writing process, but as a general rule it may take a few applications before you really hit your stride—your second or third attempt will probably be your best work. It can also be beneficial to write longer applications early, because it’s often easier to cut down a longer admissions argument than it is to build up one you’ve already expressed in 500 words.
Regardless of how you order your schools, the very first thing to tackle is your resume, since it will be submitted everywhere. Consider the narrative presented by your career arc, and use that to inform your essay writing. By the end of this month, you should ideally have at least a first draft of everything you’ll be submitting.
It’s time to edit your essays, and edit them again. Solicit feedback from a trusted source—ideally a professional admissions consultant with deep knowledge of the process, though a friend or mentor may also work. We recommend not getting too many people involved, however, since multiple opinions can confuse and overcomplicate things. If you’re thinking about sending your essays to a pair of mentors, consider which one you would trust if they disagreed, and send the writing only to that person.
Your round one application deadlines likely fall sometime in September, but you should aim to finish everything by the end of August. By doing so, you can hopefully avoid any last-minute deadline scrambles, but even if you fall behind, going into the process with the end of August as your target will make those scrambles easier by giving you some slack in your schedule.
The process can seem daunting, but just by considering it this early in the cycle, you’re already ahead of most applicants. We at Admissionado pioneered long-term MBA admissions mentorship with our advance planning program, which builds on our decade-plus of data showing that an early start is the most important admissions variable that applicants have control over.
And if you’re reading this in the summer: No need to panic, a lot of this work can be done simultaneously! No matter what your situation, consider enlisting a professional admissions consultant who can help guide you through the process.
Bio: Alex is the Managing Director of Systems & Content at Admissionado, a top admissions consultancy. Since graduating from Columbia University in 2013, he has worked with hundreds of MBA applicants on thousands of essays, helping his students maximize their MBA potential. From his base in New York City, he has written a wide variety of education-related reports, case studies, books and articles, many of which can be found on Admissionado’s website and Amazon store.