With most Round 2 deadlines in December or January, October is the best time to start thinking about your MBA application timeline. At this point, you probably cannot change your undergraduate GPA or your GMAT score, but you do have control over the way you present yourself on your application. As you move forward, here are three things to focus on:
1. Finalize your school list
People many times fixate on Harvard Business School, Stanford Graduate School of Business, and Wharton as the “big three” of business schools. But there are other MBA programs out there – a lot of them. Building the best business school list for you, individually, is the first step to getting ready for Round 2 deadlines.
One of the biggest questions to consider in applying to MBA programs is what you want to do after obtaining your degree. Are you set on doing business in Southern California? UCLA’s Anderson would provide networking opportunities within the state that even Harvard might not match. Do you want to go into the energy sector? Then, Jones at Rice University might be your best option. Considering your career goals and which schools most closely meet them is important to think about. After all, the future of your career is why you apply to business school in the first place.
Making sure to build the right list for you is key. The average applicant to top schools receives only one acceptance for every four applications – on average. In order to help combat the statistics, include “safety” and “fit” options in your school list, in addition to your “reach” schools.
2. Set yourself due dates
There is nothing more stressful than scrambling to finish an application at the last minute. As you’re preparing for Round 2 deadlines, make sure to set yourself due dates for major pieces of the application.
Breaking it up into these pieces is the most effective means of staying organized. Here are a few examples of ways you can organize your timeline:
- Ask for your letters of recommendation first – ask for letters to be complete two weeks before your school’s actual deadline
- Work on finalizing your resume by the third week of October
- Finish your final draft of your essay by November 1st
- Start any school-specific essays the week you finish your main essay
You know best what works for you, but procrastination affects everyone. Setting these sort of hard deadlines will help you stay organized as you finish your application.
3. Formulate a “Persona”
The key to a good application is a clear theme or “persona”. As you get ready for Round 2 deadlines, ask yourself: what is unique about me?
The answer to this – whether it is your background, your work experience, or your future goals – should come through clearly on your application. You should work on piecing together every part of the application with your answer in mind. Your essay, resume, and letters of recommendation should all fit together in a way that clearly displays you as an unique individual. Do not fall into the trap of being a well-rounded individual.
You need to stand out.
Particularly because many Round 1 admits come from more traditional finance or consulting backgrounds at big-name firms, if you have a similar resume, you need to show why another Round 2 spot should be yours. And that being said, most people should avoid applying to Round 3. In many cases, it is better to wait for the next application cycle than to fight for one of the final spots at a school.
As the Round 2 deadlines approach, keep in mind that personal fit at a specific school is many times more important than ranking. Make sure that you stay on track by setting deadlines. And as you prepare to apply in Round 2, spend some time on self-reflection. A clear idea of why you are both qualified and unique will inform the way your write your application.