Between studying for the GMAT, attending admissions events, scheduling coffee chats, and working my full-time job, applying to business school was a lot to juggle. And to be honest, I found balancing it all—and maintaining some semblance of a social life extremely difficult.
But I did it. I still kicked ass at my job, made time for friends, and got into three top programs. Now that I’m on the other side of it, I can clearly see the four things that helped me be successful:
1. I Rallied Support (Inside and Outside of Work)
I have a very supportive boss, and early on in the process, I was upfront with her regarding what would help me most at work (exposure to more senior meetings, more leadership opportunities, and more opportunities to shine). This was important, because I wanted to show potential for growth in my career. And, since my manager was also one of my references, she had recent examples when it came time to sit down and write my letters of recommendation.
If you’re nervous about having this conversation with your boss, it’s helpful to imagine why you think they may not be supportive. Do you think they could be worried you’ll spend working hours distracted (or filling out applications)? Might they be unhappy about (eventually) replacing you, because of things only you know how to do? Come armed with whatever you need to put any fears to rest, be it a time management schedule or a plan to transfer your institutional knowledge.
Of course, I leaned on family and friends, too—which meant asking them to understand that I needed to pull back on social events. That doesn’t mean ignoring them: I blocked out time that was exclusively friend, family, or boyfriend time. But it did mean I saying no to some social events I would’ve gone to otherwise and trusting that the people who love me would understand.
2. I Prioritized
If you’re applying to top business schools, you’re probably a Type-A overachiever like me. Last year, my goals included:
- Writing the GMAT
- Applying to b-school
- Working on my side gig
- Running a marathon
- Exceeding expectations at my full-time job (where I’d recently been promoted)
It wasn’t until I completely bombed the GMAT on my first attempt that I realized that list was not realistic.
So, I listed all of my goals on paper and ranked them—making a conscious choice to devote my time to the top three. Since business school was my focus, taking the GMAT, completing my applications, and maintaining excellent performance at work were my top priorities.
Even though it was difficult for me, I decided to put my running goals and my side gig on the backburner, along with reducing my volunteering and the amount of events I attended. While it involved sacrifice, this strategy gave me the opportunity to achieve my top three goals, which was preferable than going for (and falling short of) every single one.
3. I Stopped Comparing Myself to Others
I poured over websites MBA applicants use when preparing for applications and interviews, and they were incredibly helpful. But once I was waiting to hear back from schools, I was only checking these sites to compare results with internet strangers. I knew it was just making me anxious and stressed, but I became obsessed.
Similarly, if you applied in the same cycle as friends or work peers, it can be tempting to compare scores or profiles. I found myself second-guessing a lot of what I wrote in my applications based on other people.
However, even if you think you are similar candidates, you could never possibly know all the intricate details of their story, strengths, weaknesses, recommendations, and so on. Once I finally cut myself off from these sites and stopped thinking constantly about how I stacked up, I was able to let go of a lot of unnecessary anxiety and stress!
4. I Maximized Small Windows of Time
The biggest lesson that I learned was to use every available moment. My time was 100% occupied before I decided to apply to b-school. Giant stretches of time weren’t going to magically appear in my calendar—and if you keep everything else in your life the same, they won’t be showing up in yours, either.
Getting in the habit of using small chunks of time throughout the day—the ones that tend to get wasted—productively was key.
For me, 15 to 30 minute chunks of time made a huge difference. If I got to work 15 minutes early, I’d skip a coffee run, and instead, do a quick GMAT problem set. At two minutes per question, 15 minutes is a surprisingly meaningful amount of time! Another example: I started scheduling phone chats with alums between meetings or during my commute home. (If you’re having trouble envisioning how this would work for you, try the 10-minute rule to break tasks into smaller pieces).
Above all else, I kept believing in myself. Once you’ve sent in your applications, the weeks and months waiting to get interview invites and offers of admission pass so slowly. It’s easy to let feelings of self-doubt creep up, especially if you experience an early rejection. I got rejected from my “dream school” early on in the process, which was really tough to swallow.
But, after my first interview invite, I changed my tune and tried not to let an early rejection get me down and impact my interview performance at other schools. As result, I got accepted to three other top schools, including one I’ll be attending this fall.
It wasn’t always easy—in fact, it rarely was—but, with some reshuffling of your schedule and priorities, it’s possible to simultaneously work and apply to b-school, and it’s definitely worth it.
Photo of person writing courtesy of Squaredpixels/Getty Images.
Celine is a young professional who recently launched her career at a Fortune 100 company. She earned her B.Comm at Queen’s University, where she spent her spare time organizing a national women’s leadership conference, philanthropy conference, and volunteering abroad. She is passionate about young women’s career and leadership development, and she writes about careers, goal-setting, productivity, and health. You can read her work here. An avid fitness and nutrition enthusiast, you can often find Celine out for a run or experimenting in the kitchen!More from this Author