Your Ultimate Guide to Applying to Business School
It’s finally summer! After making it through the coldest winter ever, I can’t tell you how glad I am to finally be able to leave my coat at home and spend plenty of time outdoors.
If you’re thinking about applying to b-school in the fall, summer also means that it’s time to start getting your application ready for those September and October Round I deadlines. I had the exact same plan: In June, I told myself that I was going to be super productive and slowly move though all of my different essays and applications—just as soon as I took a well-deserved break. Of course, you can guess what happened next: Fast forward to August, when I was scrambling to get things done because I didn’t plan out my time.
So the same thing doesn’t happen to you, I’ve gone ahead and made you a 12-week plan that will ensure you’re able to get your applications done without getting stressed out at the end. Of course, it isn’t going to be easy—applying to b-school is what you’ll really need to spend a good chunk of your free time doing for the next few months—but getting into your dream school will make it worth it.
Week 1: Iron Out Logistics
Before diving into the process, it’s worth it to take a week to get organized. I would recommend taking care of as many admin items as possible during the first week, such as: finalizing the list of b-schools you’ll be applying to, selecting and email your recommenders, creating an account for each application, registering for the GMAT, and requesting your undergrad college transcripts. It’s also helpful to spend a little time browsing each application to make sure there aren’t any sneaky 200-word responses or other special requests that could trip you up at the very end.
Week 2: Figure Out Where You Are
Now that you’ve gotten the logistics out of the way, it’s time to get started. To kick things off, I would especially recommend that you do two things: Make a list of all of the essays you’re required to write and take a GMAT diagnostic test. Listing the essay topics will give you a really clear overview of what you need to write and will help you identify similarities between essays so that you can hopefully recycle some topics for different schools. The GMAT diagnostic will provide you with a realistic overview of how much work you have to do before test day. Once you’ve taken the diagnostic, create a study plan that you can really stick to for the next seven weeks (if you’re not sure where to start, check out my advice for making a study plan that gets results).
Week 3: Solidify Your Story (and Study for the GMAT)
After getting a sense of what you’ll need to submit, you can begin to solidify your story. Admissions committees read thousands of applications each year, so it’s important to make sure that your application feels cohesive and makes it easy to understand who you are. If you’re stuck, you can start off by drafting a personal statement and think about how the rest of your application will tie into it: For example, if your resume shows that you’ve worked at a lot of different companies, you might want to use an essay to explain how your career moves are aligned with your professional goals.
Oh, and this week isn’t all fun and games: Make sure you’re keeping up with your GMAT study plan!
Weeks 4-7: Plug Away
Now that you’re all set up, it’s time to put your nose to the grindstone. During weeks 4-7, you’ll need to stick to your GMAT study plan while starting to draft your essay topics. At the end of week 7, you should ideally be feeling comfortable with the GMAT and have a draft of each essay. It sounds like a lot, but don’t worry about making the essays perfect—the hardest part is getting the first 100 words down on paper, so just do your best to get rough drafts out (you still have plenty of weeks to spend editing them).
Week 8: GMAT Time
Take this week to really focus on your final preparation for the GMAT. At the end of the week, you should be ready to take the test. Don’t get too nervous—you’ve put in the hours to prep, so you’ll do great!
Week 9: Package Your Applications
With the GMAT behind you, you’ll finally be able to focus fully on your application materials. You can spend this week making sure that your applications are on track and tell the story you want them to tell. Instead of working on multiple schools at the same time, take a look at all of the materials for each school individually so that you can get a sense of how everything is fitting together. That way you can spend the end of the week really digging into the essays or schools that need the most work. Also if you haven’t started one (or some) of your essays yet, there’s still time! Just make sure you kick them off now.
Week 10: Nuts and Bolts
You’d be surprised at how long it takes to hammer out the basics that come along with the applications! I’m sure you’ll be tired at this point, so give your brain a break and focus on the more mindless tasks. For example, go through and fill out all of the fields in each application, confirm that your recommendations have come through, and send out your essays and resume for others to take a look at. Taking care of this stuff now will keep you from being too crunched when the deadline comes up.
Week 11: Get Out Your Red Pen
Now that you’ve taken a little break from your essays, it’s time to go back to them for some serious editing. First, read each of them individually to make sure the main ideas are coming through clearly. Then print them out—seriously—and pull out a red pen to make edits. Grammar, syntax, and diction count, so you want to make sure you’re not missing any typos. If you’re not sure of something, I’d recommend reading it out loud to yourself to see how it sounds.
Week 12: Start Submitting!
By week 12, it should be time to start turning in your applications. Before clicking the “submit” button, I’d recommend printing out the entire application (OK, maybe I’m kind of a traditionalist) just so that you can make sure you haven’t forgotten any fields or misspelled your mother’s maiden name (a mistake I almost made).
And after you turn it all in? It’s time to majorly treat yourself. You’ve put in a lot of work, so plan something extra fun for the end of week 12.
If it sounds like a lot of work, then you’ve read this correctly—it takes a lot of hours to put together a successful b-school application. If you put in the time and use a good plan, however, I know you’ll see great results.
Leslie Moser attends Harvard Business School where she is pursuing her MBA. Before going back to school she worked at Teach For America where she tried to tackle educational inequity one email at a time. Leslie loves to travel, eat Thai food, and watch reruns of The West Wing.More from this Author