You have made the big decision of pursuing your MBA dream and now it’s time to plan the application cycle so that you can do justice to your efforts.
Applying for a business school can be tedious if you are not enjoying the process of self-discovery which is a natural outcome of a well thought out application. You need to put a proper plan in place to ensure that you do not have to rush your application in order to meet the deadlines. Trust us, it is very easy for the ad-com to differentiate between a well thought out and planned application and a rushed-in one, which often reflects a clear lack of managerial ability. If you truly are MBA material (read future corporate leader), strategizing and planning are the key competencies you need to excel. As a serious applicant you would not want to start on the back-foot even before the ad-coms get to your essays, would you?
This article is geared towards helping you draft a strategy to get in application in round one but the strategy can be easily extrapolated to accommodate for other rounds as well. They key is-‘Plan in advance for whichever round you are targeting’. The effort needed to draft compelling application can be overwhelming and many a times applicants don’t realize what they are signing up for. The key to increase your chances of success in this process is to break the process down into steps and ensure that you execute each step to the best of your abilities. We get hundreds of applicants each year who ask us about their odds of getting into “top 10 business school” which in itself is not a good starting point if you are aiming at these business schools. Quite naturally, any top business school program is going to be highly selective with nine out of ten candidates getting rejected. The idea should be to focus your energies on being that one in ten applicants who does get selected. So let’s get to “THE PLAN”
PHASE I: TEST PREPARATION (Three months)
Recommended Timeline: (01st April – 30th June)
Click here to read on how to split the three months to achieve a good GMAT score. You should also utilize this time to get a TOEFL score handy, if needed in your particular case.
Step 1: Take the GMAT early
Ensure that you take the GMAT well before the round one deadline so that you get enough time to focus on the rest of your application. Ideally, you should have your ‘ideal’ GMAT score before July if you are planning to meet the round one deadline which normally is stacked around September and October for most of the top business schools. If you have a 700+ score with an even split don’t bother too much about those missed chances during the exam. Your efforts are better spent on preparing a well thought application.
PHASE 2: OVERALL STRATEGY (One month)
Recommended Timeline: (1st July – 31st July)
Step 2: This should be an extensive brainstorming period where you pin point your reason for pursuing an MBA besides crystallizing your thoughts about your post-MBA career goal. This might be the most strenuous as well as most rewarding phase during your application cycle. In the end, you should have the answer of this most important question- ‘What are your career goals and how will an MBA help you achieve those goals?’ And yes, you have to truly believe them else you are going in a lost battle.
Cliché you may say but if you do not execute this step well then it might get very difficult to enjoy the MBA application journey, which is the key to success in this long drawn process. The reason is simple, if you really understand where your passion lies and what you really want to do with your life then most of your work is done already. However, if you are not convinced about the whole idea of an MBA then it is going to be hard to convince the ad-com of something which you yourself don’t believe in. As an example, if you want to be an entrepreneur and you already have a business-idea, then the ideal starting point would be to talk to people who have taken this path before and how going through the MBA helped them in their journey as an entrepreneur. If you want to switch careers from say technology to Marketing, speak to a few marketing professionals and understand the skill sets you currently lack and figure out how getting an MBA will help you succeed as a Marketer.
Last year, we had an applicant who came to us in September, but was very clear on her long term goal of becoming an entrepreneur. She wanted to make a career switch from technology and she had done extensive research on the feasibility of her business plan. Needless to say, this goal clarity simplified the process and we were able to help her put a great application together. She is heading to one of the top business school on the west coast starting this fall and is determined to start her venture very soon.
Step 3: Conduct an extensive research to shortlist the schools which can convert your career goals into a reality.
Like individuals, business schools have strengths and weakness. These are essentially an outcome of the specialization of its faculty, its strategic positioning to prospective candidates and its location. For instance, if you are aiming for a career in investment banking, take a look at schools in and around New York. Once you have a shortlist of schools, you should segment your list into dream, reach and safe schools. This is similar to managing a portfolio where you take a healthy mix of risky equities with potentially high returns and safe investments with low risk and low return. This is one of the most critical steps in the entire process and you need to ensure that you get this right. Remember you can never win a race, if you are running very fast in the wrong direction. Once you have this list ready your job is half done.
Step 4: Become more than just another applicant
Once you have a list of your target schools try and get in touch with that school’s faculty, alumni and current students to understand the school and its culture better. If possible, attend information sessions of these schools if they are happening in your city. Do not get intimidated by the perfect candidate sitting next to you at such sessions. The idea is to communicate your interest in the school and how your being a part of the school community will enrich the business school experience of your batch mates. During these conversations, focus not only on what you will get out of the community but also how you will contribute to it.
Step 5: Prepare your recommenders
Ensure that you chose recommenders who have worked with you for a period of more than a year and have a clear idea about your strengths and weakness. Give them at least one month’s heads up about your B-School plans so that they have enough time to think about what they are going to write. If you do not do this it is highly likely that, Try and have a conversation with them about how you are positioning yourself as an applicant and ask them to put specific examples when they talk about certain qualities or skills you bring to the table. This is the only part of the entire process which is not in your hands and you need to ensure that you communicate the importance of this step in your career without feeding them about what they should write in the recommendation. Do not ever influence the final content of the recommendation.
Recommended Timeline: (1st August – 31st October)
Step 6: Make your essays stand out
If you have a choice on answering specific questions on your application, make sure that you select the one which highlights your leadership abilities the most. Focus on how you are different from thousands of other B-school aspirants. What is your unique story? What makes you stand out? If you have significant leadership experiences outside of work then highlight them. Show that you have the spark and you are a leader. Show them that people cannot help but be excited about your ideas and are ready to go the extra mile for you. You must keep taking notes regularly on your leadership experiences both at work and outside of work, which might help you in making your essays more vivid.
It gets easy post your first application. Many of our applicants have been able to put in successive applications in two weeks. Keep buffer, just in case.
Step 7: Work on your resume
What you leave out of your resume is as important as what you put on it. MBA resume are different from your job resume and you should highlight the significant achievements about which you have raved in your essays as much as possible. If applicable, highlight you career progression, as it is a third party acknowledgement of your abilities as a professional.
Enjoy the process. Just fall in love with it and you will not want it to get over.
Jan 2007: SuperGMAT had been doing really well as a consultant for a top consulting firm over the past 3 years and had scored a 780 on the GMAT. When he decided to apply to top business schools everyone believed that getting an admission would be a slam dunk based on stellar credentials both in academics and extra-curricular. He had a business plan and wanted to start his venture post-MBA, however that b-plan was not a part of his application as he thought his background as a consultant didn’t quite align with his entrepreneurial ambitions.
March 2013: SG runs clean tech start-up in India which has annual revenue of INR 4 million. Guess what! Super GMAT got dinged at all the business schools he applied to in 2007 and decided to start out on his own anyways. In hindsight, getting dinged then might have been the best thing to have happened to him.
Makes you wonder if MBA is your cup of tea? Then read on …
Aug 2005:MBA Dream was a superstar in his IT consulting job and managed to successfully venture into the pre-sales side of his company. With a 750 score and a dream of starting a company, he applied to select few business schools. All along, he secretly hoped that one day he will be able to start his company and not get mired down in corporate world’s rat race.
March 2013:MBA Dream graduated from a top business school and is currently employed with one of the top brands in the world with $150K+ package. He also helped create a venture in India which is geared to generate revenue close to INR 3 million. He is on his way to quit his cushiony job and run his venture full time confident of leveraging his MBA network to lead his venture towards INR 10 million in 3 years.
These stories make us wonder, if the decision to apply for an MBA program is as straight forward as it seems. There is a chance that one might be better off without an MBA.
Like SuperGMAT and MBADream, almost everyone goes through a stressful process of making the big decision-whether to apply to business schools. More often than not, this is an impulsive decision and ends up not being a very thought through decision. There are too many variables involved in this decision making and addressing the most critical ones should help you take the final call.
The above question should be broken down into two sub-questions:
Is MBA the right choice for you?
MBA is an expensive affair by any stretch of imagination and like any other investmentevaluation; MBA should be evaluated on cost-benefit analysis.
Costs: A typical MBA program in North America would run close to $125Kexcluding the opportunity cost.Assuming an average applicant makes $5K/month, one stands to forgo anything in the range of $225K-$300K over a two year period.
Benefits: Few benefits emanating from an MBA programs are tangible and some are not:
· Business Connections & Networking: One gets access to an extensive alumni network along with the lasting relationships one with his classmates. They can be your future business partners or clients.
· Career Advancement & Career Change: One gets an opportunity to change the career path or fast track their career trajectory if it has plateaued.
· Starting your own business: Makes you business savvy and helps you identify opportunities which others can’t spot.
Your long term career goals are the crucial in the decision making. If you can leverage the above benefits over the span of your career, then you can justify the investment. Therefore, logically “getting into a top MBA program can’t be your only goal. It should be means to achieve a grand albeit realistic goal, which should fetch returns to justify the investment.”
Quick thought though, I wonder if SuperGMATwould have started out on his own with a $150K education loan.
Who doesn’t like future business leaders who can run successful business but at the same time facilitate improvement of communities around them? B-schools are no exceptions. Essentially they try to assess your ability to make a difference in any environment through your past experiences and performance in academic or professional setting. Your past performance and your vision for your future are taken as a proxy for your success in the future at the business school and beyond. So, if you have a clear enough idea of what you are going to do post MBA and how the B-school experience will play a role in helping you achieve your goals, by all means you should put down a list of your target schools which you think best align with your career objectives. However, if you feel that you would need to force fit a career goal with the sole objective to gain an admission, more often than not you will be preparing yourself for failure. I guess SG realized this the hard way. No matter how hard you try to bring conviction into your application, the adcoms will see through it. They have done it a hundred times and it’s their job. Take a step back and think about what you really want to do and then take the next step of applying.
Is this the right time to apply?
Once you have figured out that MBA is the right choice, you have to answer the question “Is this the right time to apply?” Typically, the age bracket of 25 to 28 is the sweet spot from the perspective of the admission committee, because this implies that one would have had enough leadership experiences to appreciate class room discussion and case studies. This also means that the applicant is young and eager enough to go the extra mile to succeed in his career. In other words, the applicant is not too set in his own ways. However, there can be multiple considerations which can dictate your decision to apply later such as:
You are waiting for that dream GMAT score: In SuperGMAT’s case, a stellar GMAT scorecould not gain him an admission in any of the top programs he applied to; however it is definitely a positive. For most MBA programs, 700+ GMAT score is considered a fair game so it’s pointless to fret over something which is in magical 700 range (Oh yes, I do get dozens of cases of applicants hoping to better their current score in low 700s’). Your efforts are better spent focusing on other aspects of your application. Beyond a point the GMAT score fetches diminishing returns unless you are going to nail a 99 percentile score. For instance, ensuring your resume and your references highlight your past achievements and your strengths would be much more beneficial. This might sound cliché but management is all about resource optimization and in this case you will be optimizing your most critical resource- time. This can easily dictate the number of schools you are able to cover in the first and second rounds.
You want to add ‘good to have’ co-curricular activities like volunteering for an NGO: Simple advice- Do not try and outguess the adcom. If you believe that your additional experiences will provide you valuable perspective and will help you prepare better for your long term goal, you must go ahead with your plans. May be an upcoming promotion where you get to lead a team? May be a deputation in a foreign country which will help you master the nuances of coordinating with different socio-cultural teams? Halfhearted attempt at social service just before applying to business schools would do more harm than good. Plan two years in advance to better your profile and avoid last ditch efforts.
As a thumb rule everything you do should contribute to the grand plan you have for yourself. The B-school experience is one of them. Every time you take a decision, just ask yourself this question “Would I do this if I was not applying to a business school this year?” If the answer is YES, go ahead! Your conviction will mirror in your essays.
This list is not meant to be exhaustive but is meant to provide you a structure to your decision making process. For your specific case, feel free to contact us at email@example.com.
First things first: I am a Mechanical Engineer by profession from one of the top technical institutes in India. So, quants came naturally to me when I started preparing for GMAT but I struggled with the verbal section of the test initially. My split finally was 760 (Q 49, V 44). I prepared for just two months for the GMAT due to time constraints, but I believe that two to three months of dedicated preparation is all that is required to do well on this test.
Breaking the problem down into parts:
Step 1: Assess the level you are at currently
Pick up one of the six Manhattan mocks (you get them when you purchase a book from Manhattan publication) and take the test in ‘real test conditions’. This implies that you take the entire sections on IR & AWA along with the customary 8-minute breaks between sections. I would suggest you to not use one of your GMAT Prep tests for this experiment as that is the closest possible thing to the actual GMAT. That free resource is precious, so save it for later. The test is bound to throw up questions that make you anxious and you might get thoughts of aborting the test and going out for a break! Remember this then-soldier on. No matter how hard it gets, no matter how many questions you might need to guess, just ensure that you do not give up and give your best shot to each question. Moreover, keep a watch on the timer to make sure that you attempt all questions. If you have not already, you will soon realize that leaving questions unattended is not an option. The last screen may throw up a 350, a 500 or a 650, no matter what the score is, just tell yourself that you will still score 800. As for me, I got a 600 when I started preparing but I kept my sights on 800. I just believed I could do it if I worked hard enough.
Step 2: Analyze this test thoroughly
Categorize the errors you have made according to type of question and further sub-categorize them into the topics they were from and further sub-categorize them into silly mistake or conceptual mistake. You can formulate a Performance Tracker, which looks something like this:
Type Of Error
Number of Mistakes
Table 1: Please note that this is an indicative table to track your performance. You can formulate as many sub-categories as you like and ensure that the number in the right-most column keeps decreasing as you keep on taking more tests.
Step 3: First attack the conceptual errors. For instance, if you are weak on P&C & Number theory, then brush up your concepts in that area through standard material such as Manhattan Quants etc. and solve each and every problem in that books and then try as many questions as possible on those topics through questions posted on forums like Beat the GMAT and GMAT Club. Do not worry about the time you are taking to solve these problems, just try and get the hang of as many questions as you can for a few days. Try and get more out of each question by analyzing multiple ways of getting to the solution and figuring out the fastest way to do it. After trying about 50 to 60 problems there will be a time when you would look at the problem and know the way it should be approached. For instance if it’s a probability problem you would know that it has to be approached via bayes theorem, first principal or binomials. Now is the time to set yourself 2 minutes for each problem and start ensuring that you crack it. Repeat the same steps for the verbal part of the test.
The reason why I have stressed the importance of going through every problem on the forums such as Beat the GMAT at least in your weak areas is that you get a lot of material and expert analysis on questions without any cost. These forums give you certain standard approaches on dealing with problems which will be very important on the test day. For instance, an SC question almost invariably entail that you read the answer choices vertically and try to eliminate at least 2 to 3 of them. You can establish certain routines such as going through Thursdays with RON and articles by Stacey Koprince, who frequently analyzes standard problems that have appeared on GMAT prep tests. All I invested on the GMAT was the 250 USD to take the test and the INR 1000 for purchasing Manhattan SC book as that was my weakest area and got six practice tests with this book for free. I had borrowed the OG 12th edition from a friend. In summary –Don’t confuse yourself by going through dozens of books available in the market. Stick to one standard book for quants and one standard book for Verbal and treat OG as your bible. Rely on expert opinions and problems on the forums for the rest.
Step 4: “Silly errors” are essentially an outcome of certain assumptions you make while solving the problems. Normally test takers are more likely to commit silly errors while solving DS & Critical reasoning problems. Establish certain standard procedures to attack these and adhere to them when you solve these during the test.
For instance,for CR I used to determine whether the question stem is asking to identify the assumption, or the statement which strengthens the argument etc. before reading the passage. By doing this I was very sure what I was looking for while reading the passage. Also I established the thumb rule of not marking the answer without going through the entire passage or having read all the five possible options, no matter how sure I was that the first option I read was the right answer. This approach saved me 2 wrong answers on the D-day. Establishing such procedures requires a thorough analysis of your errors on mock tests and developing ways to avert them.
For instance in DS, it was very important as per the procedure I established to go through the question stem very carefully. There is almost always some information hidden in the question stem, which if not read carefully can lead you to making certain assumptions. Also you would do well to establish a process to not take (A)into account while evaluating for (B).
In summary - in all GMAT questions it is important to mark the option after reading carefully what the question is asking.
Let us take a typical example of how the GMAT may trap you if you are not doing this:
Suppose after a series of complex calculations you conclude that 10% of the population in a hypothetical country called holulu is ‘college going’ and you see that as one of the options and mark it and move on to the next problem. However, what the question actually asked the percentage population that is not ‘college going’ and 90% was one of the options. I know this is a silly way to put it but I hope it communicates the point. To avert this I had established the process of reading the question twice before marking the final answer.
By experience of the 8 mock tests I took (6 Manhattan + 2 GMAT Prep), I can safely say that if you eliminate silly errors by establishing such standard procedures, you can improve your score by at least 50 points. May be all this talk of developing standard procedures is coming from my engineering background, but believe me, it helped.
I am stressing on these aspects because post the 700 mark, GMAT takes the game to an entirely new level. The test makers know that the candidate is sound conceptually, so they try and test you on presence of mind.
Step 5: Keep working on your mistakes and keep dedicating your weekends to taking tests and analyzing your mistakes. Dedicate the rest of the week to working on the mistakes you made on the test. At the end of eight weeks you will have minimized the number on the right most column of your “performance tracker”. Keep the GMAT prep tests for the last two weekends as they will give you a good enough idea of the score you are likely to get.
Something, which I could not stress enough-You cannot afford to commit the same mistake again. If you get a question wrong in your mock, make sure you understand what went wrong and understand the basic concept thoroughly. It is not about practicing through 10 books and 1000 questions but it is all about learning from your mistakes.
Step 6: This is not a step as such but a set of general guidelines which will make you more effective while preparing for the GMAT.
On the D-Day, just remember this:
Good luck & Godspeed!
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IndusMinds provides consulting services to prospective MBA students by helping them prepare stellar application packages for different business schools. We are a group of MBA graduates from top business schools across the US. We have been through the process, slogged through the MBA essays, begged for some critique on our application but we finally made it through top business schools. During our 2 year grill at the MBA program, we came across dozens of applications and we helped students avoid many common mistakes that we are susceptible to in our application processes. After reviewing numerous MBA essays and helping people secure admits to reputed business schools, we were compelled to open this service to all 'prospective students' and not only to prospective students who somehow found way into our network.
We wish you the Best of Luck for your MBA application journey... it's a long and rocky road with pitfalls at every step. We hope to navigate you through the most critical parts of your journey so that you can reach your dream destination.