the application process – not as simple as it seems

Surprise, surprise. I can’t stop thinking about business school. I’ve officially been brainwashed. So here goes another blog post about business school. This one’s for anyone reading this blog that is casually considering applying to business school in the future.

In theory, it sounds simple enough. The application involves several key components:

– GMAT score
– essays
– recommendations
– miscellaneous application components (fee, transcripts, demographic info, etc.)

That’s it! That’s all there is to it! Sounds pretty good, right?
You might be thinking, how much time could all this possibly take? Maybe I’ll just apply to 8 different schools while I’m at it?

Let’s break it down further.

Let’s assume you’re aiming to really push yourself and apply to the best possible business school you think is within your reach. After all, your income flatlines to a big fat ZERO and whatever you have saved in your bank account will probably be depleted. There’s a pretty good chance you’ll have to take out a loan. So yes, I think it’s safe to say you want to ensure you get into the best damn school you can possibly get into for that kind of money.

Okay well, then you’ll have to kick things off by kicking ass on the GMAT. Now, if you were like me (five years removed from any form of schooling) you’ll realize that it isn’t exactly a cakewalk to jump right back into “study” mode and take a standardized exam. Factor in anywhere from 2-5 months for this big fat exam and potential re-takes. There’s a test fee you’ll need to fork over and test prep books are a must, so that’s some $ right there. Want additional help? You may look into tutoring services. More $.

So you finally land a GMAT score you’re satisfied with. Maybe it took you one try, maybe it took you three. Excellent! You’ve committed a decent number of hours into this process but you’re still feeling pretty good. The score will also help you to assess the range of b-schools you’ll be targeting. Ah, so we arrive at the selection process.

You don’t really plan on going to the U.S. News Business School Rankings and picking out a handful from the Top 10 do you? NO. Do your homework. Research these schools. And even if you reason, “I’m not paying top dollar for a middle-tier school that won’t give me a great ROI and that’s enough research for me“, well you still have to research the schools for the essays anyway. Campus visits, message boards, admission newsletters, online chat sessions w/ adcom members, brochures, receptions, private messages, admission events, coffee socials w/ alums… yeah those weeknights after work might start to look a bit more busy now. A campus visit is the single best thing you can do to learn more about a particular school; it makes answers to questions like do I see myself living here? do I like the culture here? what is the classroom experience like here? much more clear. Of course, campus visits = more $.

Silly you. Through this entire process you’ve been outwardly focused – on external factors such as the school, the cities they’re located in, the Sentence Correction types you keep screwing up, the numerous MBA blogs you’ve stumbled across. Now’s the time (or better yet, right after you finish the GMATs) to reign it all in and look inwards:
– What do YOU want to do right after you earn your MBA?
– What specific steps do you plan on taking DURING business school to attain that goal?
– What achievements or leadership stories do YOU have that will demonstrate why a top school should interview you?
– How significant are your extracurricular activities?
– How will YOU stand out among the thousands of other candidates that fit exactly the same profile?

It isn’t easy to hit Pause on everything going in your life (personal, professional, social, financial, spiritual) and find the alone time needed to reflect and find answers for these types of deep questions. They are tough questions and ones that the MBA application process forces you to address. Other graduate schools don’t really dive into these characteristics – but in the world of management and teamwork, the answers to these questions have never been more important. Hmm, mayyybe the application process isn’t looking as simple now…

You might have some convoluted, swirly blob of ideas and answers jumbled in your head as you determine your short and long term goals, but you have to harness all of these thoughts into a creative, readable and concise piece of writing. Why? Because right now, one by one, the essay questions are being released by all the business schools, boom, boom, boom! Oh how nice! Not a single essay question overlaps with another essay question among your target schools. Be prepared now to write anywhere from 6-18 different finalized essays, each customized to its respective school and culture. And don’t forget your favorite English teacher’s lesson of revise, revise, revise. There will be blood drafts.

You haven’t quit your job yet, have you? Or your self-run business hasn’t run itself into the ground yet, right? Good, so now you get to enjoy the potential wave of office politics. You need recommendations and you need to choose wisely. Your line manager will be a given, so make sure you haven’t been compromising the quality of your work on the job! Be prepared to have the “talk” and face the potential wrath of your boss turning as red as a tomato as he/she furiously scorns the fact that you’ve basically just handed in your six months’ notice (just kidding).  But seriously, good luck. Offer any supplemental information on your profile/achievements and be sure to provide friendly reminders when deadlines come up.

Wait, we’re not done yet. Interviews! You may opt for scheduling your own interviews during campus visits, or you might be sweating out the weeks in anticipation of an invitation to interview. It can be mentally grueling, so best to keep yourself busy! Should you get the great news, congratulations! Now you have to prep, prep, prep. (Fortunately, if I have to be honest, most interviews appear to be fairly straightforward and conversational. No tricks designed to make you stumble. So be prepared and be yourself!)

I don’t really know what lies beyond this stage because this is essentially where I am at now. I do know that I am grateful for this entire process thus far and doing my best to stay positive. Another part of me feels like the recruiting season during business school is going to make this feel like a cakewalk. But again, I’m getting ahead of myself aren’t I?

In 2 weeks I’ll have one school’s decision and 4 weeks after that I’ll have another. I’m not sure who would honestly say that the waiting aspect is the hardest part of the process (it doesn’t come close in my opinion).

However, could I get 2 dings over the next 6 weeks? Yes, there’s a good chance I might.

and that my friends… will be the hardest truth to swallow of them all.

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One Response to the application process – not as simple as it seems

  1. mbaover30 says:

    brilliant post; and accurate.

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