How to Prepare for Your Business School Application Early

The following piece was written by Paul Bodine. Paul has been featured in our Admissions Expert series and is the author of the best-selling admissions guide, Great Applications for Business School. He currently runs his own firm, Paul Bodine Admissions Consulting.

Harvard and Stanford won't releases their essay questions until May, and most other schools won't follow suit until the summer. But that doesn't mean you have to sit on your hands until then. There's plenty you can do now to ensure that the MBA applications you submit this fall are the best they can be.

Most obviously, there's the GMAT. If you haven't taken it, plan to do so by June or July (ideally earlier, so you'll have time to retake it without interfering with your near-deadline application process). Because a good score is so critical – successful applicants at top schools average a 720, with Quant and Verbal scores above the 80th percentile – job one this spring should be GMAT preparation (cue the Varsity Tutors theme music…).

But you can also begin to map out your essay material. Count on most schools asking for three basic essay types:

  • A Goals Essay (what are your goals, how has your career thus far crystallized or partially prepared you for these goals, how does an MBA [any MBA] help you achieve them, and how do the resources of Target School X help you achieve them?)
  • A Specific Accomplishment or Leadership Essay (structured as: problem you faced, what steps you took to address this problem, outcome of your action, and what you learned from this specific experience)
  • A Personal Essay (illustrating through some life or community experience or set of experiences what differentiates you from other applicants and will enable you to contribute uniquely to your MBA classmates).

Even without specific essay prompts, you can begin to think about the best examples for these three core topics now. Then when schools release the actual essay topics, you'll be ready to do some serious customizing of these core essays for each school (as well as tackle essay prompts not covered by these topics). You may find that doing all this heavy essay lifting now will enable you to submit applications to more schools in the first round, thus maximizing your odds of admission.

This is also a great time to line up your recommenders. Keeping in mind that business schools prefer to hear from current and former direct supervisors, how many potential recommenders do you have? How many would be willing and able to write a strong letter full of enthusiasm and concrete examples? You should not only draw up a short list of recommenders this spring; you should begin to approach them. If you are targeting first-round deadlines, you will want to have your recommenders working on your letters by June or so. This will give you a buffer zone in case one or more of your busy recommenders procrastinates or one of them drops out, forcing you to find a replacement. 

And don't forget school research and visits. Your GMAT score will give you a clear idea of what programs you're competitive at, but even without a score you can begin now to put together a reasonably short list of schools. It's not too early to start exploring schools now (in fact, the best applicants begin thinking of MBA programs years in advance!). Start with the school websites, of course, but take your 'due diligence' further by reaching out to students and alums, attending information sessions and school webinars, and visiting campuses. Remember that many campuses close down for the summer, and you might not have the time or opportunity for class visits before submitting your applications in the fall. Exploring schools now will free up valuable time for you to focus on essays (and perhaps apply to more first-round schools) this summer and fall. 

Finally, there's the admissions consultant question – should you or shouldn't you use one? A growing number of applicants do, and as an admissions consultant myself, I'd be the first to extol the virtues of using a good, experienced consultant with a personalized approach, demonstrated expertise, and proven track record of success. There are definite advantages to starting with a consultant (like me) now: 

  • He or she can guide you through all the essay, recommendation letter, and school selection prep work I just discussed and even provide you with a timeline/deadlines if you need them
  • The consultant may tell you that your profile is a bit weak in ways that you still have time to do something about – ramping up your extracurricular leadership, for example.
  • The best consultants tend to get 'booked up' as the admission season progresses; signing up now will ensure you have someone in your corner when the deadlines loom this fall.

It's definitely not too early.


Visit Paul Bodine Admissions Consulting for more information.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.