The following piece was written by Linda Abraham. Linda has been featured in our Admissions Expert series and is the President and Founder of Accepted.com.
Think 2015 is a distant reality? Think again! Next year’s MBA application season starts sooner than you realize… like right now. So let’s jump right to it – what should you be doing now to prepare for the upcoming application season?
1. Assess Your Qualifications
You need to examine your grades and your GMAT score to establish where you stand amongst your competition academically. A low GMAT score or a low GPA is not necessarily an MBA deal breaker. No adcom is going to admit or dismiss a candidate solely based on one semester’s poor grades or a slightly below average verbal GMAT score without also reflecting on other numbers, as well as the rest of the non-quantitative parts of the applicant’s profile. Average numbers vary according to school, as well as within your demographic group. You should examine each of these aspects and weigh the strengths and weaknesses in your application as you assess your competitiveness.
That being said, a GPA or GMAT score well below your target school’s average will be an admissions obstacle that is difficult to overcome, so proceed with caution by making sure that the rest of your application is pristine and that you address the low numbers somewhere in your application.
TO DO NOW: At this point in the game, it’s not too late to retake the GMAT or to enroll in a college statistics course if you feel like these could help boost your profile.
2. Evaluate Your Work Experience
You need to examine your work experience quantitatively (the work experience “sweet spot” for most business schools is between three and six years – though there are exceptions) and qualitatively (your experiences should significantly contribute to your development as a person and as a burgeoning business mind, as well as impact your company/industry). These points should be emphasized when constructing your MBA resume and writing your MBA application essays.
TO DO NOW: It’s early enough in the application process that you can still work on bulking up your work GIM: Growth, Impact, and Management Potential. If, however, you feel these key elements are still a far cry from where they should be, then you may want to push off applying until you’ve acquired more qualitative work experience.
3. Examine Your Leadership Skills and Personal Traits
Perhaps more than any other personal trait, the adcoms will be mining your application for leadership. If you want your leadership skills to stand out, you’ll need to show through clear examples and anecdotes that you’re a leader – not just claim that you are. If you can’t think of specific ways in which you’ve exhibited strong leadership skills, then now would be an excellent time to start putting yourself in situations where you can show them, either through increased professional responsibility, greater community service commitments, or by expanding your role in a hobby, sports team, music or arts group, etc.
Other important character traits you’ll want to highlight in your application include passion, communication/teamwork skills, and initiative.
TO DO NOW: Bulk up your community service profile and/or your job responsibilities if you feel like they are lacking. Keep an ongoing list of traits and examples now that you can use later on when drafting essays.
4. Determine Your MBA Goals
Define your goal in terms of industry and job function. Include location if that is important to you. Deciding that post-MBA you’d like to go into marketing is really only the first step. Why are you interested in marketing? What sort of marketing are you considering? What skills and tools do you need to achieve those goals? Which firms would you ideally work for? Remember, nothing here is set in stone, but you should have goals that excite you and that motivate you to push forward in a given direction.
TO DO NOW: Start speaking to industry experts in fields you’re considering so you can think concretely about where you see yourself five to ten years down the line.
5. School Research
Where should you apply to b-school? To start, look at specialty rankings (U.S. News, Businessweek), go thoroughly through school websites, read student blogs, and talk to current students and recent alumni.
Then, generate a list of schools that fall into one of the following three categories—reasonable reaches (your acceptance is a bit of a stretch, but possible), on-pars (you’re a competitive candidate and have a solid chance of getting in), or safeties (you’ll most likely get accepted). It’s best to choose at least one school from each category, though some individuals may want to apply to more (applying to four to seven total is about average, especially when applying to top programs.).
How important are school visits?
While some adcoms admit to awarding brownie points and some swear that whether or not you visit has no impact on your acceptance or rejection, I believe that if you have the opportunity to visit the b-schools on your list, you should absolutely do so.
And it’s not because of imaginary “brownie points,” but because you will be a much better informed applicant after you visit a school than before. You’ll know more about each school, its culture, and why that particular school appeals to you. You’ll learn more about its teaching style, whether it supports your goals, and how well you and your MBA goals match the program, students, and faculty.
That being said, if you are unable to visit the campus, be sure to attend info sessions held in your city and learn as much as you can off-campus.
TO DO NOW: Visit schools, talk to people, attend info sessions, and scour the web for details.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.