An MBA from an elite school is a ‘long only‘ game. The dedication, planning and time one needs to put in to get into one of the handful of elite schools are just staggering. In most cases, it is almost a two year journey – from thinking about the MBA to actually getting into a programme.
Starting my MBA journey, I had little clue of what should be done and most importantly, when. Being a project manager, I am accustomed to project plans and I like working towards timelines / deadlines. So, suddenly finding myself stranded in the middle of nowhere with minimal information was quite un-nerving. To orient myself, I started putting this timeline together, which helped me keep on track during my MBA journey.
In the timeline below, Y represents the year you would start your MBA. Similarly, Y-2 represents two years before the start of the programme. This is the year when our journey begins.
So, you have heard of the Master in Business Administration degree and for the past (two) year(s), you have been researching the potential benefits of obtaining one. You have met a few people who have gone through this. You have heard them brag about the Olympic Gold Medallist friend they met at business(B) School and how they are sure their b-school roommate would one day head Microsoft. Hearing them, you are now convinced that you want an MBA. You are certain that the MBA degree will catapult you to your wildest professional dreams. Moreover, you want the bragging rights too. Chandler Bing, MBA shouldn’t have it all. So, let’s begin.
January Y-1 (2017)
Start preparing for the GMAT. It is better to start early as you might need more time to get used to the GMAT format. Moreover, after 5 to 6 years out of university, some of us may have lost our test taking skills and might need more time to prepare of the exam. Very few people are equally proficient in both GMAT Math and GMAT grammar right from the word go. Most of us would require a good 3-4 months of hard slog before we are anywhere near the 650+ mark. Read my tale of cracking the GMAT here.
March Y-1 (2017)
Register for the GMAT and appear for the exam before or during March. This should give you enough time to prepare and re-take it if you feel your GMAT is not up to the school’s average. If you are anywhere near that mark, stop fretting about your score and start working on your overall application. Remember, as long as you are around the average for your target school and are not dragging their median GMAT score down, you are good. The GMAT is just an entry criteria and getting a very high GMAT (720+) doesn’t mean you have an advantage. Take it from me. I scored a 750.
April – June Y-1 (2017)
Start researching the schools that you want to go to. It is important to take into account various factors when you decide which schools to go to. These are some of my criteria before I applied (not in any particular order) – location, quality of the programme, reputation, rankings, ROI, school’s culture, student community, average age of the students, teaching methodology etc. Also, it is important to divide these schools into Rounds as applying to more than 3-4 per round would seriously degrade the quality of your applications. Remember, that is the one thing you can’t compromise on.
Also, start working on your extracurriculars if you don’t have any. Ideally, you would be volunteering for years by this time, however, it is not too late.
June – September Y-1 (2017)
By the time you finish selecting your schools, they would have released their essays and deadline dates for Round 1/2. This is the time to think about your stories and what makes you unique. Why should they take you instead of the 5000 others that applied with you? It is important to have a coherent story that shows how what you have done in the past compliments your future career and ambitions.
It is also the time to take out your CV / Resume and give it a good dusting. If your CV is more than 2 pages long, trash it. Create a new one from scratch and try to squeeze everything into 1 page. If you are very accomplished or have more than 10+ years of experience, it is ok for it to be 2 pages, but in that case, you should think whether MBA is at all the right option for you.
June – August Y-1 (2017)
Start organising the school visits that you have been planning for a while. These will do three things: 1) you will get an extra kick of motivation that will help you draft those tedious essays. 2) the students and admissions staff will still be around and they should be able to show you around the campus and if you are lucky, you might be able to attend a few summer classes. 3) you will get a great feel for the campus, the student life and the city as a whole. These are very important factors that should play important roles in determining your final choice of a school.
August – September Y-1 (2017)
By this time all the schools would have released their Round 1/2 applications. For your Round 1 schools, register on their admission portals and read through the application. You should be able to glean all the information the school is asking for. Also, majority of the schools will have some form of short answer questions that could prove tricky sometimes. Add these questions to your list of main essay questions and start working on these.
Mid- September Y-1 (2017)
Submit all your Round 1 applications. Sit back and relax. Take a week or two off from work and go on that sailing holiday you always wanted to take. Spend sometime with your friends and family whom you have completely ignored for the good part of the year. Do NOT visit any of the MBA forums and don’t interact with anyone who has applied for an MBA. You deserve the time off and nothing should distract you from that.
October – December Y-1 (2017)
Generally, if the schools like your initial application, they should invite you for the interviews during these few months. Don’t freak out if the call is late by a few weeks. Schools send out interview invites till the last week of the decision deadline. Prepare for your interviews by re-reviewing your stories and your application. Your should know your CV like the palm of your hand and all the stories should make perfect sense to you and to others as well. Discuss your application with friends and family. If possible, practice mock interview with them. Remember, unless you are an interview junkie, you would be nervous during your first few interviews. So, practice interview techniques as much as possible.
January – April Y (2018)
The decisions are out and you are in. You have an admit from your top choice school and they have given your a generous scholarship on top. Congratulations, what more do you need. You can stop reading this post now and go celebrate till your classes start this fall. Go on then! Go Go!
However, if like a vast majority, you have not made it into any of your schools or have been wait-listed, don’t despair. These things happen. It happened to me, it happened to thousands of others and it is not the end of the World.
Buck up and get ready for Round 2. But before you do, think about what you could have done differently. If you got interview invites, then how was your performance during the interview? If you didn’t receive interview calls, check your essays. Did they bring out the real you? Did you answer the questions that they asked? Just step back and evaluate what you could do differently this time around.
Once you have that sorted, repeat what you did for Round 1 schools. Change things here and there and make sure not to repeat your previous mistakes.
May – August Y (2018)
I hope you were successful in Round 2 or Round 3 and you have admits from the schools you want to attend. May to August should be the time to prepare for business school. Pay your deposits and any outstanding fees. Get your visas sorted (if you need one). Make sure you have funding for the next two years. Do you want to take up that pre-MBA internship that the local investment bank is offering? If you do, then stop reading this blog and go take it. Sort out your admin stuff. Rent out your house if you have one. Make sure your significant other, if they are moving with you, are ready to move. Pay all your bills and sort out your credit card trail. Remember, you will not be earning for the next year or two.
Attend admit and orientation weeks. These are important introductions to the school and the community that you are now part of. Enjoy your time at business school. After your long struggle, you deserve every moment of it.