Even if you are years from applying to an MBA program, you should start planning now. By getting a head start on the MBA application process, you can get an edge on other applicants. This is for several reasons:
- The competition at top MBA programs is intense. It is tempting to believe that the admissions process is simply a matter of rubber-stamping the applicants who have good test scores and good work experience and passing on those who do not. Sadly, this is not true. Instead, because of the high volume of qualified applicants, MBA programs often choose between similarly qualified, very strong applicants. Any small advantage can give you the edge.
- MBA applications take a lot of time. Studying for the GMAT can take months. Then, there are several open-ended and time-consuming tasks, like researching your post-MBA career goals. This is on top of your busy work schedule — if you’re a consultant who travels four days per week, a finance professional with deal deadlines constantly looming or a tech professional with a product release around the corner, the time demands on your day-to-day will likely make it hard to get a lot done on your application in a short amount of time.
- The content of MBA applications is highly predictable. Even though the essays are not officially released until May or June of the year you apply, the topics almost always focus on four basic topics. And with these topics in mind, you’ll be able to start thinking about your essays long before the topics come out.
- Your personal story. This might cover elements of your identity, your cultural background, and/or the people who have molded you. It goes far beyond just your professional experience.
- Your career goal. It must be achievable, a bit inspiring, and well thought out.
- Why an MBA? You need to show each school exactly how their MBA program will help you achieve your career goals. Don’t just copy/paste from the course catalog! This requires a level of detail about specific activities at the school which, in turn, will require research. Schools want to know you have a real need to attend their program, rather than a simple desire.
- How you’ll contribute. MBA programs want to know what will you do while you’re there to make the experience better for your classmates.
Case Studies of MBA Applicants Who Start Early
Let’s look at some real applicants who have worked with Menlo Coaching and who benefited immensely from getting a head start.
- Taking Advantage of Free Time Between Jobs. This applicant was working as an investment banker and had a less demanding schedule at the tail-end of his banking position, right before he was making the move to a private equity job. He had almost no extracurricular activities, and we told him this was a key area in which he needed to develop his profile. When he mentioned his extensive career-oriented mentoring during college, in which he helped international students to secure great jobs, we encouraged him to get back in touch with his University contacts and develop a reusable online course that would allow him to support hundreds or thousands of students in their job searches. In doing so, he was able to leverage his expertise and the one-time gap in his schedule to reach a large number of people and create an extracurricular activity with a big impact on a community. Had he waited until he was already in private equity, he would not have had time to do any of this.
- Getting a Better Job. Our second applicant was an engineer in the renewable energy industry. His job was very technical and systems-oriented but he wanted to get into a business development role—negotiating deals and partnerships—in the same industry. We helped him develop a strategy to pitch his company’s executives on moving him into a marketing role for the year before he’d enroll in an MBA. As a result, when he applied, he did not have to explain how he’d make the HUGE jump from engineering to business development but was able to show that he had already made the first big step toward a business role. This gave the admissions committee confidence that he’d be successful in his job search, and he received several scholarship offers at M7 schools.
Consequences of Rushing Your MBA Application
In addition to seeing people benefit from starting early, we’ve also witnessed several cases that demonstrate the disadvantages of starting MBA applications late. Here are a few areas that can suffer if you do not start early enough.
- GMAT Study. We see many applicants who hope to complete GMAT study and application writing in the final month or two before the deadline, which hardly ever works. And no matter how qualified an applicant may be professionally, a low score will sink their admission chances. We’ve worked with countless applicants who came in early and got their GMAT study out of the way, sometimes with the help of a tutor, which allowed them to submit their best package: good application materials AND a good GMAT score.
- Networking with Schools. We have, unfortunately, seen many applicants who contact us in June or July and say that they are planning to make their campus visits before they apply in Round 1. We then remind them that the students are away for their internships, meaning that it’s impossible to make a meaningful campus visit in the summer! No one ever won attendance by writing about the beautiful, empty buildings on campus. Starting the process early means you can plan meaningful visits where you’ll be able to attend classes and talk to current students.
- Giving Yourself Time to be Creative. Working on your MBA story is a creative process and you need time to do your best work. In the tech industry, there’s a famous saying: “Nine women can’t make a baby in one month.” Similarly, you can’t take two weeks off just before the deadlines and force yourself to be creative during that time. The process works best if you begin early and allow your creative self-time to consider and find inspiration.
Menlo Coaching loves working with applicants who begin the process early since they’re more likely to get a great result. Our Early Birds Program works with applicants who want to apply in a future year. Our youngest clients are still in college, and we help them understand the kinds of internships and post-college roles they would need to take to put themselves on the path to a top MBA.
If you are thinking of getting your MBA, we’d love to work with you as soon as you decide you want one.
David’s 15-year tech career included executive roles at startups (Efficient Frontier, acquired by Adobe) and publicly traded companies (Yahoo, Travelzoo) across the SF Bay Area and Europe, during which time he hired, trained and developed dozens of young professionals. He has been coaching MBA applicants since 2012 with a special focus on developing the right career goals.