There are two golden rules for applying to a top MBA programme. Firstly, apply as early as you possibly can. Check the deadline dates at your target schools, shelve everything in your life that isn’t absolutely essential, and make it happen. Secondly, don’t push that “send” button until you are absolutely certain your application is the very best it can be.
Putting these two rules together makes it vital to get your act together – fast. Competition for a place at a major business school is intense. Most programmes split their admissions cycle into three or even four rounds. Don’t be fooled, though, into thinking this reflects an even spread of offers in each round. A top school may end up allocating more than 50 per cent of places to first-round applicants. Those who don’t make the cut at their preferred school will then usually apply to their second choice in round two, with the result that this stage can be even more competitive.
It is important to remember that admissions staff are constantly weighing up the look and feel of each incoming class. If you come from a traditional MBA-track background and didn’t apply early, you can guarantee that plenty of people with a profile similar to yours will have sent their papers in and been accepted already. Leaving it too late, the chances are an “unusual” candidate, perhaps someone running an innovative non-profit, might be favoured because of being able to bring different perspectives to the class. After round one, you are also competing against people placed on the waiting list, which can lower your odds even further.
Whatever the case, though, you should never submit a less than perfect application. There is nothing more frustrating than reading an MBA application which is flawed through being rushed. The key aspects of a strong candidate are usually evident – good CV, global exposure, leadership potential, and concrete achievements. But the essays tell a lot. They often make it very apparent that, with a bit more time and care, certain candidates could have submitted a much better application by not, for example, mistakenly including the name of another school. Acceptance can sometimes hinge on such apparently small, yet important, details.
Typically, schools release their essay questions over the summer, in advance of a first round deadline in October. However, if you know time will be tight during that period, you can begin well beforehand. For a start, sort out your GMAT, choose your referees, and prep them on their expected input and the timing. You can even start your essays before the official topics are announced. While every essay must be tailored for the particular school, being clear about your reasons for taking an MBA, as well as career goals and what you have to offer, can give a major head-start.
Also, don’t apply to all your favoured schools at once. If there are several on your list, rank them in order of preference and apply to your top schools first. After writing your essays, it is also a good idea to put them away for a few days, then pull them out and have another careful read through. Something that seemed brilliantly creative at 3am may not look quite so insightful in the harsh light of day.
Just applying to business school takes a serious amount of time, but starting the process early can make all the difference between winning a coveted place at a top school and having to settle for a programme further down your list. Given the amount of blood, sweat and tears - not to mention cash - you will ultimately expend on an MBA, don’t postpone your preparation – put off your summer holiday instead.
About the author
Emma Bond, former London Business School Senior Admissions Manager and expert coach at Fortuna Admissions