The first rule of applying for an MBA is that preparing your applications is always going to take longer than you expect… Planning is everything, especially if you’re applying to multiple schools. You will not only need to dedicate time to researching schools and programmes, but also to meeting students and alumni where possible; all this amidst an already hectic work schedule! Let’s start with the GMAT. The most important advice I can give you is to practice computerised tests (you usually get a few with a good GMAT book or find further information on mba.com); they’re worth their cost in time and money and prepare you for what the test is really like. I would suggest taking the GMAT as you are serious about an MBA as there is a lot of deadline-related pressure with essays, letters and interviews. In hindsight I wish I’d taken it soon after finishing my undergraduate degree.
For your essays and recommendation letters, I think it’s important to present yourself in an interesting but consistent way. You need your file to stand out amidst thousands of applicants so think clarity, brevity and focus. Think carefully about what you will personally bring to the class and what you stand for; essentially you need to define your value proposition and then articulate this within the specific context of every school. You also need to strike a balance between capturing what you have to offer and what you’re trying to develop or achieve through an MBA. Coming back to consistency, I think managers who know you well and who believe in you are best placed to write your recommendation letters. Remember that writing recommendations take time, so ensure you give your referees enough time for these. When it comes to interviews (usually conducted by alumni) schools’ approaches can be quite different. It’s worth doing up-front research so you know what to expect. Again, consistency is key. It is important to convey your motivations clearly and also to show that you have ideas and opinions. Staying abreast of current affairs is an easy way to do this. They’re looking for people who will add positively and significantly to the class and remember, one day you’ll potentially be joining your interviewer’s alumni network… Finally – enjoy it! You’ll learn about yourself through the process.
What are your experiences with applications? Do you have other suggestions? Please share here.
Sam Streicher, Forte Fellow
London Business School, Class of 2012