Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Is 2 years too soon? What to do 18-24 months before planned enrollment

Two years in advance seems too early to start thinking about MBA programs, but there is so much to do that it really requires a two-year lead. While the process can be done in less time, you will feel less rushed and less stressed if you start early.

First, I recommend making a timeline of key dates of all the important steps. Its fine if the dates change but the guide will help keep you on track.

Eighteen to twenty-four months before you plan to enroll, you should aim to get the GMAT out of the way. You don’t want to be studying for it on top of completing your applications, which in and of itself is like a full-time job. Whether you take a class (like I did) or study on your own, try to allow at least a few months to prepare for the test, while you don’t have the distraction of also filling out applications. Definitely do as many practice tests as you can, especially to get used to having to concentrate for 4 hours and to become familiar with the types of questions and the format. Don’t underestimate the amount of preparation required.

Once you have the GMAT under your belt and are comfortable with your score, it’s important to start narrowing down your list of desired schools. There are a lot of factors to consider – size of class, location, flexibility of the schedule and required classes, percent female and/or international, specializations offered, alumni network, employers and recruiting companies, etc. Start talking to students you know in various programs. If you don’t know anyone at a particular school of interest, ask friends and colleagues for introductions. Use LinkedIn as a resource. Read the rankings (but don’t get too caught up in the numbers as it is most important to find the best fit for you). I suggest US News & World Report and Business Week. Look at employer reports, which are usually available on each school’s website to see what companies recruit on campus and how many students they hire. Since you still have 18-24 months left at your current job, actively seek out more leadership roles and responsibility. Make sure your resume is up to date.

There is also a level of self-reflection involved. Think about what you want to accomplish and why you want an MBA. You will need to articulate your goals in your essays so it’s important to know what you hope to get out of the experience.

Start cutting down the list to a reasonable number of schools for serious consideration and visits, which I suggest take place 12-18 months in advance of admission (and about which I will provide more advice in my next post).

Best of Luck!
Beth Lovisa, Forté Fellow
MBA 2014, Stern School of Business at NYU

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