Excerpted from How to Apply for an MBA
This is the third article in MBA Prep School’s Application Timeline series.
Published December 6, 2011
Three to six months before the deadline, you will take definitive steps toward creating your application by formulating your application strategy. In addition to making some key strategic decisions, there are a number of things you should check off your “to-do list” in this period so you’ll have them out of the way before the home stretch to the application deadlines begins.
Formulate your application strategy
Formulating your application strategy starts with defining the “Fit Qualities” for each MBA program you will apply to. Fit qualities are the attributes and strengths that each program values most. Having the right qualifications, such as a strong academic record and a high GMAT score, might earn you an interview invitation, but proving you are a great fit with each school is the secret to earning an acceptance letter. Your application strategy is effectively your marketing strategy. It summarizes how you plan to differentiate yourself from the competition. The Fit Qualities are a reminder that to do your marketing strategy job effectively you need to carefully study what attributes your customer (i.e., the admissions committee) values most.
Choose your references
If you have followed the advice in the first article in MBA Prep School’s application timeline series
, then you’ve already established excellent relationships with your superiors and mentors. It is time to inform them that you’ll be applying to business school in a few months. One caveat: you need to proceed with caution when telling people you work with about your MBA application plans; don’t jeopardize your job, your annual bonus, or an upcoming promotion.
If you’ve developed a trusting relationship with mentors at your current job, you’ll probably be able to speak with them off-the-record about your plans. Candidates who haven’t been building these relationships over time will have a much harder time with this step. Meet with the people on your reference letter short list to gauge their enthusiasm for your plans and determine who would be willing to write a Rockstar Recommendation Letter
. Until you’re certain you’ll be asking a particular person to write your letter, we recommend that you keep the first conversation exploratory and high level. The outcome of these meetings will allow you to finalize your list of recommenders.
Create your application resume
The first step in implementing your application strategy is to begin drafting your MBA application resume. Resume experts advise job-seekers to tailor their resume for each job they are applying to – similarly – you want to tailor your MBA application resume to each school you’re applying to. You want your resume to feature the school’s specific Fit Qualities identified in your application strategy.
Broadly speaking this might include placing more emphasis on your analytical abilities for a school that values quantitative skills and your team leadership experience for schools that prize collaboration and teamwork. Resume real estate is precious so you want to make sure you allocate space in a way that supports the themes and qualities you want to feature in all elements of your application.
Draft Your Career Goals Essay
You can bet that at least one of the MBA Programs you’re applying to will ask you to connect the dots between your career progress, career aspirations, and motivations for pursuing an MBA. Even if the application essay questions have not yet been published, you can get a head start on you Career Goals essay. In fact, we share some tips for how to ace your MBA careers goal essay
Study application policies and procedures
Three to four months before the first round deadline, the moment everyone’s been waiting for arrives and the applications and essay questions are published. Before you plug the deadline dates into your calendar and start writing your essays, read the fine print on the schools application policies as carefully as a tax lawyer looking for a loophole. It would be tragic to have all your preparation work and brilliant application strategy go to waste because you didn’t follow directions.
Follow the application rules and policies to the letter and stay on top of deadlines both self-imposed and school-imposed. Create a calendar for yourself and a checklist with due dates and stick to it.
The race date for the application marathon is now in sight. Check these items in this article off your “to-do-list” in the period three to six months before the deadlines, so that you can avoid a last minute sprint that may leave you short of the finish line.
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