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How to Create an MBA Application Work Plan
Written by Sameer Kamat
This is a guest post by Tyler Cormney, co-founder of MBA Prep School. Tyler is a graduate of the Harvard Business School and is an experienced MBA admissions consultant with over five years in the field.
MBA Prep School has published an eBook entitled Prepare to be Accepted! 10 Steps to a Winning MBA Application and provides 35 on-demand videos in which admissions consulting pros teach you their secrets for resume writing, essays, resume, recommendation letters, and admissions interview.
You’re planning to apply to business school but do you have a plan for applying?
Creating an MBA application work plan and timeline reduces uncertainty and anxiety because you will know what you need to do and when you need to do it.
In this guest post, I will summarize the steps in an effective MBA application work plan – from researching schools and writing your essays through to acing your MBA admissions interview.
I have been an admissions consultant for over five years now, and I’ve worked with many clients who are no strangers to working fast and furious. Without exception, every applicant I have worked with has been shocked by the amount of time it takes to create three to four high quality MBA applications.
Let’s assume that you have completed your GMAT exam and you plan to apply to three schools in a single round. My recommendation is that you should budget an average of 15 – 18 hours per week for 12 weeks—about 200 hours total—for the work you will do on your essays, resume, recommendation letters, and application forms. This does not include the additional 20-30 hours you’ll spend preparing for interviews after you have submitted your applications. In the timeline I give to my clients, I recommend that they work consecutive weeks between their starting point and the deadlines to complete their applications without taking any breaks.
Of course everyone works at their own pace, but the hours estimates for the application activities below are in line with the experience of applicants who were deeply engaged in the application process and produced exceptional applications that led them to be accepted by the top business schools.
I break the process of applying for an MBA into 10 steps, which I call MBA Prep Steps™. To help you develop your own work plan, I will summarize each step and provide an estimate of how much time you may need to devote to each step based on my experience working with successful applicants to top schools.
MBA Prep Step 1: Prepare to Apply (Prior to Starting Your Applications)
If you are one of the “early birds”, who has more than twelve weeks before it’s time to apply, you should use the time to make your candidacy that much stronger. Some things to check off your list at this stage include career research, school research, and addressing gaps in your applicant profile, such as low undergraduate grades or limited community service involvement. Please note that I didn’t include time for these preparation activities in the 12 week / 200 hour budget.
MBA Prep Step 2: Discover Your Strengths (Week 1; 12 hours)
In the first week of your 12-week work plan, you will complete a thorough accounting of your key differentiators, character strengths, career history, and leadership capabilities. The things you discover about yourself will supply the building blocks for a powerful application.
MBA Prep Step 3: Define Your Career Goals (Weeks 2-3; 20 hours)
Defining career goals can be incredibly challenging. You must find the intersection between your strengths, passion, and sense of purpose as inputs for the career goals essay that most MBA applications will require. Weeks 2 and 3 of your application project should be devoted to thinking about your career goals and developing a career action plan.
MBA Prep Step 4: Select Your Schools (Weeks 2-4; 18 hours)
You need to look beyond the magazine rankings, school marketing messages, and the opinions of others. Instead, complete in-depth school research to find the schools that are the best fit for your learning goals and career goals.
MBA Prep Step 5: Identify Each School’s Fit Qualities (Weeks 4-6; 13 hours)
To prove you are a better fit than your competition, you need to find out what qualities the schools you are applying to value most and use that knowledge to shape and customize all the elements of your application – especially your essays. In this work step, you will spend time researching the “fit qualities” for the schools you will be applying to.
MBA Prep Step 6: Create Your Application Resume (Weeks 4-6; 16 hours)
Most schools will require you to submit a 1-2 page resume. It will take time to craft a resume that is tailored to the interests of an MBA admissions committee. Submitting the resume you created for your job search is not advised because MBA admissions officers and corporate recruiters may be interested in different things. For example, a corporate recruiter might be interested in technical programming skills whereas an admissions officer would rather read about your team work abilities.
MBA Prep Step 7: Write Your Essays (Weeks 6-12; 91 hours)
The essay writing process is extremely demanding. From topic selection to final draft, there are really no shortcuts to creating great essays. Our time estimate assumes that you will apply to three schools and complete three to five drafts of each essay. As you’ll discover, the secret to effective essay writing is rewriting. An essay writing cram session a couple of weeks before the deadline rarely works, which is why I recommend that you spread your essay writing work over a six-week period.
MBA Prep Step 8: Select and Support Your References (Weeks 6-12; 19 hours)
Selecting your references and supporting them along the way are critical aspects of a successful application. You need to guide your references to maximize the quality of the reference letters that accompany your application. Ask your references to start their letters about six weeks before the deadline and suggest they turn in their letters two weeks before the official deadline. This cushion will ensure that your reference letters arrive in time. If not, your application will be pushed into the next round.
MBA Prep Step 9: Complete the Application Forms (Weeks 10 -12; 13 hours)
The application forms provide another opportunity to further differentiate your bid for admission. Some applications may include short-answer questions about your employment history and/or require you to summarize volunteer activities, academic honors, and awards. Don’t wait until the last minute to start filling in the application forms because they can often be the Admissions Officer first impression of you – and you want them to sparkle.
MBA Prep Step 10: Prepare for Interviews (After Completing the 12-week Program)
The admissions interview is the “final exam” in the application process. Preparation time is not factored into our 12 week/200 hour budget for the application activities, as this is work that takes place once your applications have been submitted. You can easily spend another 20 – 30 hours (or more) preparing for your interviews.
In a short article, I can only introduce the steps you need to take and provide high-level guidelines for how much time you should devote to each step. MBA Prep School has created on-demand admissions consulting videos and a comprehensive work plan that walks you through every step in the process I outlined above. We invite you to visit our website (http://mbaprepschool.com) and enjoy a free trial of our program.