2017 is no special year per se, in case the headline above arouses an iota of suspicion. 2017 is a year that rotates like any other, treading the well-weathered steps laid down by the Gregorian calendar. Yet, with the beginning of each year we have the choice to lie back and place our trust in fate or, should we wish it, make and take action on a New Year’s resolution, and dictate our own future.
For many, along with a determination to live more healthily, save more money, and live life more fully, come ambitions to push a career to new limits, with professional development being perceived as one instrumental means of moving up. At postgraduate level, the most popular degrees in the United States have been business degrees, including the Masters in Business Administration (MBA), the MBA being a qualification that has topped the charts since 2010/11, and with good reason.
The cost of pursuing an MBA program is often recovered within four years, and the financial returns that can be accrued post qualifying are significant, with many MBAs smashing through the million-dollar threshold after 20 years. Therefore, not only does an MBA offer new and more exciting pathways into senior management across a wide spectrum of industries, but that second common New Year’s resolution (of saving more money) looks like a more concrete possibility. As logic would have it, it's the world’s top business schools that offer the greatest promise of reward. And as commonsense will also have it - getting into a top business school requires strategic and forward thinking, effective planning, coupled with some serious grit. The earlier you prepare for MBA application deadlines, the better. Why not, therefore, start making tracks in achieving your New Year’s resolution of getting into a top business school as early as possible? Perhaps you could use the energy restored over the Christmas break and the excitement of the opportunities that lie ahead to get cracking- let 2017 be the year you got accepted onto a leading MBA program.
Here are some tips that we hope can nudge you on your way to making the dream of studying at a top-tier university a New Year’s resolution that doesn't, like so many, simply dissolve into oblivion.
1. Your workplace is a playground of opportunity: It's always a good idea to get ahead of the curve and foresee the types of tasks and business problems that are going to be set by your future business school professors. Start practicing in real time and, for guidance, check out the list of core modules offered on the MBA program you want to get into. Start analyzing the business problems you deal with day to day and work on putting together plans of action to resolve these problems, making sure that both the problem and solutions are communicated effectively. Of course, the purpose of any MBA program is to hone and develop these skills, but being prepared, stepping up your strategic thinking, and developing insight into your company's operations will not only impress your bosses and help you once your studies get going, but recounting how you took on and dealt with this type of challenge could also be a keystone to your success when writing your MBA application essays and attending any subsequent interview.
2. Brush up on your quantitative skills: With months to prepare, start reviving your confidence in those essential quant skills. Your undergraduate degree may have been light in math (21% of Harvard Business School's MBA class of 2018 are humanities and social sciences graduates if that's any consolation) and the hill to reaching the gold standard may look worryingly steep. Work on building a solid base in accounting, finance, microeconomics, statistics and spreadsheets. There are plenty of online resources to lean on, and if you're keen to up your GMAT score, why not try out QS’s free GMAT test prep platform here? It's also worth noting that many top business schools offer pre-term orientation courses to help incoming MBA candidates balance out any discrepancies they might have in educational experience and training.
3. Network: With as many as 85% of jobs filled through networking, and with top business schools presenting an opportunity for some high-profile business introductions, it is of the utmost importance that you polish the soft skills required for effective networking. It's never a bad idea to start small, be it by joining a new club or society, or by simply attending your spouse's office party. The key is to put yourself out there and in a position where you have to present yourself. Learning how to present yourself across a range of scenarios diversifies your networking experience and should also help build confidence for the MBA interview.
4. Get your referees in order:Although admissions requirements vary from one MBA program to another, most top business schools will require two letters of recommendation. One of these references is likely to be from a boss or work supervisor and the other can be from a peer or colleague (as examples). There are no strict rules (unless otherwise stated), but your recommender will need to be able to describe your personal qualities as well as your performance (in your role/roles), your career potential and background.
5. Remember why you're unique: Business schools are crying out for people who are both unique and authentic. Many incoming applications will file in from the finance and consulting sectors. If this is your background, the need for you to differentiate yourself from the pack is at its most crucial. Business schools want breadth and depth of experience in their classrooms and crave diversity over a uniform, gray-suited, tie-wearing cohort. This is where you need to show that you can stretch yourself beyond the confines of office walls to provide added colour to your life story. Involvement in such things as charity work overseas, or a retelling of your successes as say, a Scrabble or deep sea diving champion are likely to trigger interest and make the admissions team reviewing your application remember you.