Thursday, July 16, 2015 at 3pm

Getting Down to Business: One-Year MBA Application Timeline

A one-year MBA application timeline

So, you’ve finally made up your mind to take the graduate school plunge seriously. You’re ready to get your MBA and move your career forward. But where do you begin?

Many experts recommend a 12-month timeline from the moment you make a concrete decision to go to school to the time when an application deadline comes around. That’s right, a full year. A number of MBA applications [depending on the type of program to which you are applying] are due in and around December, so a calendar year offers a useful model in ensuring you have adequate time to prepare, research schools, study for (and ace) the GMAT, schedule a campus tour, and get those letters of recommendation organized.  

Ready to get started? Here’s a basic rundown of a timeline that can help you on your way.

As soon as you know: Overshare

I’m sure you’ve talked it to death in your head, but be sure to discuss your decision with your immediate family and those for whom your schooling will have an impact. If there are scheduling issues that going back to school will cause, make sure you’ve worked out the details. Have a concrete plan.

Then, start telling everybody. Announce it - preferably at a family gathering, on your social media channels and to the skies. You may think I’m kidding, but the more you tell people your plan, the more likely you are to actually stay on track. Also, consider telling your boss at work - you might be surprised to find out that your boss will be excited for you, and if it makes sense, they may even be prepared to help you with your MBA application.

January/February: Start your research!

Calendar year MBA application planningFirst, make sure you are clear on what it is you want to do with the degree—unlike undergraduate level, you can’t just start with a vague idea. Studying an MBA will be a focused experience designed to put you on a specific business track. Know what you want and exactly how you intend to use the qualification post-graduation - only then can you really start researching schools. When you look into it more deeply, you may find your priorities shifting.

Once you are sure that you are sure, begin to look for programs (and professors) that make the best sense for your chosen career path. Wharton may be impressive for many things, but do they have the best, say, non-profit business management program? Do your research.

March/April: GMAT anyone?

Start your GMAT preparation and schedule an exam. Again, tell everyone you’ve scheduled it, so that you’ll be more likely to stay serious. Study with an online or published guide and take practice tests.

Schedule as many of the real thing as you think you may need. Schools will generally only look at the highest score, so if you have the time and resources, take the exam a couple of times. If you do badly at first, consider either an online or in-person tutor.

May/June: Reach out and touch someone

As you narrow down your school choices, begin seeking out alumni, talking directly to program officials, and finding out about the possibilities of taking a campus tour. Call to see if you can schedule some time to talk to a professor or to talk to a current student about life on campus as well as inquiring about a campus tour. Incidentally, if possible, try to find a time to take that campus tour as early as possible.

Ask around to see if you know anyone with connections to your chosen program. At the same time, start a short list of potential letter of recommendation providers. Getting these letters of recommendation can take longer than you think, so it’s best to have the names ready, and to start bugging them, in the summer.

The summer is also a great time to take on a leadership role in the community. Responsible leadership is one of the most important metrics that business schools will look at on your résumé. Commit yourself to something you are passionate about—you’ll have almost a year before interviews begin to build on it, so it won’t look like you are tacking this on just for the sake of MBA applications.

Also, remember to take your first GMAT. Good luck!

July/August: What do they want from you?

A lot of MBA application specifics are released in July, so now is the time to begin looking over these procedures. Create application deadlines for yourself within this process and start to look seriously into financial aid possibilities. This is also when you should fully hash out which will schools are to be your targets.

And (if need be) take the GMAT again.

September/October: It’s crunch time

Follow up with those chosen as your letter of recommendation providers and ask them to prepare their letters - it’s best not to leave this to the last minute. Also, draft your MBA admissions essays and show them to peers for feedback. If you are having trouble, there are services available that will help you craft a more focused essay based on your experience. And don’t forget to give time and attention to short answer portions of these applications—they can be just as important as a longer essay piece.

November/December: The finish line

Finalize your applications and make sure you’ve managed to follow all of the instructions. Some of this process is simply to see how well you follow directions. Don’t give them any reason to deny your application - even typos can make a difference when application committees are making tough decisions.

Then send, send, send! Keep in mind that most applications can be sent via email these days.

Finally, breathe. You did it! That year wasn’t so bad... now it’s time to look forward to interviews.

Ryan Hickey is the managing editor of Peterson's & EssayEdge and is an expert in many aspects of college, graduate, and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in various admissions capacities for nearly a decade, including writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL, editing essays and personal statements, and consulting directly with applicants.

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