Why is having an MBA application strategy so important?

“When thinking about the MBA application process and coming up with a strategy, I often think back to the quote, ‘Failing to prepare is preparing to fail,’” says Al. (00:26) One of the defining traits of successful MBA candidates is that they proactively define their MBA application strategy before they jump into action. The MBA application process is complex and making the right decisions about each component is key. 

One of the first things MBA hopefuls should do is consider how and when all the application components will be executed. Al suggests “mapping everything out and coming up with some milestones, based off key dates.” (01:03) Those key dates are determined by the school’s application deadlines. 

Allowing sufficient time to work on all parts of your application – taking the GMAT or GRE, securing letters of recommendations, writing your essays – is a critical condition if you want to create a strong application. 

According to Al, successful candidates are often identified by having really good answers to several key questions. These questions are “why,” “when,” and “who.” (01:20)

Knowing your “why” – Crafting your career vision 

Knowing your “why” is all about your reasons for pursuing an MBA. As Al puts it, you need to know “Why are you even applying in the first place?” (01:47)

At the heart of every MBA pursuit lies a combination of professional and personal goals. Students consider an MBA because they want to assertively advance in their career, distinguish themselves through their business knowledge and leadership skills, and ultimately have more fulfilling professional and personal lives. 

In its simplest form, you can think of your MBA career vision as two destinations, connected by a bridge. The initial destination is what you have already accomplished – your undergraduate degree, your career history to date, and your passions and hobbies outside of work, often defined as your extracurricular activities. The final destination is the life and career you want to have after you get your MBA. The MBA is the bridge that takes you from here to there. 

Deciding on the “who” – How to select the right MBA programs for you

The “who” is about selecting the schools you will apply to. This has a number of tactical implications such as understanding the different application rounds and requirements. However, the most important question is “What makes these schools a great fit for you?” says Al.  (02:14)

You need to consider the multiple aspects of the notion of “fit.” School culture differs from one program to another. Some are more competitive, others more collaborative. Some emphasize hard skills, others place a stronger focus on soft skills. Your research will help you determine the programs that can offer the best environment and outcomes for your set of goals: your “why.” 

Determining your “when” – How to decide when you should apply

The other thing to consider is the “when.” Earlier, I mentioned the importance of having a map and timelines. As Al puts it, “You need to make sure to keep yourself honest and on track throughout the process.” (02:48) Schools have different requirements and timelines. Think of yourself as a project manager. You will have to manage yourself as well as other people who will be helping you in the process – whether it’s peers, mentors, recommenders, or even admissions consultants. 

For the applicants who are applying in the fall, what should you be doing right now?

Starting as early as possible is very important. If applying in the fall, over the course of the summer you will need to do your research and finalize your list of target schools. (03:40)

“The nice thing is that it’s never been easier to go learn about these schools and opportunities,” Al explains. (04:10) There are so many great platforms that offer insights about each school – what programs they offer, what career outcomes they are able to assist their students in achieving, the types of extracurricular clubs and activities they have. Schools will tell you what they are looking for and you can find a lot of this information on their websites. 

Once you have your shortlist of schools, you should start engaging with them. “Schools want to hear from you!” Al emphasizes. “They want to find the best and brightest talent so being able to take advantage of the virtual and digital opportunities that exist, whether that’s going to a virtual event or being able to engage directly either with the school’s admissions ambassadors or with the admissions and recruiting team, can be really valuable.” (04:52)

If you are going to apply in the fall, summer is the time to start your research and engagement. Once schools announce their application details and open the applications, you will be ready to roll – armed with a wealth of insights as you navigate the MBA admissions process. (05:22)