Sep 16, 2009

MBA Application Game Plan

Researching Programs:
By the time deadlines approach, many applicants have their heads down, racing ahead to complete essays and resumes and fill out data forms. It's much better to get an early start, and take a step back and educate yourself before you dive in. Don't leave it to the Business Week rankings to decide for you in the last moments before the deadline.
Since 2001, Stacy Blackman Consulting has helped hundreds of clients gain admission to every top business school in the world. The company's approach, based on developing and implementing a winning marketing strategy, makes the application process less stressful and more successful.
Unfortunately, a lot of applicants forget this simple fact: you are the customer! Business schools print brochures and travel from city to city to convince you to consider their programs. They brag about the vast accomplishments of their faculty and the high-profile careers of their alumni. But what aren't they telling you?
Do your own research. Visit the schools, sit in on a class, tour the campus. Go to the info sessions and ask real questions. Call the admissions department and ask for the names of students and recent alums, and get in touch with these folks. This research will help you decide where you truly want to apply. Your efforts will not be wasted - your knowledge of and passion for the schools will shine through in your essays and later in your interview.
The GMAT:Moving on to the tactical part of your application, an important first step is the GMAT. Know your style – can you work, study for the exam and write essays at the same time? If not, it is important to plan ahead. Remember, the GMAT is computer adaptive, which means that you have to answer the most difficult questions correctly to achieve a high score. Can you realistically study on your own and manage the time to cover all of the content on the exam, or are you getting help from prep classes. If, in fact, you are taking courses, keep in mind that they may take several weeks, and a retake may be part of your process, drawing everything out to a total of three to four months. This could mean that Round 1 is unrealistic for those that have not yet begun preparing for the exam.
Speaking of "rounds", stop gaming for which round is "best." Figure out what works best with your calendar. Start early, but you can always decide at the last second not to submit. The quality of an application, including a top GMAT score, is far more important than being the first to submit.
Once your GMAT is complete, you will have a better idea of which schools are realistic for you. You will also finally have the time to devote to the other parts of your applications. You should initiate the recommendation process as early as two months before the deadline and closely manage the process throughout. Begin by taking your recommender out for lunch, sharing your resume, the recommendations deadlines and a "cheat sheet" that you have prepared to help them write your letter. Your cheat sheet may take a couple of days to prepare – it should be thorough – outlining your goals and reminding your recommender of all of your accomplishments and projects that you want them to write about. You will need to create different cheat sheets for each of your recommenders to reflect different perspectives on you.
Make these guides very specific and detailed. Don't say to your recommender, "Please write about my leadership skills here." Give him all of the fodder he will need. Remind him that you were appointed as one of the youngest project leads at the company. Cite the review that ranked you in the 95th percentile in leadership capability. Do you want your recommender to discuss your negotiation skills? Remind him of the time your plan led to an extra million dollars for the company in the MacDougal negotiation. Need to emphasize your financial acumen? Ask the recommender to write about your contributions to the '06 budgeting committee.
Time Management:
Now, when it comes to your own personal work for the application process, make sure you plan your calendar well in advance. You need to think of your "time budget" in terms of HOURS, DAYS and WEEKS.
HOURS: In general, you should plan to spend 40-60 hours in front of a computer outlining, writing, proofreading and editing essays. If English is not your first language, you may need to tack on some additional hours. Add to this some time candidates will spend researching schools and essay ideas and the writing process in total stacks up to the equivalent of a couple of full work weeks!
DAYS: You need to set aside an adequate amount of work days, in part based on your own personal work style and stamina. Most people's sharpness diminishes after a couple of hours of writing essays. We recommend to our clients that they spend 2-3 hours at a time writing. That's enough time to get "into a groove," but not so much time typing that their fingernails start to fall off. It is the rare individual who can cram their whole essay process into 4 or 5 marathon sessions. Conversely, thinking you'll do good work in bits and pieces—20 minutes at Starbucks, 45 minutes on the Boston shuttle—is probably a mistaken notion as well.
WEEKS: Spreading out your writing process allows for an appropriate time of reflection, prioritization and possibly even brainstorming with others. In our experience, an eight week process seems to provide enough time for reflection while also keeping your work rate at a comfortable, yet quick clip.
Candidates who rush into their writing process are most at risk for having their essay work hours spiral out of control. A significant risk is the "dead-end essay." Some folks dive into the first leadership or ethical dilemma concept they think of without judging it against alternate ideas or sketching out a brief outline. These MBA aspirants plow hour after hour into their essays, trying to incrementally improve them from week to week. But the best essays will "write themselves" if you've done a bit of prep, organizing the main themes and illustrative "micro-examples" into an outline. A five hundred word essay draft could be completed in 2-3 hours of nicely paced writing.
Good luck, and happy applications!

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