Fail to Prepare at Your Peril

Preparing business school applications is a grueling process, but there is another use of the word “prepare” which is far more important than the actual process itself.  How about this play on words: Are you making proper preparations to prepare your applications?

Benjamin Franklin said it better, “If you fail to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Another great president, Abe Lincoln famously quipped, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”  Clearly these giants of achievement were proponents of getting your ducks in a row.  Unfortunately, what we see time and time again, is a client failing to do the appropriate heavy lifting before they dive in and start writing.

For every hour you spend writing an essay, you should have already spent three hours preparing.

While there is sometimes merit in diving in and trying to pull your thoughts together on paper, there is also danger in beginning your essay writing process by trying to actually write the essay.  When you dive in with both feet, there is a temptation to over-value the time you spend writing and thereby convince yourself that what you have put together is good.  Human nature takes over and equates time spent with quality.  So no matter how well you think you have your story ready in your head, force yourself to do some “conditioning” just as you would do if preparing to ski the biathalon. 

Stuck on where to start preparing in the MBA application process? Build a matrix of your strengths and weaknesses. 

For example, on a blank sheet of paper, draw a grid and down the left hand side, as many key profile characteristics of the ideal MBA candidate that you can think of (for example, leadership, work experience, future vision, teamwork skills,  etc.)  Then across the top of the matrix, make an increasing scale (poor, decent, good, excellent).  In the ensuing boxes, write the things about yourself which either support or detract from that area.  If you have five-plus years of work experience, that’s excellent!  If you never got promoted in those five years, jot a note in the poor box.  This simple exercise can give you not only a mental survey of your strengths and weaknesses, but also a visual picture of where you need to focus your story.

Once you have a perspective on your core profile, write a statement of purpose.

A statement of purpose is typically required for graduate programs other than business, but it’s a good exercise to undertake as you begin to get your mind around MBA applications as well.  The statement of purpose is basically a one or two page version of your story, but framed in this case about what has motivated you throughout your life to get to this next step phase.  Dig deeply into the “why” and know that it’s OK to skip some of the “what.”  Get personal as well, making sure you talk about your family and upbringing as well as other things that drive you outside of the workplace. 

Ultimately, the statement of purpose is a philosophical journey, a story of you, from which you can hopefully begin to extract the straw that will be spun into gold in the MBA application.  If you share your statement of purpose and your matrix with your MBA consultant before your initial consultation, you will both be much better prepared to tackle individual applications.  Feeling like preparing even more?  Make sure you read the recent blog post about assessing your strengths.  

To find out more about your options and how we can guide your business school application process, email us at or contact us via