Inevitably there are applicants each season who decide rather late in the game to apply to business school. While it’s hard to believe for those who spend months or even years preparing themselves specifically for a run at top schools, due to career focus or simple procrastination, some applicants find themselves with a short window before due dates pass.
I have even had clients contact me just mere days before a second round deadline, asking the most basic questions about preparing and then planning to apply just in time. Alternatively, I get emails from prospective applicants who are still in college and yet trying to plan their journey to b-school and prepare themselves for “ideal” positioning with the adcoms.
While the amount of time applicants put into preparing their package for submission varies widely, we find that the most successful candidates are the ones who spend several months getting ready.
Even if you are very organized and introspective, there are still components of the process which are out of your control and can take considerable time, such as getting your recommenders oriented and ready to submit recommendations, and getting bursar’s offices from your undergraduate institutions to release your official transcripts. Since applicants must submit all transcripts, even from that one class you took when you went back home for the summer, navigating the paperwork takes time.
There is also no substitute for a leisurely and thoughtful reflection period. Memories are often buried deeper than you realize, so taking the time to revisit your work history and community activities mentally (even physically, if you are able to go visit with past co-workers and organization leaders in person), can provide the stimulus and associative cues you will need to conjure up the best stories from your past—the ones which reflect who you truly are, and how you came to be that person. The effort you spend doing this comes across not only in your essay work, but also in your interviews.
Applicants who have taken a bit of extra time revisiting their past rarely find themselves stumped by an interview question, and in general feel more confident in the entire process. Never underestimate the power of confidence (see my post on confidence—the silent killer app). Knowing who you truly are also exudes maturity, a key attribute admissions committees look for when reading applications.
But I realize many readers of these posts are looking for specific, tactical advice. To those I will say plan on at least a month for reflection time, school analysis and visitation, and career research, not to mention reaching out to potential recommenders and your undergraduate institution. When starting the writing process, you should allocate at least a week per essay, and if you have a consultant or someone else helping you draw out the best stories and help you with editing, you can even double that amount of time.
Assuming a school has four essays, you can count on a start-to-finish process of at least two months, and always give yourself a week buffer so you can target finishing one full week prior to the school deadline.
If you don’t have enough time for round three and are thinking about applying in round one, schools release the application questions in July, which is a good trigger to begin the process in earnest with a consultant. You will thank yourself if you are not one of those who ends up submitting 15 minutes to midnight on the deadline day.