Navigating the Perils of MBA Application Season

It’s getting real.  School packages are out. Applications are rolling into the top schools and the sorting and reading has begun. Unless you are way ahead of the pack, you have likely just begun to organize your approach to MBA application season.  Do you know what to look out for?

The choppy waters of application season are difficult to navigate and making seemingly small mistakes can be critical.  Here are the top three challenges to the process and how you might consider overcoming them.

1)      School selection: 

Believe it or not, which schools you end up selecting can be one of the biggest mistakes you can make.  Are you choosing schools because they rank well and you fantasize about being an alum?  Or are you choosing schools because they are a good fit for you, your professional background and your future goals?  In some cases, these two ways of looking at your target schools are mutually exclusive.  Choose poorly and you are out before you even pick up your pen.  You should liken school selection to choosing the right mountain pass.  One could be treacherous and unnavigable and another difficult, but ultimately successful.  You should put in more work beyond just casually  surfing a school’s site before you spend valuable time on the application.

2)      Deadlines: 

So you have chosen your schools and think you are ready to dive in, but the first thing you should do is get organized.  The first step to getting organized is to have a clear understanding of when everything is due.  Deadlines don’t just mean when the application cutoffs are—clearly that is important to track.  I’m talking about all the little deadlines you have to hit before that, such as when your undergraduate school needs to hear from you so they have time to send out transcripts, or when’s the last date you can submit an additional GMAT or GRE score (and subsequently when’s the last testing date!)  How about the lead time for your slowest-to-respond recommender?  Or the turnaround time of your admissions consultant?  Tracking your admissions progress like a project will help you keep everything straight.

3)      Recommenders: 

This is one of the most egregious stumbling blocks of the entire process.  Not only pertaining to the turnaround time and notification runway you must give your recommenders as mentioned above, but also whom you choose.  Are you sure your boss is going to write a good reco?  If not, you must work to coach her or choose someone else (just make sure the adcom knows why you didn’t choose your boss).  Spending time with each recommender before sending them the link from your school is one of the most often skipped steps in this process and it can be fatal.  You must find the time to cast your career vision to your recommender so they can truly support your application—spend time with an admissions consultant to organize your strengths and weaknesses first, then schedule some face to face time with your recommenders to weave your story, so they will be as excited as you are about your going to b-school.

While there are a thousand more potentially disastrous mistakes out there as you tackle the b-school application process, these three are foundational and can set your course so far off that getting back on track can be irrecoverable. 

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