Plan Your Application Strategy

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Joanna ZisisYou have already decided that you want your MBA. Now it's time to think about where and when to apply. With so many options, it's important to be strategic about your MBA research and application plan in time for those quickly approaching fall application deadlines! We offer a few tips on how to plan ahead for the application season.

Know What You Want

Take time to think about what you want from your MBA experience: What type of teaching style suits you? Do you prefer a structured or flexible curriculum? Do you prefer a general management approach or one that offers majors or concentrations? What type of career support is important to you? While there is only one MBA degree, schools can vary widely on each of these characteristics.

Research, Learn, and Observe

Once you have identified the fundamental attributes that your MBA program must offer, hone in on school-specific research. Develop a core list of schools that you feel can deliver on your expectations.

The web is the best way to get basic program and admissions information for each school; class stats, employment reports, student interviews, alumni network and school news. You may also want to check out a few of the many online business school guides that compare top schools across various attributes, as well as MBA discussion boards and networking sites where applicants share information and learn from each other. For many, rankings and reputation are important, so it's not a bad idea to be familiar with where your target schools fit in the overall spectrum of business programs. However, rankings should be just one piece of information, not a deciding factor.

In order to understand the school's culture, attend admissions events. Participating in the school's formal recruiting receptions or student-hosted events is a great way to meet alumni and current students. You can also connect with members of student groups that are of interest to you. The best way to understand the culture and whether or not you “fit in” is to spend time on the campus. Many schools offer the ability to sit in on a class, meet with current students and take a tour of the building as part of their campus visit programs.

Create Your Short List

Your school exploration should provide you with insight and clarity about what differentiates one school from another, and which programs could be a strong fit for you. Once you have your short list, make sure that you understand what each school values in its student population so you can speak to fit in essays or in an interview for example. Realize, too, that fit goes both ways. Schools are also seeking candidates who fit their unique culture.

Preparing To Apply

Now that you have your short list of schools, it's time to prepare your applications. We suggest creating a timeline that incorporates the schools to which you will apply and in what particular round, and then work backwards from those milestone dates.

We encourage applicants to apply when they're confident that they can present the best version of themselves to the admissions committee. This means giving yourself plenty of time to put together a strong and thoughtful application - having time to focus on the GMAT and your essays, giving your recommenders adequate time to write their letters, and of course, working admissions and student events into your busy schedule.

Finally, once you have a strong interest in a particular program, it's wise to visit campus as part of a Daily Campus Visit Program, or attend special on-campus events catered to prospective students. There's no better way to get to know a community than by coming to campus and experiencing it firsthand.

If you want to chat more about application strategy or evaluation, be sure to join our Live Online Chat on Thursday, August 8. My colleagues and I will be waiting to learn more about you and answer all of your application questions.