It’s hard to believe that a year ago I was beginning my pre-MBA journey, attending various business school presentation events, choosing and asking my recommenders, and writing my essays. There are many more pieces that go into preparing and completing the application process, which all make the experience seem overwhelming. Now that I’ve had a year to reflect, I think a few key strategies helped me to stay calm and successfully balance a full-time job and applications.
Talk with alumni/current students: When I first thought about applying to business school, I created a list that was fairly extensive. Not all schools were holding events close to where I lived, and I knew I needed some way to whittle down the list. By reaching out to co-workers or friends who were either alumni of business schools on my list or knew other alumni or current students, I was able to get a better sense of the culture of the school and gained insight into opportunities that I would be excited to write about in my essays. I also made sure to speak with multiple alumni and current students at each school to get a well-rounded view.
Think about what you want to get out of your MBA: Several alumni I spoke with stressed that I think deeply about what I wanted to get out of my MBA experience. I knew I wanted a full-time program, a team culture, and a strong healthcare concentration or certificate. By thinking through the main factors, I found that I was more easily able to express why I was interested in a school and how the school’s offerings would align with my career goals.
Write a personal statement: Writing another essay on top of all the applications definitely does not sound appealing, but this exercise was extremely helpful in organizing my thoughts on why I wanted to go back to school for my MBA, what my short term and long term career goals are, and how I thought my pre-MBA experience would contribute to the business school community. Most schools will ask for answers to one or all of these questions in one way or another, so having these answers coherently written down made answering those questions easier. Also, I shared my personal statement with my recommenders to give them a better sense of my motivations.
Make it as easy as possible for your recommenders: Your recommenders are also extremely busy people balancing work and their personal lives, so you want to make sure the whole process is as easy as possible for them. One of the tips I received and I thought worked out very well was to prepare a packet with several components: 1. Personal statement, 2. Resume, 3. Reasons why you want to attend that business school, 4. List of questions the recommenders will need to answer, and 5. Due dates. This allowed my recommenders to work on writing instead of spending time looking up information about when to submit or what types of questions they would need to answer. Also, I sent two reminders at 1 week and 3 days out to ensure that my recommenders were on track timing-wise. It’s not a happy situation when you’re finished with your application but you don’t have any recommendations! For recommenders that you may not have interacted with recently because you switched companies or roles, don’t be afraid to set up time with them in person or over the phone to talk through the materials and application process.
Start early: I cannot stress this enough. The business school application cycle is a marathon. The earlier you can start planning and organizing time to talk to alumni and/or current students, writing essays, and visiting schools, the less of a time pressure you will feel if all of a sudden your job becomes very busy and an application deadline is looming. Also, many schools all have due dates around the same time, so it is important to keep them all straight so that you don’t miss any deadlines.
The entire business school application process can definitely feel overwhelming and daunting especially if you are also balancing a demanding work schedule. By planning early and staying organized, I believe that you can make the process much easier and less stressful.
Connie Chai is an MBA Student at Duke (The Fuqua School of Business) and Forté Fellow Class of 2016.