Deciding whether business school is the right place for you can be a life altering decision. From the moment you entertain the idea, thousands of variables come in to play and it can become very overwhelming. Hopefully, the following to-do list can help guide your steps during this demanding, yet exciting, experience.
Understand your goal
In order to succeed in something, we first have to understand what we want to accomplish. Take time to reflect on what it is you want and whether business school sets you on the right path towards achieving it. If you feel that it isn’t, you should probably set out to look for what will set you on the right path.
If, on the other hand, you feel a MBA is setting you on the right track, then it’s time to do even more introspection.
Establish your own set of priorities
There are a lot of excellent programs, and if you’re unclear about what your goals for business school are, you will probably drown in the sea of options. Each school has a unique array of characteristics that set it apart from the rest. Generally, we focus on which schools we believe will accept us; the problem with this strategy is that we fail to realize that finding a school has to be a two way match: they have to accept us, but we have to actually want them as well!
Take time to do some serious soul searching and understand what is truly important to you when choosing where to apply. Take into consideration important aspects like culture, faculty, teaching method, duration, and location, among many others, and rank these factors according to the importance they have for you. After that, use that ranking to evaluate the schools you’re interested in. This will allow you to create a list of target schools that are a fit for you.
Understand your target school’s priorities
Now it’s time to understand the other side of the relationship and see if you are a fit for that school. See what its core values are, talk to alumni who can provide insight on what their experience was like. You have to develop a clear understanding of whether or not you have what the program’s looking for. Remember that fit is both important to you, and to them. Nobody wants to go through such a rigorous and demanding experience as an MBA surrounded by people they are unable to befriend or even work with.
Go ahead and get started with applications
By now, you should have a better grasp of the different programs, which ones you want and which ones will consider you as suitable candidate. It is at this point that you should start the application process. Beginning earlier would lead to, either a great number of unfinished and unnecessary applications, or poor performance in the ones you’ve filled. In most of the cases where people start to apply before understanding their own needs and the school’s requirements, they end up rehashing application materials and filling out essay’s halfheartedly. Rest assured that the qualified admission teams can see right through these tepid maneuvers.
Some people say that the application process is like dating: when you find the right one, you don’t want to use some generic one-liner; you are going to want to show that you’re genuinely interested, and that they are unique and special. You don’t walk up and smugly say, “Do you want to go out? It’s fine if you don’t, I have 7 other options.”
Developing an essay tailored to the school will show that you truly find them unique and want to be a part of what they have to offer. Furthermore, by understanding yourself and your motivations, you can paint a clearer picture of why the school would be lucky to have you as a part of their new class and why you would benefit from being there.
Congratulations! You were admitted!
Now that the stress of applications and the anxiety of waiting for an answer has passed, it’s time to celebrate that you’ve been admitted. Take a weekend or two to relax and reward yourself for all your hard work. But don’t start sitting on laurels of your victory just yet; business school begins long before you even set foot on campus.
Personal to do list
Begin to think of all the personal things you have to set in order before moving on to business school. If you’re an international student, begin to get all your travel documents in order. Select when you want to arrive, according to your logistic requirements, and buy the tickets. For those who are moving, start considering housing options; see if they are on campus or outside, and understand what the implications are.
Consider whether your school is in a pedestrian friendly city, or if you’re going to need a car. Go get your annual medical check-up and have all your vaccines and shots up to date.
Most schools send assignments before the program starts, so you should also set aside some time to complete them.
Professional to do list
Take time to update your résumé. If you are a career switcher, try to think of which skills are transferable to the industry you want to pursue. Contact people in your network who work in the industry you’re interested in and learn as much as you can before arriving on campus. If there are any career fairs you might be interested in, try to attend; you might even get an internship before starting school!
MBA applications can be stressful and at times overwhelming, but try to learn as much about yourself as you can and have fun along the way. With clear and organized thinking, a bit of self-assessment, the necessary research, and some help from people in your network, you are sure to end up in the right place. Good luck on your applications!
Stephanie Machado is a Forté Fellow and will graduate in 2017 from the Darden School of Business.