For people applying to most full-time MBA programs, October, November and December will be months filled with typing, editing, typing, proofreading… and then some more typing. Obsessing over which essay topics to use. Managing recommenders and reviewing school checklists. Spending two hours cutting the final 50 words from a 500-word essay. Incredibly fun stuff. But January through April can be very fruitful months for both your personal development and for improving your business school application—or, more precisely, for improving your business school candidacy. Many b-school aspirants view the first half of the year as a time to take a GMAT prep course. They often wait until they are neck deep in the process of writing their essays to identify the elements of their candidacy they wish to improve. Or, I should say, the elements they wish they had improved when they had the time. But, with some advanced planning, applicants can do a great deal to bolster their overall candidacy before that final rush of the fall and winter. Academics. Many applicants with less than stellar transcripts bring up the idea of building an “alternate” transcript. Unfortunately, there is no way to replace your original undergrad transcript, but taking one or two classes now can help appease concerns about your academic abilities. Consider why an admissions committee even cares about your GPA. They want to make sure that you are capable of handling their rigorous curriculum, that you are focused, competent, and can multi-task. If you earned some low grades when you were 19, consider spending the early months of the year proving yourself. Show that you can indeed handle a challenging quantitative curriculum, and that you can even juggle the coursework with a full-time job. In the process you will demonstrate your self-awareness by addressing a weakness head on. No need to pursue a Masters degree or enroll in a fancy program. A calculus class or an accounting course at a local school will do the trick. Just be sure to earn an “A.” Seek Out New Responsibilities At Work. Applicants who take stock of their professional accomplishments in the months ahead of their application process will always see holes. Filling holes in what getting an MBA is all about. But we want to make sure we have demonstrated some skill and capability for growth in the areas we have targeted for our future careers. Sometimes, it makes sense to make progress in these areas before business school. Even just a couple of assignments in a new area can confirm that you are indeed interested and that you have capacity to achieve at a high level in the future. For instance, I once mentored an MBA applicant who had spent several years as a high school teacher, lecturing to teenagers all day. We launched our relationship more than six months before his first MBA applications were due and we came up with a plan to improve his managerial cred. He committed himself to bolstering his case that he could be a great leader at a company in the future. The Monday following our conversation, he began organizing a new program for his fellow teachers to share best practices and learn from each other. The program was well received, improved the working environment at his school and provided material for his essays. His overall career was probably helped out by this move, plus his candidacy and MBA apps. Community Service. Business schools pride themselves in training future leaders, not just educating a bunch of people who know how to calculate an IRR. They look for individuals who look outside of themselves and want to improve the world around them. Some young business people feel that even though they have not prioritized “extracurricular” activities early in their careers, they will definitely emphasize these sorts of activities once they are more established. However, more often than not, the patterns we establish toward community activities early in our careers remain fairly steady. If you feel that your commitment over the last several years to outside causes does not reflect the balance you want to establish in your life, put your money where your mouth is and get involved. If you haven’t been participating in outside activities, look up a few opportunities on the Internet and get involved next weekend. It’s really as simple as that, to be honest. Candidates who become involved even early in the year they apply will have a six to nine-month track record by the time apps are due. True, young professionals work long hours and often have demanding travel schedules, which sometimes rules out activities such as Big Brothers Big Sisters or tutoring. But the next person I meet who cannot take out two hours on a weekend to help clean up a park or paint a school or talk with seniors at a nursing home will be the first. If you have been involved with outside activities over the last couple of years, consider stepping your activities up a notch. One of my clients had helped out for a few hours a month for two years at a local Ronald McDonald House. In the fall, he ratcheted up his involvement by organizing some fundraising and recruiting events for young professionals. To some, ramping up involvement in community activities may seem like “gaming the system.” I personally don’t feel this way at all. The community benefits by getting extra labor, at the very least, and maybe even the talents and creativity of a gifted individual. You benefit by deepening your involvement in causes that are meaningful to you. If the side effect of this is that your candidacy for b-school is in some way enhanced, all the better. Travel. You’ve worked hard the last several years. You’re going to spend a ton of hours cooped up studying for that pesky GMAT. And in the fall you’re going to spend 50-100 hours in front of your computer writing and editing essays. You deserve a vacation. But instead of just making a quick jaunt to Vegas for golf and gambling or a “shop ’til you drop” trek to Manhattan, consider planning a vacation with a dual agenda of fun and personal enrichment. Injecting a bit of a learning agenda into your trip can expand your personal horizons, help more fully define your career objectives and provide you more material for essays and interviews. If you’re a interested in a career in technology after business school, but don’t have much experience in the area, consider traveling to the Bay Area, attending some tech events and setting up some networking time with entrepreneurs. You’ll still be able to kite surf on the Bay and enjoy a day in Napa. Use The Time Wisely… And Have Fun. If you get a little bit of a jump-start on prepping for your GMAT and application-writing process, you’ll find your fall and winter a much more enjoyable time. Get started now by doing a few things that will improve your candidacy. When it comes time to buckle down and work on those applications, you will know that you have left no stone unturned. You can take action now by subscribing to the Stacy Blackman Consulting newsletter – it will be your weekly partner, walking you through your application process, providing digestible advice and actionable tips every single week. Founded in 2001, Stacy Blackman Consulting has helped thousands of MBA applicants gain admission to the most selective business schools in the world. The Stacy Blackman team, comprised of MBA graduates, former admissions officers and expert writers, editors and marketers, helps clients develop and implement a winning marketing strategy. Stacy Blackman clients have a significantly increased probability of admission to top schools and are frequent recipients of merit scholarships.