Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Planning For Your MBA

Originally published in Hindustan Times Education Supplement

It’s the height of summer applicant aspiring to do their MBA abroad are getting serious about applications for the end of the year. But applications are due sooner than usual with Harvard Business School as the first out of the gate with a September 9th deadline. Other applications are due starting in early October and for many programs the essay questions have already been announced. With these compressed timelines, the stress on young professionals who want to pursue the valuable MBA credential is higher than ever.

Often this pressure feels so intense that a handful of applicants wonder if they should quit their job in order to study for the GMAT, write their essays and sometimes even visit universities abroad. The answer is always NO, you should NOT quit your job for any of these reasons (or probably for any other reason either). This is common sense advice, which also echoes feedback from top MBA programs. Besides the obvious complications of getting recommendations and explaining your current jobless status in your application and interviews, you are identifying yourself from the outset as a person who cannot balance multiple priorities. An admissions officer will be evaluating your credentials and scores alongside people with similar profiles who did not quit their job to apply. They are automatically stronger.

One caveat is that stressed-out applicants can justify taking a few weeks off for a GMAT boot camp or an essay-writing workshop. It is important to treat the application process as a serious priority – you may need to make plans to leave the office early a few days a week to attend MBA information sessions or take a few hours off in the day to go meet a recommender from your previous job. It is not reasonable to expect those people or events to fit into your free evenings and weekends.

If step one is keeping your job and performing to your highest capacity, then step two is making a plan. Schedule your GMAT now. The dates fill up quickly as deadlines approach. Plan your practice tests and study sessions – either formal or informal. Request college transcripts early. Make a schedule to finalize drafts of your essays and share them with relevant people, whether they are private consultants, your seniors, relatives or your boss. Marking out a schedule will help you see the bigger picture and understand the amount of work involved.

Plan far in advance for your recommendations. I was very surprised last year to hear that a competitive applicant was denied admissions from all the MBA programs to which he applied. But it turns out, he approached his recommenders with less than a week to the deadline. That is simply not enough time for a recommender (likely a busy executive) to fit a strong and thorough letter into their schedule. Applicants need to ask early, schedule a meeting in which to share their resume, and discuss the topics which are comfortable to the recommender. Every recommender is different and wants the applicant to provide different levels of input. If your recommender wants you to be closely involved in the recommendation process – giving feedback, etc. – then asking only a week or two in advance is not enough.

In some sense successfully applying to business school is the first test in the process. If you cannot execute with proper planning and prioritizing, it’s a signal to the MBA programs that you are not ready. They tend to receive this message loud and clear. It is a process that can challenge even the most skilled young professional. Take the task seriously.


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