A message especially for parents and students who are applying for undergraduate colleges with December 31st deadlines or MBA applicants aiming at round two deadlines: If you do not have your essays in the final stages, your recommendations well on their way and your official transcripts in hand, it’s too late! I am so surprised this year with how many people are waking up late in the process.
For undergraduates the problem seems to stem from complacency about supplemental essays for individual colleges. Students think if their Common Application essay or UCAS personal statement is finished, they are almost done. For the UK this is true; you do not need to write supplemental essays. But you do need to make sure that the message in your personal statement is properly aligned with the course offerings at the five selected colleges. Often students realize late that the same course may not be available at all the colleges, so if the personal statement says you are passionate about the pursuit of economic history, but that course is not available at all 5 colleges, you will need to modify it to something more generic (e.g. economics).
For the US, however completing your Common Application essay is the very first preliminary step. After this, most other college supplements need to be completed. Many of these ask why you want to attend the particular college, so students need to conduct some research before writing the essay. If your “Why Penn” essay could easily be replace with “Why Dartmouth” you are on the wrong track. Each essay needs to very specifically relate your interests to unique offerings at each college. Other supplemental essays ask about leadership contributions, extracurricular activities, academic projects and many other topics. And these supplemental essays and questions are far more important to the college’s admissions committee than the generic Common Application essay. So you should not take the supplemental essays lightly.
For MBA applicants the main challenge seems to be achieving the ‘right’ GMAT score. If you have worked hard until December to achieve a high GMAT score, good for you. Now wait until next year to apply to business school. Let’s say your GMAT score has put you in a position to apply to your dream colleges: Stanford, Kellogg and Wharton. You will have to write at least six distinct essays in less than three weeks. With these timelines there is no way you can produce good results. You need to understand the ethos and mission of each business school through deep research maybe talk to an alumnus or current student and then write essays that reflect your goals in relation to what each MBA program is looking for.
If you find yourself in the “too late” category, below is an approximate timeline to help you plan going forward.
June of class 11 – SAT
July/Aug before class 12– Draft Common App essay, Internship, study for SAT if retaking
Sept class 12 – Decide on College list, collect all supplement essay topics and begin brainstorming and research. Contact teachers for recommendation letters. Create a Common Application account
Oct class 12 – Retake SAT if required. Finalize early decision essays and submit. If Oxford/Cambridge, complete personal statement and submit
Nov class 12 – Retake SAT if required. Produce nearly final drafts of all supplement essays
Dec class 12 – Finalize application forms, confirm recommendations, transcripts, mid-year reports, project submissions
Jan class 12 – UCAS personal statement must be done by Jan 15 latest if not applying for Oxford/Cambridge
May before application year – Take the GMAT
June before application year – Select programs based on GMAT score and research
July before application year – Begin drafting essays. Contact recommenders.
August before application year – Continue drafting and finalizing essays
September of application year – Submit applications for first round.