Applying to business school this year? Start early.
So, you’ve done some introspective deep diving since the start of the new year. Pro and con lists have been made, trusted mentors have been consulted, caffeine has been poured (and repoured). You’ve spent the last several years making power moves and climbing the professional ladder, but now it’s time to pivot. To change industries, locations, or your current job responsibilities. You are ready for more. Applying to business school is on the top of your 2023 to-do list. Congratulations for making this monumental decision that will inevitably impact your career, your personal life, and your professional goals.
Making the decision to commit to a full-time, part-time, or online MBA is the first step towards setting and crushing goals. Deep breathing is going to be key as we dive into the business school basics that you need to feel ready to tackle this next big challenge and adventure. There’s a lot to do. Research the latest rankings to determine which schools match your desired industry, check out admitted student stats, program costs, financial aid offerings, and set top targets. Plan school visits and engage with program admissions teams online, and attend MBA tours locally if you can. Reach out to potential recommendation writers, and prepare them regarding timelines (you will need two letters) and polish that resume before you have it thoroughly reviewed. But before all of those important steps, first thing’s first:
Know that we are rooting for you to succeed
In fact, there’s a whole community of like minded, ambitious women cheering you on, and you haven’t even met them yet! Tap into MBAchic to connect with community, explore original and guest content like the powerful #MBAchicTakeover series, and discover a robust on-demand Library including expert advice from GMAC and admissions experts like Barbara Coward.
As with most career decisions, the choice to attend a top-tier, mid-tier, or unranked MBA program is completely dependent on each individual scenario. How much do you want to invest in your education? What type of connections do you want to build? What do you hope to gain from your business school experience?
Laura Sandoval-Tai, an associate at McKinsey & Company, told MBAchic that when she was deciding where to apply for her MBA program, rankings, curriculum / career support, and location were the most important factors she considered.
Ultimately Sandoval-Tai chose Harvard because she said “it is an institution that is internationally recognized, has an excellent general management and leadership curriculum, and has a great track record for developing future CEOs, startup founders, and other alumni who change the world.”
Applicant expectations vary from employer to employer, but some industries still tend to hire from top MBA programs. Even if you’re not looking at the M7 (the “Magnificent 7” US schools: Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, MIT Sloan, Kellogg, Columbia, Booth) or Top 20 programs out there, business schools are actively working to better fit the application process and attendance of an MBA program into students’ lives. The bottom line? Whatever program you set your sights on, focusing on what industry you want to grow in will help you make the best decision for your unique set of circumstances.
Start the process early (ahem, like now)
It’s important to start to think about your application profile early. For those looking to apply during the 2023-2024 admissions cycle for a spot in the Class of 2026, now is the time to do so.
Round 1 applications for the Class of 2026 will be due in September 2023, so January / February is a great time to begin the application process to mitigate stress. Avoid creating a pressure buildup by building in a runway of time to apply to business school and achieve a GMAT score to be proud of.
The reality is that MBA applicants tend to be unified in their drive, ambition, and hunger for success. An early application often signals an enthusiastic, decisive and valuable candidate to the admissions committee even before the application gets the official once over. Plus statistically, early applicants have the advantage of competing with a smaller pool of competition for the greatest number of program places.
Additionally, consider the added time an early application allows to leave on good terms with a current employer and map out a graceful exit. Plan on returning after your studies? Try to secure your boss’s buy-in. They may help to fund your degree or plan accelerated career progression within the company based on the valuable skills you’ll gain.
Get really organized
If business school is on the horizon, a time management and organizational skills overhaul is in order. For a list of resources that we have found helpful over time (including tips for GMAT prep) check out MBAchic’s app checklist. Get our MBA application tracker to help manage and organize your strongest application to business school. It’s one tool that can help applicants methodically stay on top of target programs and deadlines, interactions with admissions staff, recommendation letter submissions, and the important (but often overlooked) process of social media management.
Alternatively, select one of MBAchic’s top 10 planners for every personality to prepare for the months ahead and ensure a deadline never goes unnoticed.
Highlight show-stopping leadership skills
Leaders and business school basically go hand in hand. The difference applicants will notice moving forward is that business schools are not just looking for strong top-tier leaders to fill spots, but now they’re evaluating how potential candidates stepped up as leaders during a major global crisis. Devi Vallabhaneni, a managing director with MBA admissions consultancy firm mbaMission, recently spoke to Fortune and reflected on what sets strong candidates apart in 2023. Applicants should reflect on how they exerted leadership during the pandemic, whether they took on additional responsibilities, how they helped their community, how their job, company or industry changed, and whether their career goals changed as a result of the pandemic, Vallabhaneni says.
“Applicants who demonstrated success, upward progression, and impact on people and projects despite COVID will naturally stand out in the applicant pool,” she adds. This means applicants must show how they’re “maxing out their lives” before applying to MBA programs, she says, which could include involvement in personal extracurricular, taking on additional roles at work, and community service work.
Looking for some inspiration? Learn some of the lessons Gurveer Bains shared with MBAchic on her decision to pause doctoral studies to pursue an MBA in the midst of the 2020 global health crisis. Through lots of pointed planning and bold action, she was able to complete her MBA in 2022 at her dream school, the DeGroote School of Business. Now she’s carving out a new path for herself incorporating two passions: healthcare and finance.
Looking for more? Don’t miss our #MBAchicTakeover series from inspiring hosts who bring you along for the day and answer your questions about the real experience at MBA programs around the world.
Take care of mental wellness along the way – it’s a marathon, not a sprint
From the application process to the capstone presentation, the MBA experience is basically synonymous with stress. Accepting that from the start and collecting mindful ways to effectively manage stress is one sure way to alleviate it.
Check out MBAchic’s five part self-care series to tackle a wide range of stress-inducing scenarios an MBA can signal. From coping with anxiety around the GMAT/GRE tests, to waiting for MBA admissions decisions, applying to jobs, and avoiding burnout, a lot of helpful expert advice and support awaits you.
Through thoughtful planning, community building, staying organized, and finding grace to confront stress before it gets all-consuming, applicants are ahead of the game and one step closer to tackling the challenges of business school.
And when you’re finished? Celebrate in style by adding MBAchic to your graduation regalia and supporting those stepping into your shoes next.
About the author
Torri is a mom, creative writer, communications specialist, and professional journalist. She has nearly a decade of experience working in print and TV newsrooms as an on-air reporter and anchor independently researching, writing, interviewing, filming, and editing her own content. Whether she is interviewing the Speaker of the House about hot button issues, or a small student group about a local grassroots campaign, her commitment and focus remain the same: to bring the story she is telling to life. As an amateur watercolorist, she is passionate about the arts, promoting women's empowerment through writing, and investing time in her family.
She lives outside of Manhattan with her husband, baby boy, and rescue dog, Jax.