Guest post by Stacy Blackman of Stacy Blackman Admissions Consulting
If you are planning to submit your MBA application a few years out, you still have time to boost your candidacy. The following list covers things to consider in order to change who you are as a candidate and maximize your chances of success. If you are planning ahead, you will have plenty of time to work on each of these points and ensure that your candidacy is as strong as it can possibly be.
Your GPA is an important piece of your application. Unfortunately, it is one of the only parts of the application that is already completely set. If you have a below average GPA, or low grades in quantitative/business classes, consider taking a course now to prove your academic skills. You want to be able to build a case to the schools that you will be able to succeed academically in their program, that you are taking steps to build skills that may have been lacking and that you are mature enough to balance academics with other activities.
Have you been in the same job, at the same level for several years? If so, what would it take to secure a promotion or demonstrate upward mobility? If an official title change is out of the question, brainstorm what you can do to take on more senior responsibilities. Volunteer to mentor a newcomer to the office. Ask to be placed on a high level project. Take on a leadership role that no one else wants responsibility for. Opportunities always exist, but the true stars are the ones that seize them.
Many applicants consider taking a new job prior to applying in hopes that it will round out their experience and show progression. Be careful about this type of move. If it does not make sense in the context of your career goals, such a move could actually hurt you. You want to convey that you are focused and doing what you can to progress towards your stated goals, not just focused on landing a great job.
GMAT or GRE
The standardized test is a piece of the application over which you still have a great deal of control. If you have not taken the test before, do your best to get it out of the way before you start working on writing your applications. As busy as you may be now, it will only be worse once you add essays, data forms and recommendations to your plate. Consider a course or private tutor, or take advantage of one of the resources available online. Preparation is essential for most to excel on a standardized test, both in terms of knowledge and your mental state when you take it. Taking a course often helps you maintain discipline while studying.
If you have already taken a test and received a below average score, consider retaking it. You should consider whether you truly gave it your all the first time around. If you think it would be possible to obtain a higher score, it is worth retaking, as the schools will look at your highest score.
Remember that you are going to ask a few recommenders to do a lot of work on your behalf. It is not a bad idea to keep in mind who you want to ask and be sure to “wow” them over the next few months. You may even want to take them to lunch and discuss your MBA plans with them so that they are not surprised when the time comes. You want to be certain that your recommenders will actively support your candidacy. You may also get a head start on recommender packages, outlining your activities and achievements, to help prepare them for the task.
If you do not have any meaningful activities in your profile, you should become involved now. Even the most overworked individual can find time to do something. Go online and look for community service groups in your community, brainstorm things that you enjoy doing and seek them out. Think about activities in which you participated as an undergrad and become re-engaged. It’s great to be able to show continuity in your interests.
If you are already involved know that the quality of your contributions is most important. It’s great to have been volunteering at a soup kitchen for the past year. But if you can say that you conceived of and led a program to grow donations or raise awareness for the soup kitchen, even better. In and out of work, any leadership role you can take on will be an asset to your application. Many companies sponsor community service opportunities within. If you are too busy to leave the office, you may be able to find activities within your work environment.
It is extremely helpful to be aware of what types of questions you will be asked. Although many schools change their essay questions from year to year, by reading a prior year’s application, you will develop a good idea of the types of stories you will need. Knowing that you will be asked to describe a leadership experience may motivate you take on a leadership role – in or outside of work. Knowing that you will have questions about community involvement will push you to finally become involved.
You have a better chance of being admitted to any school if it is the right school for you. Many candidates look at rankings and decide to apply to the top few schools. You will be far better off if you do your own research, talk to students and alums and, if possible, visit campuses. Doing this type of research early on will help you to better understand the schools, and quite possibly change your mind about where you want to apply. You also will be better qualified to answer the question, “Why do you want to go here?” Demonstrating an understanding of what makes a school unique and showing that you are truly passionate about attending will take you far.
For more advice on your MBA application, visit Stacy Blackman Consulting's website! Free consultations also available.