MBA Application: How To Best Use The Summer Before Applying To Business School

US admissions directors reveal their top tips for prospective MBAs

What’s on your bucket list this summer? Summer skiing in California’s High Sierra? Swimming with sharks in Cancun? Surfing school in Iceland?

We all like to make plans for how we spend our personal time, but what about plans for how you spend most of your time? Do you have a career bucket list for your professional goals?

According to GMAC, more than 200,000 graduates each year consider an MBA essential on their career bucket list. In addition to being a prestigious credential, it also provides more control over their lives.

Whether you intend to apply for an MBA this year or the one after next, there are things you can do right now to make the best use of your summer before you apply to business school.

We went right to the source and asked admissions directors across the country for some recommendations:

Peggy Conway, Director of MBA Admissions, TCU Neeley School of Business

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Why do you want to pursue your MBA? What are your career goals? If you aren’t ready to answer those questions, it’s worth investing some time over the summer before starting the application process. 

Do some research. You can find many online resources. Spend time better understanding your targeted field through industry publications or blogs. Identify and reach out to individuals in targeted positions. They may be willing to chat with you by phone or meet for coffee to talk more about their career path.

Kristin Roth, Associate Director of Admissions, Dartmouth: Tuck barb2

If you’re applying for your MBA in the upcoming year, summer is not a time to kick back and relax. Make a plan. Study for and take the GMAT or GRE. If your score isn’t what you know you can achieve, taking it early gives you time to try again.

Talk to alumni from different programs. Learn about why they chose an MBA, why they chose the program they did, and where it led them. What would they do differently if they could do it all over again?

Connect with schools at events and plan visits to your top choices. Hone your story and take a first pass at your essays. The admissions process is competitive and requires a lot of reflection. You don’t want to wait until the last minute and turn in something that’s less than your best.

Soojin Kwon, Managing Director, FTMBA Admissions and Student Experience, University of Michigan Ross School of Business barb3

1. Study. Start studying for the GMAT or GRE early. It's not the most enjoyable way to spend your spare time in the summer, but it will pay off later when you earn a score that broadens your options.

2. Reflect. Think about what you want out of an MBA experience. Note that I said MBA experience, not just MBA. Business school isn't just about getting a degree that can help you get a ‘better’ job. It's also about the experience itself, and the experiences you'll get to have as an MBA student. Think about what you want your experience to look like, and what kind of experiences you want to have.   

3. Research. Consider a broad range of schools. School websites are a start. But get to know schools beyond their websites -  connect with students, attend events (in-person or virtual), visit campus.  

Morgan Bernstein, Executive Director, Full-time MBA Admissions, University of California, Berkeley, Haas School of Business barb4

If you are applying to business school this cycle, then the summer is about refining your list of target schools. How? Step away from the computer screen and engage with the programs that are of interest to you. Attend a school presentation. Go to a local MBA fair. Call up the student or alumni ambassadors and get the inside scoop on the MBA experience at that program.

School websites are a great place to start your research, but shouldn't be the end. Now it's time to assess program fit, and the best way to do that is to connect with members of that community.

Isser Gallogly, Associate Dean, MBA Admissions and Program Innovation, NYU Stern babrb5

How should you spend August? Prior to applying to business school, make sure you need an MBA in the first place. I've worked with applicants who don't like their jobs, and they know they want to do something different, but they're not exactly sure what that is. Is an MBA going to be the right path to make that career transition? 

Here's an example. You may be bored in your current job and attracted to the glamorous world of consulting, but how much do you know about consulting? Do you know how much travel is involved? Would you be happy on the road four days a week? 

It's essential that you understand what you want to do. Dig deep. Talk to friends and family. Reach out to colleagues in your network. Reconnect with your undergraduate peers. 

Also, speak with schools. Stern, for example, can put you in touch with graduate ambassadors who are second-year students. Ask them about their job. What do they like about it? What don't they like about it?

If you are getting less excited as you talk to students, an MBA isn't for you. However, if it sounds even more interesting, then you're on the right track.

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