While August is typically a vacation season, when everyone seems to be relaxed and carefree, MBA applicants have no time for rest.
Round one (R1) deadlines are approaching, with Harvard Business School being among the first to collect their applications (and, of course, ding the majority of them) in early September.
Some applicants are taking their last chance to improve their GMAT or TOEFL/IELTS score, others are striving to devise a compelling story or pushing their recommenders, who never want to spend too much time on answering those wordy questions.
If reading these descriptions feels like pouring salt on a wound for you, it is time to revise your decision to apply in R1. Seriously. Although business schools generally advise to submit documents early, the advantages of R1 mean nothing if you’re not admitted.
Given the competitiveness of the application process, you need to make sure that you send the best application you could prepare this year. Otherwise, rough-and-ready essays or too generalized recommendations will simply ruin your aspirations. A poor application package won’t please admissions committees, even if you are up against a smaller pool of applicants than in R2.
So, should you apply in round one or round two? Here’s three things to keep in mind:
Obviously, if your GMAT score equals or exceeds the average of your target schools, you are fine and can move to the step two. Even if you think that you could reach, let’s say, 770, and now you have ‘only’ 760, retaking the GMAT would be a waste of time and effort.
However, what if it is slightly lower than average? Then you should analyze whether it is possible to perform significantly better (again, a 10-points difference makes little sense) and assume how much time it will take. For instance, reaching a score of 730 from 630 may take a lot of work.
Another thing: if you’ve tried many times and feel that you cannot get a higher score in the foreseeable future, you should either revise your school choices or take a risk, focusing on other application documents. In some cases, a compelling story means everything, and it is well-known that there have been brilliant applicants who’ve gotten into top-10 schools with a sub-600 GMAT score.
Your essays mean a lot for admissions committees, as they are basically the only way to really get to know you as a person (besides video statements and interviews). Writing memorable essays should take a while. First, you create a draft, then revise it, polish and revise again, and repeat this process as many times as you feel to do so.
That is why if you’ve not even started your essays yet, you may have already run out of time. Remember that you need powerful essays that would support your application, and not just supplement your package with useless pieces of information. Especially if you are applying to several schools, consider taking another round to think and devise a resonating story, full of relevant examples, motivation and drive.
It is very important to reach out to your recommenders well in advance of the application deadline. If you fail to do that, you are putting yourself at risk—your supervisors probably do not have much free time. Therefore, two or three weeks may not be enough for them to write a reference, giving concrete examples of your achievements. Instead, it could become a list of generalizations, which would spoil an admissions committees’ impression of you.
Remember that August is vacation season. If you have no recommendations submitted yet, double-check whether your recommenders are available this week, next week or, just in case, in December before R2.
In summary, if you need more time to make your personality shine in essays, or to demonstrate your professional aptitude through recommendations and test scores, take it. Excellence is the key to competitiveness in the MBA admission process.