Dream on

Taking a moment to step into a space I don’t speak directly about as much here, but one in which I happen to have a lot of expertise. It’s a strange year, period. It’s an even more strange one if part of your plan was to head to graduate school right about now, ish. You don’t have to bail on those dreams, just because things aren’t how you expected them to be right now. If you stay connected to your personal truth, and your vision for the impact you want to make in the world, then the tools you need to get there will be made available to you. Maybe they’re the tools you’re hoping for; maybe not. As with all things, you need to ask first, to find out.

The journey to business school can be long, and it can be lined with uncertainty. This year, the MBA application process may feel even more challenging as schools adapt to global events, including the pandemic. I’ve spent nearly 20 years in the MBA admissions space, and I’ve seen a  great deal of change in that time. As you prepare for your MBA application process, here are six pieces of advice that have remained true throughout of my career:

1. Take your academics seriously. Don’t forget, the MBA is an academic pursuit. You should look closely at your academic track record, because the admissions committees certainly will. If your undergraduate GPA or grades in individual quantitative classes aren’t strong, you should fill in the gaps. Look for accounting, statistics, or introductory finance courses through local community colleges or reputable online sources. Make sure the class offers you a grade (and get an A!) so you can include that transcript with your application. 

2. Engage in formal preparation for the GMAT or GRE. Although some schools are currently offering “test optional” admissions, it’s not clear how long those policies will last. Furthermore, many post-MBA recruiters in consulting and finance request test scores from their applicants. It’s best to be prepared with not only a score, but the best possible score to showcase your analytical capabilities.  

3. Choose recommenders wisely. Business schools prefer professional recommendations, ideally from current and/or former managers. Make sure you secure recommendations from people who know you well over “autographs” from executive leaders who may have occasionally met you. Former professors, family friends, and relatives are typically not acceptable MBA recommendations.

4. Know your “why.” Here’s where applying for an MBA diverges from most other graduate programs. Not only do you have to show you are academically and professionally ready, but you need to effectively articulate your long-term career goals and how an MBA will help you get there. 

5. Stay flexible on your “how.” It can be a balancing act, but take everything I said in the point directly above and add in a layer of flexibility. Open yourself to the possibility that your career path may take unexpected turns. For example, your “dream school” since childhood might not have the recruiting connections, teaching methodology, or scholarship opportunities that align with your current needs. Don’t miss opportunities that may actually be perfect for you just because they’re different from your original plan.

6. Seek reliable advice. Opinions are one thing; expertise is another. When it comes to applying to top MBA programs, get advice from those with first-hand experience. MBA alumni or current students are excellent resources for learning about the business school experience and its career-enhancing potential. If you don’t know anyone, ask the schools to help make introductions. For the admissions process, listen to those who’ve been at the decision table. Only they know what it actually takes to build the best applications possible for you. 

The MBA is a rare academic pursuit that can enhance your intellect, accelerate your career, and facilitate transformative self-discovery. Getting there takes hard work and preparation. But, with the right information, and the right community around you, you can find your “how” and your “why” on the way to your admissions “YES.”

Want some support as you map out your unique path to your dreams, whether it includes b-school or not? Reach out to me here, and let’s talk.

This post was originally published in the blog of Management Leadership Tomorrow (MLT).

Photo credit: Baim Hanif

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