If you have a few years before you plan to attend business school, you’re in a great position to do a few things now—beyond taking a GMAT or GRE prep class—that can improve your chances of getting into your top-pick schools.
Compensate for a low GPA
If you have a below-average GPA or low grades in quantitative/business classes, consider taking a course to prove that your academic skills have improved. You want to show business schools you’ll be able to handle their program, that you’ve taken steps to build skills that may have been lacking, and that you are mature enough to balance academics with other activities.
Add a rung to your career ladder
Have you been in the same job, at the same level, for several years? If so, take on more senior responsibilities. Volunteer to mentor a new worker. Ask to be placed on a high-level project. Or take on a job that no one else wants.
Many applicants hope that taking a new job prior to applying will round out their experience. But if it doesn’t make sense in the context of your career goals, it could do more harm than good. You want to show that you’re focused and doing what you can to progress toward your stated goals—not just focused on landing a great job.
Consider whom you want to write a recommendation for you and find ways to wow them over the next few months. Take each of them to lunch and discuss your MBA plans, since you want to be certain they will actively support your candidacy. You should also put together packages, which outline your activities and achievements, to help prepare them for the task.
Structure your down time
If your application is a little lean when it comes to meaningful activities outside of work or school, now’s the time to get involved in a cause you care about. Look for community service groups in your town. Think about activities you participated in as an undergrad and get reengaged. It’s a plus to show continuity and commitment to your interests over time.
If you’re already involved, know that the quality of your contributions is 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 increase donations or raise awareness for the soup kitchen, so much the better. In and outside of work, any leadership role will be an asset.
Although schools often change essay questions and themes from year to year, reading applications from prior years can give you a good idea of the types of stories you’ll need to write about. For example, knowing that you’ll likely be asked to describe an experience that motivated you to take on a leadership role can help you remember similar events. On the other hand, knowing that you’ll be asked questions about your community involvement may push you finally to get involved.
Gut-check your school choices
Many candidates look at the rankings and decide to apply to only the top few business schools. But you’ll be far better off if you do your own research, talk to students and alums, and visit campuses, if it’s feasible. Doing this type of research early on will help you understand the schools better and what they’re looking for in MBA candidates. You’ll also be better qualified to answer the inevitable question, “Why do you want to get your MBA here?” Demonstrating an understanding of what makes each school unique and showing that you are truly passionate about attending will help you stand out from the crowd.
You can do a number of things today to enhance your MBA application tomorrow. With a little advance planning, you’ll have plenty of time to work on these pointers to help ensure your application is as strong as it can be. Good luck.