So you wanna go to B-School? An informal timeline to help you through the process

One of the hardest things to gauge in the business school application process is knowing when to get started. When it’s all fun and sun over the summer, it doesn’t seem like those round 1 deadlines in October and November are going to come around any time soon. Similarly, when there are so many good football games on TV around Thanksgiving surely you have plenty of time before Round 2 apps are due in January, right? Well, yes and no. This guide is written to help you know what steps you need to complete and when you should be thinking about them, regardless of which round you apply.

This document represents a fairly aggressive timetable for completing your business school applications, and generally requires that you spend at least two hours per day, every day. You must apply a “factor of safety” to my own numbers in order to accommodate your own personal strengths and weaknesses, and the amount of time you have to spend. If you are a quick study but a slow writer, you may need less GMAT prep time and more application time. If you know your recommenders are terminally slow, you may have to approach them earlier. Everyone’s situation is different, so please don’t take this as gospel.

Although it is best to apply in the earliest round in which you can field a solid application, I know that many people simply can not get their apps in by the first round, or even the second. With that in mind, rather than use specific calendar months I will simply list the approximate number of weeks before your first application is due that you should start a given step.

10 Weeks
Two to two and a half months before your first application is due is about the right time to start the process in earnest. There are several things that you should take care of in the next 4-5 weeks:

    • Schedule the GMAT and start spending an hour a day or so studying. Your target GMAT date should be about 4-5 weeks away (in other words, about halfway between now and your first application due date). Be sure that you take your GMAT in the calendar month before your first app is due, so that you can retake it once if necessary without delaying your application. If you plan on taking a prep course you should schedule that now as well.
    • Research schools and start narrowing down your choices. You will want a short list of candidates before you…
    • Approach your recommenders. I suggest that you make this a semi-formal business meeting with each recommender, complete with agenda and a handout listing your reasons for wanting an MBA now and the recommenders role in the process. See Montauk for more info.
    • At some point you need to order transcripts from your undergraduate schools. You will need these by the time you take the GMAT, since you will start your applications soon after that.
    • So, the weeks five through ten before your first application is due should look like this:
      • 8-10 weeks out – Sign up for the GMAT (and a prep course, if needed). Start studying, and start researching schools.
      • 7 weeks out – Continue studying and looking into schools. Prepare initial materials for meeting with recommenders.
      • 6 weeks out – Continue studying and researching schools. Schedule meetings with recommenders.
      • 5 weeks out – Continue studying and looking into schools, GMAT should be right around the corner.

Four to Five Weeks
At this point things are really getting serious. You should have your transcripts in hand, be ready for the GMAT, and have your recommenders all lined up. Additionally, you should have a solid idea of what schools you will apply to. Now you need to:

    • Take the GMAT. Don’t worry, it won’t be that bad. Just stay calm, and make good use of all those hours you spend studying. You did study the last four weeks, right???
    • A day or two after the GMAT you will need to start on your first application.
      • I recommend that you spend a day (i.e. 2 hours or so) on a draft for an essay, and then set it aside for a day or two and work on other essays. This “cooling off” period between drafts can really help, I highly recommend it.
      • Between essays you will also need to work on the application itself. Don’t underestimate how long it takes to convert your motley resume into a polished application, that’s largely why the first application takes so long.
      • Getting family and friends (or admissions consultants, if need be), to review your essays is a very good idea and will really improve them. However, to do so your essays need to be 90% complete already, and you need to give your review committee plenty of time (around a week) to get to them. If you send out 6 essays and ask for feedback in 2 days, your essays probably won’t get read and you’ll still get some unkind feedback… So, you want to have nearly complete drafts of your essays all ready to go at least a week and a half before your first due date.
    • You should approach your recommenders with the recommendation requirements and your helper materials about a month before each application deadline. This gives your recommenders plenty of time to do a good job. Friendly reminders two weeks and one week from the deadline are a good idea. Preparing the recommendation helper materials takes about as much time as writing an essay, so don’t underestimate this step. It is also vitally important, so don’t take shortcuts here, either.
    • Basically, the four to five weeks before your application is due should look like this:
      • 5 weeks out – Take GMAT, start application
      • 4 weeks out – Get info to recommenders
      • 3 weeks out – Continue focusing on essays
      • 2 weeks out – Get essays to reviewers, work on rest of application, remind recommenders. If you have time, start your next application.
      • 1 week out – Finish off essays and application, review the whole package altogether, remind recommenders.

Submit!

The rest of your applications should go faster, especially since you already have recommendation materials together and you have filled out one app already. Montauk recommends that your first application be for a second choice school since it will not be as polished as the rest of your apps. There may be some truth to this, but you will also be less burned-out on your first app, so it may be better after all.

Try to prioritize your applications by admissions difficulty level and apply to the harder schools earlier in the process (rounds 1 and 2). Also recognize that you will probably have to overlap quite a bit, and while your reviewers are critiquing one set of essays you will probably need to work on the next school already. Applying to business school will easily suck up 2-3 hours a day, seven days a week, for three months or more of your life. Be prepared.