Planning to apply to a top MBA program? Here’s what you should be doing right now.

How do you actually start the process of applying to an MBA program?
Drivers start your engines…

While our discussion of preparing for business school admissions has until now been somewhat fluid, with the publishing of essay questions and due dates, the green flag has been dropped so now we are off to the races.

So what to do?  How do you actually start this process?  

Begin by researching the schools you may want to apply to.  Don’t just check out their websites, you have to go further than that.  Start talking to friends who go there, folks who went to the same undergrad as you and are now attending, recent alumni, professors, whomever.  Maybe there are even some summer interns floating around your office who can give you some insight into their school.  Take them out to lunch, ask them some key questions like what they WISH they knew now that they only found out later.  [I bet that they wish they had started their applications earlier.]

The next step is going to events the school may be hosting.  The dates for these events are just coming online now, so you can be the first to sign-up.  The purpose of your attending is not just to learn more about the school but to have the school learn more about you.  

Attending such events shows legitimate interest on your part.  It also gives you a chance to meet a real, live admissions officer.  Keep in mind that the admissions process is a human process, so if the admissions committee can put a face to a name – or in this case an application – this heightens the chance of them remembering you as they sift through the thousands of applications they receive.  While at the event, try to reach out to an admissions staffer who can be a resource for you as you navigate this process.  Now you don’t have to be obnoxious about it by trying to chase down the Dean of Admissions – such behavior can harm you as much as help you – rather connect with a junior staffer who is far more approachable, can be a great resource, and someone more likely to remember you.

In the event that your target schools aren’t hosting events in your area, of if you are trying to learn about many, many schools then it is almost certainly valuable to attend an MBA program tour or conference.  At these events you will have the opportunity to find out about dozens of schools at one time, and to meet members of their admissions staffs.  While these tours need not have all the top schools present, you will almost certainly learn about schools that maybe you didn’t know much about at first but may turn out to be the right fit for you.  Two companies which provide such conferences are The MBA Tour and QS Top MBA.  A schedule of where they will be, when and what schools will be attending can be found on their websites.

Of course, the ultimate way of getting to know a school is to go and visit.  And now’s the time to start thinking about it as you start making your summer plans.  Generally, schools want you to visit when classes are in session, so pull out your calendar and call the school to arrange something.  Given how early it is, you should be able to secure the date that you want.  And if it is impractical to visit when school is back, visiting even over the summer shows interest on your part and will help inform your decision.  Also, this may be the perfect time to coordinate school visits with your vacation:  going wine tasting in Napa Valley?  Stop by Stanford, Haas or UC Davis (a school I love).  Hitting the waves on the Carolina shore?  UNC and Duke await.  A sojourn to Houston?  Pay Rice a visit.  Never mind the last one, no one visits Houston in the summer, but you get my point.  Spend the summer of 2016 seeing just where you may be.

So what else to do now?  Start collecting essay questions, deadlines and even word counts.  On separate pages, simply put up on top what the essay questions are, how long they should be and when they are due.  While it sounds overly simply, it actually does a nice job of focusing the mind and making the process less mysterious.    

Now you just have to start your application.  By this I really do mean, start your application.  Go online to each school you are considering, open an account and starting filling-in any and all information you can:  name, date, college, etc.  While it sounds ridiculously pre-mature, you cannot imagine the stress and the pain it saves during those last few days leading up to submission.  By the end, you will be ready to have this application done, doing this tedious work now will make it just a tad easier later.

Anything else to do in June?  There always is more you can do, be it connecting with recommenders, studying for the GMAT or taking an online course to address one of your weaknesses.  Or at a minimum start making a list of all that you need to do to get your applications in, and then start checking things off.

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