One of the questions we get most frequently here at Stratus is “How long does it take to apply to business school?” My usual answer is, “How long do you have?” Of course, this is a joke but as deadlines for business schools start arriving, this question becomes critical for many applicants.
Obviously, there is no one right answer. How fast do you work? How busy are you? Have you taken the GMAT or GRE? Do you have your recommenders lined up? And other questions as well. So while I can’t give you a definite answer, here are some things to think about if you are going to put together a competitive application.
1. Do you need to work sequentially or can you work in parallel?
Everyone has their own work style. Hopefully you know how you work best. Do you need to complete one task before you start the next one i.e., sequentially? Or can you do many things at once, working in parallel, which means faster progress?
2. Have you taken the GMAT or the GRE yet?
This relates to point 1, if you can study for the test as you work on your applications things will move along nicely. If not, your timing needs to be pushed back by 4 to 8 weeks as you prepare for the GMAT, GRE, or, for some, the TOEFL.
3. How many schools are you applying to?
This makes things a little tricky. It is not quite linear. Preparing two applications, doesn’t take twice as long as working on just one. The time to develop an additional application is half the time of the first application. If it takes 50 days (~2 months) for the first application, you could probably complete 2-3 additional applications over a a couple of weeks given how much material you have already created. By the time you get to application 10, maybe a weekend will do.
4. Are recommenders really in place?
One of the most frustrating things for an applicant as deadlines approach is to wait for the last recommender to submit their letter of support. Frequently, there is not much that you can do – how much can you really bug someone who is writing a letter on your behalf? Unfortunately, most schools will not look at your application until it is complete, including recommendations.
5. Then there are the curveballs.
There are events that will just bust your timeline, no matter what you do. You bomb your GMAT – add another month or so to study and retake. Your recommender goes on vacation – to be avoided by giving them an early heads up. Work heats up – work is work and if you can’t work on your applications, you can’t work on your applications. These problems can be successfully navigated with enough time but if the deadline is bearing down on you, you may need to go to plan B.
So, what does this all mean in real terms? If you plan to submit five applications, I would suggest giving yourself a solid 100 days to get everything done from articulating your goals, identifying the schools, writing the essays, getting the recommenders lined up, until finally proofreading the final application. If you haven’t taken your GMAT yet, or still have yet to research schools (ideally by visiting), to do this process right takes closer to six months.
And then there are the true grinders. Last year, I worked with a woman for more than six months who applied to 9 of the top 10 MBA programs. She is now at a top 3 school having been accepted to many. She was a good candidate, but she was not perfect. But what WAS perfect (or as near to perfect as possible) were her applications. Recommenders took their time to write great recommendations. Super sharp essays that really showed who she was in an authentic way. Applications that were fine-tuned to each MBA program. Responses that actually answered the short answer questions. Perfect formatting as a result of being proofread multiple times by different people. I truly believe that if she hadn’t taken her time, she wouldn’t have been accepted to that many schools. It’s as simple as that.
A final point you should remember: you can always start too late, but you can never start too early. This is never truer than with business school applications.