Planning to apply to business school this fall or next? Nine or more months out is the perfect moment to take stock of your strengths and weaknesses as a candidate.
There's still time to make improvements that will help you stay competitive with peers also striving for a place at one of the top MBA programs. Let's take a look at three common problem areas for b-school applicants, and some solutions to remedy the situation.
Problem: No quant background.
Solution: Provide concrete proof you can handle the math.
An undergrad degree in the humanities is not, in and of itself, a problem. In fact, today's business schools want to build a class with a diverse range of personalities and backgrounds so as to create the richest possible learning environment. But even the so-called "poets" pursuing an MBA must prove they can handle a rigorous academic course load.
If you've already taken the GMAT once or twice and aren't satisfied with your score, consider a prep course to enhance your skills and remind you how to solve those high school math logic problems. Think about whether your academic profile would benefit from additional college-level coursework, particularly if your undergraduate performance in quantitative courses was weak—or non-existent.
If the answer is yes, your best bet is to sign up for a calculus, micro-economics, or statistics class at your local community college and make sure you ace it.
[Learn these tips for taking the new GMAT exam.]
One of my clients, Jackie, received a conditional acceptance to the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, provided she took a calculus course and received a B+ or higher.
MBA candidate Derek overcame his no-quant hurdle by signing up for MBAmath.com, a self-paced online course covering topics relevant to an MBA curriculum. He passed quickly, with flying colors, and was eventually granted admission to the Anderson School of Management at the University of California–Los Angeles. UCLA admissions told Derek that the course made the difference for them in terms of clearing up their concerns.
Problem: No time for extracurriculars.
Solution: Find something you're passionate about and act on it—now!
In an ideal world, you should have a harmonious work-life balance that allows you to cultivate your hobbies and passions, and to make a difference in your community. In reality, many young professionals find they have zero activities outside of work and often complain of barely having time to go to the gym and catch up with friends during their limited time off.
Life may be hectic, but the next person I meet who can't take out two hours on a weekend to help clean up a park, paint a school, or talk with seniors at a nursing home, will be the first. Tap into something you really care about, perhaps by reconnecting with something that held your interest before, during, or right after college.
For Jasmine, sports had been a huge part of life until university. She was an avid lacrosse player and had played competitively through high school, so I asked her to look into community service opportunities that might involve that sport. Jasmine started teaching lacrosse to inner city kids mostly to benefit her MBA application, but she also found the experience incredibly rewarding.
[Learn how to market yourself in an MBA application.]
Some may view this as "gaming" the admissions system, but I don't agree. The organizations benefit from the influx of talented help, and you, the applicant, benefit as you get back in touch with something you're passionate about other than work. You still have several months to create a meaningful impact before your first-round application deadlines, even if your free time is limited.
Problem: A lack of leadership.
Solution: Find creative ways to show management potential.
If a promotion isn't in the cards, don't despair. It's time to think of other ways you can demonstrate your leadership abilities. When you review your career trajectory, is there any instance where you can claim to be the "first," "youngest," or "only" person to have accomplished a particular goal? Have you taken on additional assignments beyond those expected of you?
Take another look at your community involvement. Is there a chance to kick things into high gear by organizing a fundraising event, or taking on a leadership role that will allow you to show a real impact by year's end?
Find examples where you motivated others, brought out the passions of those working with you, or helped them see organizational priorities in new ways. Business schools want to see you have demonstrated the potential to lead and inspire, so get creative and focus on the concrete ways you have motivated a team toward success.
[Strike the right tone in MBA essays.]
As you can see, with a little advanced planning and a commitment of just a few hours a week, MBA applicants can do a great deal this spring to bolster their overall candidacy before that final mad rush of the fall and winter.