How Reading Can Help You Get Into Business School

Even reading five pages a day can help improve your essay writing and interviewing skills.

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Increasing your amount of reading can improve your MBA admissions chances.
Increasing your amount of reading can improve your MBA admissions chances.

Setting aside time to read over the next few months is one of the smartest things you can do to enhance your candidacy for top-flight MBA programs. The broader your knowledge base, the more interesting you become to others, including the admissions committee.

The reality is that many candidates have not read a book for personal enjoyment or education for years, and they often don't consider MBA application season a good time to start. But when you consider the advantages of diving into some good books over the next several months, getting into a habit of reading is a no-brainer.

The No. 1 reason to read more is to strengthen your GMAT reading comprehension skills and to improve your essay writing. There's no better way to improve your vocabulary and mastery of grammar, and reading can be a welcome change of pace from GMAT prep books. If you read a variety of materials from different genres, you may also get some creative ideas when it comes to inventive sentence structures and storytelling methods, which can inspire your b-school essays.

Another big advantage of reading is that it offers you something to talk about with business school interviewers. Many of these conversations touch on current events, history, and politics. If you can demonstrate that you've kept aware of the world outside of your cubicle, you're a step ahead of the game.

[Learn how to master your MBA interview.]

Several business schools have offered tips for business school applicants and students who want to catch up on their reading. Last year, Robert Bruner, dean of the Darden Graduate School of Business Administration at the University of Virginia, suggested a summer reading list for MBAs; the faculty of the University of Maryland—College Park's Smith School of Business has posted an annual book list for business leaders for the past nine years; and professors from the Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania have also provided book recommendations for aspiring business people.

These lists provide great jumping-off points, but by no means should you plow through a stack of the latest business books so that you can drop buzzword after buzzword in your essays and interviews. And you shouldn't feel obligated to round out the weak areas of your business experience by hitting the local bookstore to get Trading for Dummies or any marketing 101 guides.

Make sure you're regularly reading at least one of the general business magazines such as Forbes, Bloomberg Businessweek, Fortune, or The Economist. With the holidays upon us, now is a great time to let friends and family know that you'd like a subscription to one of those periodicals as a gift this year.

However, it's also crucial to further develop your own interests and passions, not just to demonstrate that you are a member of the Warren Buffett Book of the Month Club. If you are interested in art, read about that. If you are intrigued by the history of baseball, immerse yourself in that area. If medical science advances fascinate you, find some gems in this arena.

[Find out how to specify a learning agenda in your MBA application.]

Of course, it never hurts to develop some form of business perspective on the subjects you feel passionately about. For instance, if you love reading about medicine, mix in some books about the economics of the healthcare system in the United States, or the behavior of the global pharmaceutical industry. Should you wish to transition to a new sort of career after business school, displaying this kind of commitment can be particularly important.

If you have been an IT consultant for the last five years but want to become an entrepreneur and launch a new restaurant concept, show a commitment to the area that goes beyond what the admissions committee will expect. Reading about consumer trends, restaurant and retail entrepreneurs, or the organic food movement helps demonstrate that you follow your interests rather than just talking about them.

You may counter that you just don't have the time to read. Nonsense! Start by creating a plan that will make the task mentally manageable.

For example, a modest but meaningful goal might be to read three books over the next six months. That means reading one 300-page book every two months, or 150 pages per month. That's just five pages a day. Anyone can do five pages a day—especially when the end result is becoming a more interesting, more compelling MBA candidate and person.