This is the last of the six-part "MBA Insider" series. This series gives inside advice on what you need to know about getting an MBA. "MBA Insider" is sponsored by Chicago Booth.
When you decide to pursue an MBA, it can be a challenge to efficiently tackle the application process.
In his book "The Complete Start-to-Finish MBA Admissions Guide" Jeremy Shinewald, founder of mbaMission, a consulting firm for business school candidates, created a timeline for the business school application process — assuming that you're preparing at least one year before the deadline.
At this time, you should start your GMAT prep and sign up for study courses. You should also start visiting your target schools.
Debra Ringold, Dean of the MBA program at Atkinson Graduate School of Management, Willamette University, told us that there are a few criteria prospective students should consider when choosing between business programs:
1. The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) Accreditation – Research the programs you're interested in to see if they're held to "appropriate standards."
"Some employers do not recognize MBAs from unaccredited programs, so students should look for AACSB accreditation," Ringold told us.
2. Faculty — "[Students need to] look for faculty from well-respected research institutions in the student’s area of interest."
3. Curriculum – "Look for a curriculum that features strengths in the student’s area of interest and opportunities to interact with clients and organizations as part of the coursework," Ringold said. "Students should also look for a robust internship program that complements the curriculum."
4. Career management and coaching – "Students should have the resources necessary to continually refine and focus career goals and abilities to secure the employment they desire," Ringold told us.
Erica Dhawan, leadership expert and consultant and researcher at Harvard’s Center for Public Leadership, told us that prospective students should look beyond the core curriculum to see if the specific program can offer the key business skills needed to further grow their careers.
"I had already been to an undergraduate program which was very structured and excels in finance, so I wanted to go to a school geared more around entrepreneurship," she said.
5. Program fit as a function of debt — Students must consider return on investment. Will the debt incurred be worth it in the long-run?
6. Alumni Network — Roderick Lewis, international relations director, ISCTE Business School, University Institute of Lisbon, told us that the most important thing about an MBA program is the networking opportunities it can offer you.
"The strength of the alumni network and how far-reaching it is" can be extremely important today because business schools have become more of "a global brand," he said. This means it is even more important to network now than ever before.
During the pre-stage application process, you should try to meet with as many alumni and students as possible.
After making a list of schools you're interested in, you should consider getting a sponsorship for your MBA if you plan to remain or return to your current firm after your education.
In order to do this effectively, you need to demonstrate that attending B-School will strengthen your understanding of the business environment, Lewis told us. It's an investment for your company to pay for your MBA, so you need to prove that it will be a return on investment for your organization.
Or you can look into fellowships.
Leslie Wayne, a business journalism professor at Columbia Journalism School, New York University and Tsinghua University in Beijing as well as a contributor for The New York Times, was able to receive financial support for her MBA through the Knight-Bagehot Fellowship at Columbia, which allowed mid-career journalists to take B-School classes, she told us.
Whatever industry you're in, you should also take a look into different fellowships that might be offered.
In his book, Shinewald said that around the mid-point — approximately six months before the deadline — you should have already taken the GMAT for the first time. If you take it in April — or earlier — this will give you some time to re-take it if needed.
Then, you should start brainstorming and writing essays for your application. This is an ongoing process so take the time to "articulate your vision sincerely and reveal your unique potential through your stories."
At this stage, you should also meet and follow up with your recommenders. Choose these people carefully since they'll become a valuable part of your application. They will also be an asset to you if the admissions committee is on the fence about you as a candidate.
"If a person didn't come off good in the MBA interview, but they had glowing recommendations, we'll definitely look into that," said Beth Flye, director of admissions, MBA@UNC at the Kenan-Flagler Business School, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
As you approach the application deadlines — typically the first two weeks in October — you should have completed and submitted your application. You should also plan — and practice — your MBA interviews. The first-round decisions will arrive by early February and March for the second-round decisions, Shinewald said.
At your MBA interview, you should still be considering whether or not the school is the right fit for you.
"Keep in mind that how prospective students are treated in the interview process as well as during their time on campus is how they will be treated as an MBA candidate," Ringold said.
Finally, you should start applying for scholarships or student loans at this time and start the Visa process if the school is outside of your resident country.
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