How to Best Prepare for Pursuing B-School

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If you’re considering b-school, you may be a little overwhelmed with where to start the process.

Should you choose a school first or attend local b-school events ? Should you study for the GMAT exam or work on your applications? Regardless of where you are in your b-school journey, there are steps you can take to make your preparation as painless and productive as possible—and give you the confidence you need to be successful.

Identify your “why”

Attending b-school will have an impact on nearly every aspect of your life: personal, professional, academic, and financial. One of the first steps in your journey should be to identify why you want to pursue b-school and how your degree will help you achieve your goals. Use the business school self-assessment to define your intentions and motivations. Your answers will help guide you throughout the admissions process, including your applications, essays, and interviews. If you need some inspiration, read about why your peers chose business school and how they’re applying their degrees.

Find your best-fit programs

Use your goals as a compass for deciding whether you’ll pursue a general or specialized business master’s degree. Attending a school-hosted event or b-school tour, such as The MBA Tour, is a great place to get acquainted with the different program options. You can also utilize the School Search feature to find, evaluate, and compare b-school programs. Look for curricula that emphasize the knowledge and skills that are valuable to your intended career path, and consider how the faculty, class size, and teaching style will impact your experience. To refine your choices, ask yourself where you’re willing to attend b-school, how much time you can commit to school each day, what type of people you want in your classes, and how you’ll finance your graduate business education. You may also consider a b-school’s rankings and accreditations, and how its reputation may have an impact on your future earnings. Finally, decide where to apply by choosing five to seven schools that best align with your aspirations.

Sit for the GMAT exam

Schools rely on the GMAT exam to predict your likelihood of academic success, and your scores will be a factor in your admissions decision. Some schools require minimum scores, but most publish a range of scores or average score they generally accept. Get familiar with the requirements of your target schools and take a mock exam to establish a benchmark for progress. You’ll want to start your GMAT exam process at least six months before test results are due to your top choice programs, and plan to test no later than 20 days before this date to ensure adequate processing. If you were recently or are currently an undergraduate student, consider taking the GMAT exam now while your testing abilities are sharp, and your math and verbal skills are fresh in your mind.

Once you register for the assessment, you can begin preparing for your exam. Take advantage of the free GMAT Official Starter Kit and Practice Exams 1 & 2 and the other official prep materials that use questions from past GMAT exams and the same scoring algorithm as the actual test. Most candidates follow a minimum eight-week study timeline if they are somewhat familiar with the underlying exam content. Remember, your scores are good for five years and if you’re unhappy with your first score, you can test again; once every 16 calendar days and five times in a rolling 12-month period for a total of eight exams.

Assemble your applications

With your shortlist of programs in hand, you’ll begin the scrupulous task of assembling your b-school applications. Different schools have different requirements so be sure to review each program’s timelines carefully. That said, most schools typically request undergraduate transcripts, GMAT scores, essays, a resume, references and letters of recommendation, and information on your extracurricular activities or community/civic involvement. As you gather and complete the various components, you’ll want to factor in how schools weight these elements so you can effectively—and competitively—position yourself.

The objective of your b-school application is for admissions personnel to get to know you better. Ask yourself these five questions to better understand your strengths and use your answers to highlight the best version of yourself. Dedicate time to the parts of your application where you can express yourself in your own voice, such as your essays, and carefully select your letters of recommendation to solidify what you have articulated. 

Prepare for your interviews

Your b-school interview is one of the most important steps in the application process. It allows admissions staff to put a face with a name and gives you the opportunity to evaluate the culture and fit of the program firsthand. An invitation to interview is also a strong signal that the school is interested in you, and your performance can take you that much closer to acceptance. Ensure you capitalize on your face-to-face interactions by adequately preparing and getting plenty of practice before your interview.

Understand the setting of your interview and whether it will be blind or nonblind, conducted virtually or in person, with a group, or by a panel of alumni or admissions professionals. Regardless of the circumstance, make sure you research the school and come prepared with questions to ask your interviewers. You’ll also want to be ready to answer commonly asked questions, such as why you want to attend b-school, as well as some tough ones too. At the end of the day, your b-school interview is an opportunity to fill in the blanks on your application and help a school get to know you better. Make sure to be attentive, honest, and articulate so you can put your best foot forward.

Paying for b-school

Investing in a graduate business education will have a substantial impact on your life and your career, and there are several options when it comes to financing your degree. When budgeting for b-school, be sure to account for all the costs associated with your degree, including tuition, course materials, books, housing or accommodations, insurance, and other incidentals. Keep in mind that the cost of your program may vary based on your school, its location, and its reputation, plus any plans to study abroad or take part in other elective programming. Take time to get your finances in order, and evaluate high-value programs that can help minimize your student loan debt.

Whether you utilize grants, fellowships, scholarships, loans, savings, and/or earnings will depend on your unique financial situation. Financing plans vary greatly by age, but most candidates rely on a mix of funding sources. If you do need support with your degree, there are several financial aid options available that can help offset the cost of your education. Plus, don’t forget that a good GMAT score can help reduce your tuition fees. As you evaluate your cost, keep in mind the return on your investment and use this interactive tool to estimate your post-degree salary.

To help position yourself for admissions success, approach your b-school journey thoughtfully, and give yourself plenty of time to complete each step. Talk with current students, alumni, and admissions staff to address any questions or concerns that arise during the application process. Relax and be confident so you can put your best foot forward. Finally, have fun and find solace in your commitment to your education, and your future!

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