How Early Should You Start the MBA Application Process?

The MBA application is an arduous affair that requires hours and hours of work. Here are six reasons why you should start the process as early as possible to maximize your chances of admission.

Lauren W.

By Lauren W.

Posted April 25, 2023

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The MBA application process is an enormous undertaking that requires hours and hours of work. But, this is for good reason. The two years spent at business school will majorly affect the rest of your career. This does mean, however, that your application timeline is very important. Though it differs drastically from applicant to applicant, generally, you should start yours as early as possible.

If you're a typical MBA applicant, you're probably planning on starting your MBA application in the summer of the matriculation year. That summer would be spent studying and preparing for the GMAT/GRE, and then the fall on the applications themselves–essays, letters of recommendation, resumes, etc.

However, to give yourself the best chance for the M7 or even the top 20 MBA programs, I highly recommend starting long before this. This isn’t always possible with personal or work schedules, but where it is, you’ll find it much easier to put together and submit a compelling candidacy.

Here are six reasons why earlier is better when it comes to MBA applications:

1. You can get the best possible GMAT/GRE score.

Let's be real, no matter who you are or how well you've done academically or professionally, the GMAT/GRE is one of the biggest stressors of an MBA application. Prep time is incredibly underestimated and most people end up studying for much longer than they had originally anticipated.

Many people put off studying until the summer, thinking the three months will be adequate time to reach that magic 700. However, those three months quickly turn into six or even a year–thus leading to a very, very stressful application season.

Furthermore, the applications are only getting more competitive, so it's crucial to try and get the best possible score. For many of the M7 programs, that’s now above a 700 on the GMAT (163/164 on the GRE). So, how does one even get to that coveted score? By giving themselves enough time to study.

Since GMAT/GRE scores are valid for five years, this is something that you can start early on, far in advance of when you actually submit the applications. Whether you're taking classes, working with a tutor, or studying on your own, giving yourself more time to prep for the test than you think you’ll need will never be a detriment. That way, when the time comes to work on the actual application, you only have to focus on your narrative.

2. Crafting a narrative for the application takes time.

While international business schools tend to more heavily weigh work experience in admissions decisions, MBA programs in the US love getting to know applicants on a deeper level. Thus, essays are a crucial portion of the application. They want to understand who you are, how your experiences have shaped you, and how you'll be an emotionally intelligent leader. In short, they want a good story.

This story has to have depth, showing (vs. telling) reflection and self-awareness, while also connecting with the reader. For most applicants, this takes time as not only are you forced to delve deep into yourself, but you have to be able to communicate it in an eloquent and persuasive manner.

For almost all of my clients, this is a process that takes months. As you work through your essays, you discover and unpack aspects of your candidacy that you hadn’t originally thought of, making the story (and your application) that much deeper. The applicants who start working with me earlier tend to have much higher success rates than those who are rushed.

3. You can apply to Early Decision/Round 1 deadlines.

For the many candidates who aim to use the summer to study for the GMAT/GRE, and then find that extending into the fall, the application often gets pushed to Round 2 or even 3. While there is nothing wrong with applying for Round 2 or 3, Round 1/Early Decision typically yields the best results. This isn’t just opinion – data has shown that the acceptance rate is slightly higher for R1, especially at the most prestigious schools.

By applying for Round 1, you also give yourself the added advantage of a second chance in R2. If you’re waitlisted for R1, you have time to improve your application and provide meaningful updates in the same application year. Again, there’s nothing wrong with applying for R2, but it is the most heavily applied to round so competition is stiffer.

Some programs offer Early Decision, which can substantially boost your chances as it shows you’re committed to the school. If admitted, you’re locked into that school but if it’s a top choice, then it’s often worth it to apply during this round.

4. You avoid the stress of holidays.

With most Round 2 deadlines landing around early January, most people think that they can use their Christmas break/holiday to crunch out applications. But remember, holiday times are stressful. Between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, time goes by much faster than expected, especially with family and social obligations. As an admissions coach, my schedule gets slammed with clients trying to do three or even five applications in the next month. You don’t want to be the person working along on NYE while your friends are all out celebrating the new year.

5. Recommenders have more time to write stellar letters of recommendation.

Another critical component of your MBA application is the letters of recommendation. Top MBA programs value diverse perspectives and experiences, so having strong recommenders who can truly attest to your strengths, leadership abilities, and growth potential is essential. Starting your application process early not only allows you to identify and connect with potential recommenders, but also gives you ample time to cultivate those relationships, ensuring that they understand your goals and can provide a meaningful endorsement. Remember, recommenders are often busy professionals themselves, so giving them sufficient time to thoughtfully craft their letters will demonstrate your respect for their time and commitment to your success. Ultimately, an early start will help you secure powerful recommendations that will make your application truly shine in the eyes of the admissions committee.

6. It leaves space for editing and other last-minute stressors.

Last-minute stressors always come up. Many of my clients have run into trouble submitting standardized test scores, getting their academic records to the school, or realizing they had unanswered sections. For others, it was simply not enough time to properly incorporate edits, fully flesh out a narrative, or comprehensively complete the short-answer questions.

By starting your application earlier, you give yourself a solid buffer for any of these last-minute hiccups. My most successful applicants typically plan to submit the application a week in advance of the deadline and by doing so, are able to avoid any issues.

Applying for MBA is a process and as with all processes, things don't always go as planned. To prepare for things not going as planned, it's necessary to give yourself enough time to organize, pivot, and adjust. Though I recognize that it isn’t always possible, when it is, apply early.

If you’d like to start working with me on anything related to the MBA application process–whether that be planning your timeline, finding your story, or anything else, head to my Leland profile. I’d love to help you get into your dream school.

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