1. Prep for your interviews now by thinking about your experiences (professional, academic, and extracurricular) and what you have learned from them.
2. For two very different first-hand accounts of what lies ahead, read Robert Reid’s Year One: An Inside Look at Harvard Business School and Peter Robinson’s Snapshots From Hell: The Making of an MBA.
3. Keep up with magazines such as The Economist (for a full reading list, check out this post of MBA must-reads).
4. Check out the MBA Gym from the Financial Times for 15-minute targeted “work-outs” in areas such as Finance, Marketing, and Strategy. The mini-lessons will give you a glimpse at the kind of things you’ll learn in b-school and help you make sure an MBA is right for you.
5. If there are concentrations at your b-schools of choice, decide what you’re going to concentrate in. This may change, but it’s worth a think-through.
6. Think about a possible back-up plan. If b-school apps don’t work out this year, know that you can switch companies, stay at your job for another year and reapply, travel, or apply for a fellowship like the Fulbright.
7. Consider the financial aspect of your MBA plans (for an overview of your scholarship options, check out our ongoing blog series).
8. Get a new hobby – whether it’s pottery, pilates, or triatholon training. It’s easy to get tunnel-vision during the admissions process; extracurricular activities will keep your perspective open and help you feel in control even when your apps are out, and there’s nothing to do but wait.
9. Talk to students and alumni from your dream schools. How can you get in touch with these people? Attend info-sessions and visit the schools and online admissions forums; collect business cards and email addresses and don’t be shy about following up! Students and alumni sign up to participate in such events because they want to reach out to prospective applicants. The earlier you get this out of the way, the better. Don’t schedule 10 phone calls the week your application is due.
10. Schedule campus visits for the fall, when business schools are back in session (the summer goes by quickly!). Visiting campus isn’t mandatory, but if you have the time and financial means, a visit is a great way to get a feel for the school and demonstrate your interest in the program. During interviews, you may be asked point-blank if you visited campus or not.
11. Bolster your knowledge of business areas you’re less familiar with. Check out the Harvard Business Review series on every subject from corporate strategy to brand management. The books are popular enough that you can find them at your local bookstore or download them on your reading device.
12. Make a decision tree for yourself. Factor in all the schools you’re applying to and any back-up options.
13. Try this exercise. Fill in the blank: “What I most want is to _________.” Revise this statement daily.
14. Talk to people who would never consider getting an MBA. Having someone play devil’s advocate will strengthen your resolve and prepare you for those difficult interviews.
15. Retake the GMAT or make peace with your score.
16. Start your essays early .This way, you can sit on them all summer; lines you wrote in June might make you cringe by August. Check out this post for tips on how to avoid sounding awkward, trite, or boring.
17. Use Google Alerts to keep your finger on the business news pulse. It might sound basic, but make sure you can answer basic interview questions about the industry in which you work.
18. Get your fill of shopping and fine dining while the paychecks are still rolling in.
19. Ask people with diverse business perspectives (one marketer, one entrepreneur, etc) to provide feedback on your essays.
20. Decide whether you want to hire an admissions consultant. And make peace with your decision (4 months into the process is not the point to say, “I should have hired a consultant!”).
21. Carefully shop for an admissions consultant if you decide to get one. What worked for one of your friends might not work for you. Some consultants pride themselves on being tough and critical (and providing a sort of admissions “boot camp”); others market themselves as perfect for certain types of candidates (non-traditional for example) or certain schools.
22. Read the course catalogs at the schools you’re applying to and familiarize yourself with the offerings.
23. Take on extra responsibility at work. Achievements you add to your resume now may help you secure a summer internship after your first year.
24. Familiarize yourself with scholarship options that are specific to each school. Think about how you can stand out according to the criteria. Considering this far in advance of the deadline will prevent you from contorting yourself (or at least, appearing to contort yourself) to fit the criteria.
25. Ask several b-school alumni what they regretted most about their MBA experience.
26. Ask the same alumni what they valued most about their time at b-school.
26. Looking to switch careers post-MBA? Read books, magazines, and internet articles to truly understand the industry you’re looking to enter.
27. Live in NYC and never been to the Statue of Liberty? Visit all the places you always wanted to before possibly moving to another corner of the continent for your dream school.
28. Think about your business goals and more importantly, why you’re the best person to pursue them (as opposed to someone with a different background). What about you – your experiences, your character, your talent and skills makes you uniquely suited for your intended path? This will help you in your b-school essays and your interview(s).
29. Plan on being a management consultant but unable to digest a case study for your life? Consider what it will take to master the interview process of the industry you intend to enter. Understanding what exactly is required of you will help you determine whether your MBA goals are feasible.
30. Take a finance or accounting class if you have no experience with these areas.
31. Weary of admissions talk and want some inspiration? Read these books about leadership.
32. Grab a copy of 65 Successful HBS Essays to help inspire your own MBA admissions essay.
33. Missed an important promotion at work? Have a low GPA or GMAT score? Check out this awesome video from Stacy Blackman on maintaining a sense of control.
34. Take a look at the recommendation criteria at the schools to which you intend to apply. Embarrassed at what recommenders might say about your “emotional maturity” or your “communication skills”? Take small actions, day by day, to improve your work image.
35. Visit various MBA admissions forums now (and if you must, get into a heated week-long debate with HedgeFundGuy47 and ConsultantGirl about rankings and which school is better). In other words, get it out of your system when you have ample time, and you’re not dealing with application stress, the holiday season, and work responsibility all at once.
36. Have any extra time after all of the above? Get certified in some way or another. Study for Level 1, II, or III of the CFA, or brush up your foreign language skills. These credentials will not make or break your admissions game, but may help tip the scale in your favor.
37. Put together a calendar with all your application deadlines and to-do’s. Knowing when everything is due will help you manage your time effectively and make sure that you get everything in on time.
38. Read books like Talent is Overrated to remind you about the efficacy of hard work and iterative development. Focus on small, concrete steps toward professional fulfillment and don’t get intimidated by the enormity of what lies ahead! As Thomas Carlyle said, “be concerned with and do what clearly lies at hand, each and every day.”
39. Volunteer for a worthy cause and get involved in your community. Nothing broadens the perspective more than thinking about others instead of yourself.
40. Unwind by enjoying the Top 10 Movies to Watch Before B-school.