Secure a good GMAT score

While there are various factors that decide the outcome of applications, GMAT score is one of the most important criteria. The average GMAT score of students in the US top 25 MBA programs is around 710 and the competition is higher for candidates who belong to the over-represented applicant pool. For example, the average GMAT score of Indian engineers in any MBA program is generally 40 to 50 points higher than the class average.

Having a GMAT score that is better than the class average always improves one’s chances; hence, it is recommended that you keep your target score higher and better. Target getting over with GMAT by July to August for targeting first cycle of applications (deadlines in September-October) as the chances are better in the first cycle. Plan B should be to take the GMAT by October-November for targeting the second cycle.

Common mistakes you must avoid- starting the preparation very late, underestimating the GMAT, over-reliance on free material, aiming too low, having gaps in preparation, not taking adequate number of practice tests.

Prepare a strong ‘story’ for applications

GMAT is only half the battle; the real effort often starts in the application stage. The first step you must take in the application stage is to develop a strong story that connects your background with your career goals and the need for an MBA.

This story shall then become the backbone of your applications and every next step you take shall depend a lot on sync with your story for applications.

Common mistakes you must avoid- keeping the story boarding for a later stage in the process, not deliberating enough on developing a convincing story, shortlisting schools and then developing a story rather than the other way around, having impractical, too broad, or too specific career goals in your story.

Wisely shortlist the schools

While shortlisting schools, the most important aspect is to look for strong sync between the story you developed for the applications and the strengths of the programs you shortlist for yourself. Other key factors that you must consider are the location of the school, duration of the program, budget involved, and scholarship opportunities.

Further, spread the risk carefully by taking a deep look at the class profiles of the schools under consideration and assessing your candidature. After a detailed analysis of your prospects, apply to a few stretch schools, a few practical schools, and at least one safe school.

Common mistakes you must avoid- excessive optimism, excessive pessimism, lack of research on program strengths, not considering geo-economic factors in evaluating employment prospects, excessive emphasis on ‘rank’ rather than ‘fitment’ of a program, not spreading the risk aptly.

Prepare personalized, appealing application essays

Application essays are widely considered the most important part of one’s applications to B-schools. The set of essays required by each school differ (yes, there is considerable overlap). Hence, soon after shortlisting the schools, you must list down the set of essays to be written for your applications. Prepare personalised essays that aptly convey your achievements, accomplishments, experiences, exposures, aspirations, and vision. Focus on content rather than style and give clear takeaways to the reader from every piece that you write.

Common mistakes you must avoid- writing extremely technical or formal essays, lack of structure and flow, focus on flowery language rather than content, using excerpts or templates from the Internet (an unethical, risky practice), typographical and formatting errors.

Prepare an impressive MBA resume

Resume is generally the first document that any assessor looks at, to get an overview of one’s profile; hence, you must ensure preparing a fine MBA to make a strong first impression. Remember, MBA resume is different from a typical job resume that you may be currently using.

In an MBA resume, the content is more objective and less technical with the emphasis on specific, quantifiable accomplishments. Get a fine MBA resume format and spend enough time in developing as well as proofreading your resume.

Common mistakes you must avoid- excessive length, extremely technical language, lack of quantifiable accomplishments, poor structure, typographical and formatting errors.

Get relevant recommendation letters

The best people to recommend you for an MBA program are individuals who have worked with you recently, for long enough, in a professional capacity- preferably in a supervisory position. Academic or peer recommendations are an option but should be best avoided.

Request your recommenders to write balanced recommendations, focusing on your accomplishments while conveying the scope of improvement in you, where necessary. Also request them to quote specific examples of your performance, wherever the context allows.

Common mistakes you must avoid- getting recommendation from a very senior professional who may not have directly worked with you, preferring academic/peer/personal recommendations, lack of takeaways and examples in recommendation, excessively positive recommendations (for example, “outstanding” rating in all the virtues).

Carefully fill the application forms, submit the applications timely

The b-school applications are very elaborate as you need to fill a great deal of objective as well as explanatory information in the online forms. Pay great attention to detail and fill every little detail carefully; avoid leaving fields blank and try to fill relevant, useful data wherever possible. Ensure at least one round of proofreading the entire form before submitting the application. Avoid submitting the application during the last hours to avoid any unforeseen impediments, technical or otherwise.

Common mistakes you must avoid: lack of attention for detail, casual language, factual mistakes, typographical errors.

Prepare well for the interviews

Generally, interviews by b-schools are by invitation and one gets the call within 2-4 weeks of submitting the applications, in-person or over a video conference. Hence, an interview invitation is generally an expression of interest by a school. However, please note that every school interviews multiple candidates for each seat.

Hence, converting the interviews is competitive. You must give due respect to this final stage in the selection process to ensure your best chance for admission as well as scholarships. Develop strong responses to the frequently asked MBA interview questions, prepare a rich list of points that you would like to giveaway to the interviewer, have a few situational stories around professional challenges and leadership, and prepare one or two sensible questions that you may want to ask the interviewer.

Common mistakes you must avoid- not preparing for the interviews, casual/ overconfident/ underprepared conduct, lack of courtesy, crammed up answers, lack of takeaways, excessively long or very short answers, defensive/non-revealing approach, poor body language, lack of eye contact.