It’s 5 am and you’ve woken up in a sweat. You toss and turn, thinking back to yesterday, when you ran into a former colleague at the grocery store and learned they were about to graduate from Wharton. You, on the other hand, have been “thinking about an MBA” for almost three years without taking action, even as you’ve risen quickly through the ranks at work and are, by all measures, right on track. But whenever you begin to think about taking that next step—choosing programs, taking the GMAT, asking for recommendations, writing essays…well, you panic. And we won’t even discuss how you feel when your family or friends ask you “What’re you thinking about that whole MBA thing?”
If this sounds familiar, read on friend. MBA admissions are, without a doubt, a very competitive world. Top-ranked MBA programs have acceptance rates as low as 6%, and usually not much higher than 20%. Those are some tough odds. But panic and anxiety will get you nowhere. Instead, take a breath, and let us walk you through some steps to manage your anxiety.
Before you jump into this process, you need to ask yourself some tough questions and come to real, honest answers.
- What are my career goals, short- and long-term?
- Do I need an MBA to achieve those goals?
- Do I have a realistic shot at the kind of programs I’d like to attend?
- Do I have the tools to make it happen?
These questions are an important starting point. If you aren’t sure of your own career goals, and how an MBA will help you achieve them, you won’t make it very far in the MBA application process. Beyond gaining clarity for yourself, you will need to be able to answer these basics coherently and convincingly in your application essays. The last questions may be harder for you to answer as a newcomer to the MBA admissions world, but are just as important. If you know you want to enroll at a highly ranked program, you probably have a sense of how competitive admission is. But how competitive are you? Where does your profile fall in the dogpile? If you have no idea where you should be applying, you might turn to an MBA admissions consulting company. A good MBA admissions consultants will help you choose the right programs for you and your goals, give you a reality check when (or if) needed, and help you craft the best possible application.
Once you’ve gained the internal clarity you need to start making moves, it’s time to do some research. When you will take the GMAT? What are the application due dates at the various programs you are interested in? What documents are required? (Letters of recommendation in particular can take a lot of advance planning.)
Everyone has their own version of getting organized, so use whatever system works for you. If you are someone who likes to make lists, then make a big ol’ list. Layout deadlines on a timeline, and work backward to plan your application timeline. If you use a digital calendar, go ahead and use that. It’s important not to look at your applications in isolation, but consider what else you have on the horizon. Is your best friend’s wedding going to keep you way too busy to do a lot of essay writing in August? Then have those drafts done by July. Is a big work project in September going to consume your time and energy? Plan ahead. Getting organized is key to feeling in control of the process, and reducing the anxiety that surrounds it. And if you think you’re stressed now, just imagine how you will feel if you leave everything to a last-minute, panic-induced application frenzy.
This might sound obvious, but it’s amazing how many people fall into the trap of planning, and planning, and planning…and never get started. Open those blank documents and start cranking on essays. If you know who you want recommendations from, go ahead and ask them well in advance—they’ll appreciate having extra time to get them done. The more literal component to “get moving” is to actually go and see the schools you are interested in, if you are able. This is the best way to get to know these programs, and the insight you gain while on campus, by sitting in on classes or speaking to current students, will be gold when it comes to essays and interviews. Better yet, visiting will get you excited about your MBA applications, and that’s a way better attitude than anxiety or panic.
Finally, if you still feel like you just don’t have a handle on things, you may want to enlist an ally. An MBA admissions consultant can help you kick start your application. Not only do they know the industry well, they can walk you through the application process step-by-step and identify what sets you apart as a candidate.
It is perfectly normal to feel some level of anxiety throughout the MBA application process—everyone does. In fact, it would be worrisome if you didn’t, because it might indicate that you aren’t invested enough in the outcome. The best way to manage that anxiety (and prevent it from becoming full-fledged panic) is to take productive steps toward your goal, and, if you decide you need it, seek professional help in the form of an admissions consultant.