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How to Get into a Top Business School: Admitted Students Share 10 Top Tips

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Our ongoing Real Humans of the MBA Class of 2019 series has given us glimpses into tons of current MBA students who set their sights on leading business schools across the nation and the globe—and now call those campuses home. We’ve learned about some of their crazy accomplishments and the mind-blowingly diverse experiences they bring to share with classmates-turned-friends. They’ve also divulged when, why, and how they knew that x school was exactly where they belonged.

Each installment in our series has focused in on a single school through the eyes of five or six amazing students. The resulting collages each help reveal what it is about a given school that drew these disparate applicants together. And the chemistry that occurs when they unite gives further proof of the true culture of the MBA program that attracted them. If you’ve missed any in the series, we highly recommend you check them out—we’ll offer easy links at the conclusion of this piece. And rest assured, if a school you’re interested in hasn’t yet appeared, it’s on our list.

Across Schools and Individual Students, Sage Admissions Advice Abounds

The Real Humans series has revealed the unique personalities of the students we interviewed, the specific strengths of certain schools as lauded by student after student, and the idiosyncratic characteristics that distinguish a Haas from a Ross from a Booth from a Kellogg. But beyond that, some universal truths about the MBA application process have also emerged.

This is thanks in great part to the words of wisdom these successful applicants—now first-year MBA students—generously shared with those who follow them. We’re thankful that these future global business leaders took the time to offer thoughtful, introspective, actionable advice about the admissions process they just experienced. You will be, too, if you take the time to take in their tips.

The advice was so good—and so wide-ranging—that we’re going to break it into several posts. And we’ll be sure to save room for future nuggets of wisdom that come in from the schools we’ve yet to feature. To kick things off, we’ve decided to dig into the various responses students gave to the following question: What’s the one thing about your application process that you would change or do differently?

10 Things Admitted Students Would Do Differently as Part of Applying

  1. Worry Less

Summi Sinha, Georgetown McDonough MBA Class of 2019

Summi Sinha, now a student at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business, said that she would worry less about the entire application process. Of course, this is easier said in hindsight once you’re into the school of your choice. Even so, it was a refrain repeated by enough students that it’s probably worth reminding yourself of when the anxiety mounts.

Stef Rubinstein, now a student at the University of Michigan’s Ross School, also said that she wouldn’t have stressed so much—in particular about the GMAT. “I got so caught up on ‘being bad at math,’ but I actually just lacked confidence in my abilities,” she said. “I sacrificed everything that kept me sane—cooking, exercise, sleep, yoga—to study. Those sacrifices worked against me; on the real exam, I scored 80 points below my best practice test.” Fortunately, at the advice of a friend, Rubinstein had signed up for a second GMAT just 16 days later. “I relaxed and took practice tests over those 16 days and scored 150 points higher on my second exam. Investing in my health and relaxing was the key to a good score, not incessant stress and studying.”

Aimee Dennett, now at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, also said she would stress less about how her application was going to be perceived. “If you feel that you’ve accurately represented your personality, goals, and capabilities, there is little to be gained in worrying about why you were granted an interview with one school, waitlisted with another, and accepted into another,” she said.

Darden School of Business student Mike Feng confessed to paying too much attention to numbers like GMAT score or GPA. “In the end it’s what you do or aspire to do with your talent that is meaningful,” he advised.

Chicago Booth MBA Class of 2019
Kallie Parchman, Chicago Booth MBA Class of 2019

Kallie Parchman, now a student at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, also said she’d be a bit less stressed if she could do things over. “The process can be long, yet the self-reflection that comes from it is a worthwhile experience and helps showcase what really matters to you,” she said.

Finally, Cornell Johnson Graduate School of Management student Maya Wolf said she would have spent less time wondering and worrying about how she sized up to other applicants. “This is easier said than done, but this kind of negative thinking is simply not useful.”

  1. Start Sooner!

Perhaps the most oft-cited advice current students had for would-be applicants was to start sooner—whether on essays, GMAT preparation, actually taking the GMAT, or applying in an earlier round.

UC Berkeley Haas School of Business student Erin Casale wishes she had started her essays sooner. “I procrastinated a bit because I wasn’t quite sure where to start,” she confessed. Classmate America Gonzalez, also now at Haas, said she would have carved out more time specifically for editing her essays. Yale School of Management student Elizabeth Landau cited the same do-over. “I would give myself more time to craft essays,” she said. “I am a procrastinator by nature and found myself submitting close to deadlines, which was stressful. Writing the essays is a worthwhile reflective experience. It forces you to distill what’s important to you and why you want to go to business school. You can also learn a lot about a school by the questions they ask. If I were to do it again, I would make it a less condensed experience.”

Several other students recommended allowing more time for GMAT prep, and still others advised taking the test earlier to get it out of the way. Mack Darrow, now also at Booth, would have given himself more time to study for the GMAT. “It would have been beneficial to have a longer timeline,” he said. Seval Harac, now at Tuck, also advises allowing more test prep time. “People generally apply to business school after approximately three to four years of professional experience,” he said. “This is an amount of time that makes you out of academic practice. You need to spend time getting warmed up and then you can try to improve your pace. Since you cannot know how fast you will proceed from the beginning, I suggest you start studying for the GMAT as early as possible.”

Kellogg MBA Class of 2019
Ryan McDonough, Kellogg MBA Class of 2019

Ryan McDonough, now a student at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, suggested getting the GMAT out of the way early. “Complete it before you even start visiting schools and working on applications,” he advised. Classmate Yini Yu, also now at Kellogg, suggested taking it years earlier if possible. “Get the GMAT done when you are young and have more free time,” she said. “You really don’t want to do prep after facilitating a 10-hour workshop and before a business trip.”

Darden student Taylor Sheppard also wishes she had gotten the GMAT out of the way well in advance. She’d already been contemplating graduate school before her initial sea-tour commitment in the Navy, but she wasn’t sure when she’d be able to apply. She learned in the fall while at sea that she’d received the Fleet Scholars Education Program (FSEP) scholarship, after Round 1 deadlines had passed. Because she would be deploying again right after the Round 2 deadlines, she had just two months to research programs, visit schools, take the GMAT, write essays, and gather recommenders. “Looking back, I wish I would have taken the early steps to prepare for the GMAT given that I knew an MBA was an eventual goal, especially since the scores would hold for several years in the event that I had to delay my application,” she said.

Gunjan Jain, now studying at Ross, started the process well after first-round deadlines had passed but says it’s not something she would recommend. “Starting early eases the pressure, gives you more attempts and a buffer in case you want to retake the GMAT—I had none of these luxuries, which made the process quite strenuous for me to manage, especially with work.”

NYU Stern MBA Class of 2019
Vikram Gulati, NYU Stern MBA Class of 2019

Vikram Gulati, now in his first year at NYU Stern School of Business, also advised getting an earlier start. “I feel as if I underestimated the amount of work it takes to complete one application,” he said. And Georgetown McDonough student William Brennan also wishes he applied earlier. “I applied in a later round and was nervous about my results and the fact that people from the earlier rounds were already picking up spots,” he said. “If I had applied earlier, I would have known my status and been satisfied at an earlier point of time.”

As an international student now studying at Kellogg, Alejandro O’Farrill also would have applied in the first round if he had it to do over again. “This gives you plenty of time and flexibility to evaluate funding options, scholarships, apply for your student visa, and plan for relocation,” he said.

Finally, Booth student Sally Watson—who applied in Round 3—said the thing she would do differently would be to apply in the first or second round to give herself more time to prepare for the start of the school year. “That being said, I still believe that you should apply in whatever round you think you will be able to put your strongest application forward, so don’t rush the process just to meet an earlier deadline,” she added.