How to approach the applications process

This post is going to be a short one but it contains some important information.  When you first sit down to start working on your applications (for most, this is the summer before they apply), you might not know where exactly you should start.  Before you know it you’ll have 6 or 7 schools that you’re interested in applying to opening their applications and releasing their essay prompts.  You’ll want to devote adequate time to each application and essay but you’ll also be eager to work on all of them.  You’ll finish an application or essay but then wonder if you should go back to it and take time away from others since its one of your dream schools.  In short, you’ll feel like you’re being pulled in 1,000 different directions.

So, what should you do?

Start early

If there’s anything you take away from my blog, let it be starting everything early.  I’ve mentioned the importance of starting early on research, studying, and extra-curriculars.  Applications are no different.  Harvard Business School is almost always the first b-school to release its essay prompts (early may), so you should think about starting to get down to business around then, especially if Harvard is a school you’re shooting for.  Side note: if you’re really gunning for HBS, you might want to take a look at this book of 65 successful business school essays.  I own the book and it actually helped me with my essays for all of my applications, not just Harvard.

Organize your time

If you start working in early May, that leaves you about 20 weeks until most of the applications will start to be due.  Split those 20 weeks up into segments based on how many schools you intend on applying to.  If you’ll apply to 6 schools, aim to spend a little over 3 weeks per application.  If you’re going with a more ambitious 8 schools, you’ll want to pick up your pace and aim to complete an application about every 2 and a half weeks.

Also, don’t be afraid to take your time and use the full amount of time you’ve delegated for yourself.  There’s no bonus to finishing your first 3 applications in the first week if they aren’t your best work.

Go in order!

This is probably the thing that helped me the most when I was in the center of the whirlwind that is the applications process.  Now, you can’t control when schools release their essays and applications, and at first you should probably just work on the applications when they come out (Harvard first, then ____, etc.).  However, at some point during the summer/fall you’ll be at a point where most or all of the schools will have released their essay prompts and opened their applications, and it is at this point that you should start ordering your efforts based on when those materials will be due.  For example, if it is mid-September, and you have finished Columbia (due Jan 7), and NYU (due October 15), but haven’t finished MIT (due September 23), you’ll be in trouble.  Get a gauge on when each set of materials is due, mark the dates in your calendar, and check back often (these dates come faster than you think!).  If you go in order and complete the applications in the order that they’re due, you’ll buy yourself the most time possible and be able to construct the best possible applications.  Here were the due dates for some major programs for the 2014-2015 application cycle so you can get a better handle on which apps you’ll be focusing on first:

Harvard Business School = September 9

Yale SOM = September 18

MIT = September  23

Stanford GSB  = October 1

Cornell (Johnson) = October 1

UPenn (Wharton)  = October 1

NYU (Stern) = October 15

Columbia = January 7


I realize that a lot of this is common sense but sometimes when you’re under some intense pressure, have several deadlines to meet, and are working on a handful of applications and a dozen essays, common sense starts to go out the window.  If you follow the above directions, you will almost certainly have a smoother, more productive application writing period that yields higher quality application materials than you would if you went at things more haphazardly.  Be diligent, work hard, and stick to your schedule, and you’ll have some well-polished applications to turn in come due date.

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