From preparing for competitive exams to filling out applications and choosing the right college, the journey to a B-school is a difficult one. Tips to help you reach your destination.

Getting an MBA requires strategic planning and focus. The question of how to go about the entire process looms large on the minds of many young aspirants. Here, I am going to discuss the common aspects of the process that I have seen aspirants are doubtful about in eight years of my experience. The first hurdle is profiling yourself and includes choosing the right colleges taking into consideration your goals — what you are looking from an MBA programme. Many MBA aspirants get their profile evaluated by multiple consultants. Each consultant has his/her own approach and perspective. Different evaluations can create doubts in the aspirant’s mind which can hamper his/her own judgment. Remember guys, you are your own profiler. I will not talk you out of seeking free evaluations from multiple sources, but take each advice with a pinch of salt and use your own discretion. Having done your own research makes you stronger and more confident about your case.

Choosing your schools

Every business school has its strengths and offerings. You need to figure out what is personally more important to you and how each school can impact your career growth. You can differentiate schools according to their academics and teaching methodology, specialisations on offer, brands or their career services. Or you might prefer to study at a certain geographic location because you want to build your career in that area. For example, ISB, IIMs, NUS, Nanyang, are popular study choices for people wanting to work in the Asian region. Based on what parameters are most important to you, you can start drafting a list of schools fitting your needs. You should also rank your list in order of preference so that you’re clear in your mind about which school to join in case you have an admit from more than one business school.

In order to submit your applications smoothly and seamlessly, I recommend that you generate a list of your target schools right now. Even before taking the GMAT if possible. Not only will you be prepared well in time to structurally prepare yourself for your target school’s applications, but you will save yourself a lot of money by sending your GMAT scores to your top five choices when you take the exam. Also, with so many programmes on offer, it might get a little confusing to narrow your choices to just five-six so close to the applications deadlines, leaving you very little time in preparation to demonstrate a good fit between yourself and the programme.

Features of your profile to help you decide on your target schools

Academics: Your undergraduate and graduate GPA or percentage, entire past academic record and the GMAT are important components that will help you choose schools. And be pragmatic here; you need a stellar academic record and a high GMAT to target the top schools. A weak undergraduate collegiate result may hamper your chances, but there is scope to improve your performance during graduation or compensate it through an above average GMAT score.

Work experience: Business schools like to know about your career growth, leadership positions you’ve handled, increase in responsibilities and ability to manage teams effectively. If you have not had significant growth in the recent path, you may still have time to take on new leadership positions (on the work and extracurricular front) and increase your job responsibilities. Think about your strengths and your weaknesses. Think of ways to overcome your weaknesses and earnestly start working on them. A minimum of two years of experience is expected by most business schools, but check the class profile of your target schools to know the average.

Goals: Are your post-MBA career goals a good fit with the mission and offerings of your target school? You need to think deeply and develop a list of goals which are in sync with what the school offers and ability to place you in the target industry and function post-MBA.

Extracurricular activities: This deserves a special mention, as a lot of Indian applicants find themselves wanting in this area. Extracurricular involvements not only distinguish an applicant from the rest of the pool but also demonstrate that he or she has a well-rounded and holistic personality and can balance their time well.

Extracurricular involvements imply that you can balance an academic/professional life with your hobbies and interests and will continue to do so throughout your life. Incidentally, these activities also help you choose your schools, in terms of extracurricular involvement opportunities that your target school offers.

Preparing for the GMAT

Taking the GMAT is one of the most important milestones in your MBA journey. It determines whether you have the academic tenacity to participate in an MBA. Generally, Indians (read: Engineers or professionals from technical backgrounds) are naturally high GMAT scorers; so the competition is high.

There are different ways to prepare for it and what works for one might not work out for another. You first need to figure out if you’re the sort of person who can study yourself or you need a formal GMAT training course. To begin with, visit www.mba.com and download the free GMAT practice software. Your performance in the first practice test will be a pretty good indicator of your current standing. If you are close to your target GMAT score, then self-preparation might be the best option for you. If you need lots of improvement, then think in terms of joining a formal preparatory course or some online tutoring.

Regardless of whether you prepare by yourself or join a course, it is crucial to develop a systemised study plan and practise regularly. You could purchase a few books (Manhattan, Kaplan and Veritas Preparation are popular choices) and reference online resources. Your books/study materials should be your best friends at this point of time. There are plenty of online preparation companies too.

The key to success is consistency in your preparation and regular practice. With dedicated efforts, even if you have been an average student all through your academic life, you can crack the GMAT and get your target score. After all, a high GMAT will strengthen your application package many times over.

Filling applications

Firstly, it is a misconception that you absolutely need professional help for your applications. If you are someone who is proactive, has dedicated months to research on your target schools, scrutinised hundreds of profiles, have a general idea of what the admissions committees are looking for and have the ability to introspect on your life and highlight key experiences through poignant essays, there’s a good chance that you can probably do this all by yourself.

But not everyone is cut out to do all of the above and write well and interestingly enough to catch the attention of the admissions committees. After all, an admissions committee member is reviewing thousands of essays. Do you have it in you to write in such a way so as to have your reader glued to your essays, look forward to reading one after another and give you the interview invite! Just like, if you’ve reached at this point of this article, you’ve enjoyed reading it. This is how your essays should be.

A majority of candidates end up investing in some kind of professional help, which is a great idea. You get immense value through a seasoned and experienced coach who will nudge your thought process in the right direction, help you gain clarity on your goals, recommend you suitable programmes according to your profile (only if you don’t have favourites yourself!), gauge the strength of your resume and ways to highlight key accomplishments and impact on your organisation but most importantly, mentor you through this challenging and life changing experience! Your coach will be your confidante, guide and best friend through this entire process who will validate your thought process, correct you when you’re going wrong and make sure that you do everything humanly possible to present stellar applications and eventually realise your MBA dream!

How to choose your MBA Admissions Consultant/Coach?

This is a difficult one. I am not an MBA myself, so the need to look for one never arose.

However, as an admissions coach, I have been questioned on things like my experience, success rate, knowledge of colleges etc, which are some of the criteria you should look for too. However, I want to share with you a few interesting and relevant questions that I have been asked by some of my clients before they signed up to work with me:

How many applications do I handle for a particular school per season? Initially, I thought this was an absurd question, but when I thought from the applicant’s point view, I realised that it made a lot of sense. They did not want to put their faith in someone who was guiding multiple aspirants for one school and putting their own clients in competition with each other.

Can I share references of previous clients or connect them with alumni who were my clients? This is a justified question. However, put yourself into my past client’s position. Would you like to be bombarded with frequent queries regarding how I helped them as their coach? They are not my marketing representatives! You also need to know that these people are busy professionals who have done their MBA, are leading busy professional lives and would not want their personal space trespassed every now and again. Moreover, most people want to remain anonymous and not share that they used help for their applications. There are other ways that you can find out about a coach! Try researching on LinkedIn, Facebook and other social media. More importantly, trust your own instincts. A conversation with a prospective coach will give you a good idea about his or her credibility.

Interview stage

Congratulations! You came this far! An achievement in itself, as the admissions committee members are interested enough in your profile and keen to know more about you. However, a lot depends on how you perform during this crucial 20-45 minutes. And there are a lot of variables involved which will decide your fate.

There are different modes of interviews such as on-campus interview, alumni interview and interview by an admissions committee member. Choose the one that suits your needs the best. The next step is getting prepared for the D-day. Follow these simple guidelines which will help you tremendously.

Brush up on your application — you need to revise you application thoroughly and be well versed with the different experiences you used in your essays for this particular school especially if you applied to multiple schools and by the time of the interviews, are unsure of the content of individual applications.

Research on interview experiences of past students/alumni: These days, it is easy to find interview experiences of previous candidates on relevant blogs. If possible, connect with students who have already been through the process and ask them about what they were asked. Once you have a handy list of questions most likely to be asked, start practising.

While preparing your responses to the various questions asked during the interview, it’s a great idea to seek feedback from a trusted friend or seek professional help. The idea here is to get lots of practice and become confident about what you need to say for each question prompt likely to be asked in the most interesting and engaging manner.

Be truthful. This will make you naturally confident and impress the admissions committee. This of course implies that you have been honest in your entire application too. Always try and ask a few interesting questions about the programme at the end. Not only do you display a detailed knowledge about the curriculum, extracurricular involvement activities on offer, but you also get the interviewer to share their perspective or their own experiences (if your interviewer is an alumni). This helps you strike a more personal connection which can work to your advantage.

Lastly, always thank the interviewer/s for their time once you finish and be sure to follow it up with a thank you email.

The right choice

Don’t you wish you were in this situation! Applying to multiple schools and getting an admit from more than one. This is where the preference list comes handy! The dreaded waitlist

A waitlist essentially means that you are fully qualified to attend the said programme and they like your profile enough to put you on hold. However, a waitlist can be a big blow — after all it is not a confirmed admission. The competition is fierce, so there might be applicants out there who the admissions committees can choose over you! What should you do in this scenario?

Firsly, don’t lose hope. Your case was interesting enough so they want you to be in line for a seat. You did something right, so all’s not lost. If this is your dream school, you might consider waiting it out. However, if you have an admit from another school, you might want to get yourself written off the waitlist and give the next applicant in line a chance!

What can you do in the interim? Strictly follow instructions stated by the school on their site. If they want no additional information, it means just that! If they encourage you to update them about changes in your profile or submit additional recommendations then these should be used as opportunities to strengthen your case and get a one-up on competition.

The writer is founder and master coach, Mansie Dewan Consulting — The MBA Admissions Coach and is the author of “Destination MBA: Showing you how to get there”