Why do MBA applications take so long to complete?

Top Business schools attract top candidates. Since demand is significantly greater than the supply of seats, MBA programs can afford to be choosy. The application process usually starts with a screening process based on GMAT scores, followed by essays and interviews. The candidates who stand out across all three phases get in. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? This shouldn’t take too long to get everything ready, right?

That is a common mistake made by most applicants, who are shocked by just how complicated the application process really is. And just how long it takes to get everything just right. There will always be odd cases of applicants getting through with the bare minimum of effort. But for the majority of applicants, getting an MBA application in decent shape requires a significant commitment of time and effort.

Assuming that your GMAT (or GRE) score is good enough to get into your target schools, you should start working on the application right away. The application package consists of a CV, application forms, essays, and recommendation letters. Essays get the most attention, but the other elements are equally as important. Without an impressive CV, your application risks stalling at the first screening itself. Without strong recommendation letters, the admissions committee cannot independently verify the claims you make in your essays. And then there are the essays themselves. In our experience, candidates should budget at least 8 to 12 weeks of intense preparation dedicated to the application package.

Most business schools start accepting applications well in advance before the term begins. While some schools, notably in Europe, have monthly rolling deadlines, most business schools have just a handful of admission rounds. Getting the application in early has several advantages – you have a better chance of getting in and get sufficient time to arrange funds or apply for scholarships.

However, many applicants make the mistake of rushing to meet deadlines with an under-cooked application. It is better to only apply once you are satisfied with the quality of your package. No matter how long it takes to prepare. Some gifted applicants might get everything done in a matter of days. But for most applicants, this quality control process can last a few months. And this needs to be considered when constructing your MBA application timeline.

MBA essays are notoriously tricky to write. They are meant to challenge you and draw out your authentic story. But this is not a personal blog post where you can simply start putting pen to paper. Without a clear strategy, you will end up with an incoherent copy that will not get you anywhere. Essays have prompts, and they sometimes pose specific questions that must be answered clearly. Not to mention the word count, of course!

The brainstorming stage is often the most critical and the most difficult. Choosing which stories to write and which ones to omit is a crucial decision that needs to be made early. Brainstorming on your own can be rather difficult for most. It is much better to have intense brainstorming sessions with friends, partners, family, or even MBA admissions consultants to get a good outline of your story. However, including additional people in your process mean you need to work according to their schedules. Which adds days or even weeks to your timeline.

As an applicant, even if you somehow make the deadline by burning the proverbial midnight oil, you are not in full control of your application. Most business schools need two letters of recommendation from people who have supervised you in a professional context – ideally, either direct line managers (or N+1 managers). These are busy people with multiple demands on their time. Writing a recommendation letter for you is not going to be at the top of their priorities. Candidates need to factor in the constraints of their recommenders. Especially in Post-COVID times, when you may not even be able to meet them in person. Applicants need to get started on this early. Otherwise, they risk missing the deadlines or submitting a hastily written recommendation.

After Brainstorming, it is time to begin writing. This process takes the longest and is arguably the most painful part of the application. The first drafts are usually not up to scratch and need at least three or four iterations to get everything right. Not to mention the spell-check, word count check, etc.

Most applicants prepare their applications while working full-time jobs. As an applicant, you want to fully dedicate yourself to this process. But you are also working a demanding full-time job, which means your preparation is limited to after-work hours or weekends. Life happens. And this is understandable. However, it is necessary to recognize your limits and adjust your deadlines accordingly.

In summary, not including time spent for GMAT preparation, how long it takes you to complete the MBA application package depends on the following:

  • Deadlines
  • Your motivation
  • Your ability to find time to work on the deliverables
  • Your ability to write essays that tell compelling personal stories

For help with your MBA application package, contact MBA-Goals for a free strategy call with our consultant to assess your candidacy and receive a personalized action plan.

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