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Career Advice

The Busy Worker’s Guide to Applying to MBA Programs

You already know that earning a degree – bachelor’s, master’s, whatever – will hopefully take you amazing places in your career. You probably already know that MBA degrees specifically are designed to help those eager for careers in business accelerate their success, reaching higher-level management positions faster than they might through brute force in the workplace. Indeed, nearly 40 percent of the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies have MBAs as do billionaires Michael Bloomberg, Phil Knight and Ray Dalio.

Still, if you are striving to be the best employee you can be, you might be hesitant to put your career on pause to enroll in B-school. After all, in the US, a full-time MBA program requires two years of study, and that’s after you make time for studying for the GMAT, completing school applications and visiting campuses and interviewing with admissions staff. It seems like a full-time job to apply for MBA programs!

What if we told you that in the US, you can apply to B-school without quitting your day job? What if we told you that you can even attend your MBA program while maintaining full-time employment? Here’s how.

Talk to Your Employer

It’s natural to be nervous that your employer won’t be psyched about your interest in adding responsibility to your life. Indeed, an MBA program won’t reduce your stress or increase your free time by any means. Your education aspirations could very well impact your performance at work.

Still, employers have much to gain from their existing employees’ professional development. First, they stand to gain employees with enhanced skills and knowledge, which will benefit their business. Secondly, by working with your academic schedule, they can avoid refilling your position, which is a costly and time-consuming endeavor.

Thus, as soon as you resolve to apply to MBA programs, you should talk to your employer about it. Likely, they will not only support your goals; they will probably offer to help you pay for your advanced education.

Skip the GMAT

The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is an exam most B-school students are required to take before applying – but you might be able to skip it. Studying for the GMAT requires months as well as thousands of dollars in course and materials fees, and busy workers simply don’t have those resources to waste. Fortunately, most business schools offer a GMAT waiver to MBA applicants who have a certain amount of work experience under their belt. You should look into this opportunity at your top-choice programs, so you can avoid stressing over this mostly meaningless test.

Research Programs

Not all MBA programs are identical; in fact, you would be hard-pressed to find two that are even similar. A program is affected by its professors, its credit requirements, its format, its location, its student resources and its student body. Therefore, you should research these elements at programs you are interested in.

You can start by reading the copy on program webpages, but you shouldn’t stop there. Peruse review websites, contact professors, current students and alums, and try to organize a tour of the campus, if the program is traditional. You don’t want to put all your MBA eggs in one program’s basket, so at the end of this process, you should have a handful of schools you are willing to attend.

Make a Schedule for Applications

Even if you can skip the GMAT, applications take time and energy to complete correctly. Thus, as you would with any major project, you need to make a schedule. You should start by looking up when your applications are due to each school. Likely, you will find three due dates – one for each round of applications. Ideally, you should have your application in by the first or second round; the third round is only for last-ditch efforts at gaining acceptance.

Then, you should give yourself due dates for each element of each application. For example, you should have a due date for refining your CV, a date for asking for and receiving recommendation letters, a date for writing your personal statement’s first, second and final drafts, etc. You will likely find yourself staying on-task better when you have a strict calendar to obey.

Know Who You Are

Finally, you can’t apply to MBA programs effectively until you know who you are and what you want. Specifically, you should understand exactly what you hope to gain from your MBA experience: a larger and more powerful network? Enhanced business administration skills? An enviable credential? You should know how this will impact your career after graduation and why it matters to you. By meditating on these issues before you apply, you will have a more emotional (and thus more persuasive) application.

If you hardly have your work and life balanced, you might balk at the idea of throwing school into the mix. However, returning to earn an MBA is a critical step for any ambitious business professional, and fitting applications into your busy schedule is good practice for working and attending classes full-time. With these tips, you should gain a few time management skills that will see you through admittance, education and beyond.


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