When to prepare your application
Earlier is better. It’s understandable if you don’t know exactly what you’ll be doing in a year or two. But even if you’re only half-considering more study, you can take steps to make life easier for yourself and create genuine options later down the line.
Cash: The ‘Finances’ page of most school websites doesn’t make for pleasant reading. Between fees, accommodation, flights, food, etc. you can easily spend $150k+ over two years. Not to mention foregone salary. Most schools offer loans and scholarships, but nothing is guaranteed. The sensible thing to do is build up a pot of savings over time.
In practice, you may not be planning 2-3 years ahead; I certainly wasn’t. In that case, saving for the MBA is secondary to the general principle of precautionary saving, i.e. putting away money to cover expenses we may not even expect – something that everyone with a job should try to do.
The way you fund the course can have an impact on how you think about careers once you’ve started. To some, a loan is neither here nor there. Like a pile of random magazines piled in a corner, it is something to be dealt with at some point; but certainly not something to stress about. To others, the pile may as well be in the centre of the room. It’s a load that’s always front-of-mind.
Those in the latter category will place significantly more emphasis on cash compensation when thinking about job opportunities, which isn’t necessarily optimal over the long term. But whatever your attitude towards debt, the practicalities of a loan makes certain options like entrepreneurship, very challenging.
Don’t fear the loan. This is a long term game. That said, stash away cash while you can – whether you anticipate starting school in two years or twenty years.
GMAT, Essays, etc: Several elements of the application process rely on other people. Even though your application essays are fundamentally under your control, you’ll probably want an external opinion from family and friends. Similarly, your recommendations are heavily reliant on the availability of busy colleagues. When multiplied across all the schools you’re applying to, this level of external involvement can easily skewer the tidy timetable you’ve drawn up.
The application may be the most important thing in the world to you, but you can’t expect others to give it the same prominence on their to-do list. It’s nothing personal; just the reality of people having multiple commitments. And there’s nothing worse than asking someone for a favour, then pressuring them to do it ASAP. So build some slack into your timetable. Give yourself time to get things done properly. And with a long enough timetable, you can give friends, family and colleagues reminders without being pushy.
It’s not the end of the world if you’re a little rushed and compromise on certain aspects of the application. Perhaps you don’t have time to give your recommenders all the ammo they need to write something compelling. Perhaps you’d like to re-take the GMAT, but school application deadlines are actually next week.
You can always re-apply next year if things don’t go well….
True. You can apply next year. But in the interests of minimising effort over the long term, it’s better to take things seriously on day one. Reapplying means justifying yourself to the same schools all over again, hassling the same people for recommendations and paying more application fees. And who knows whether you’ll still be interested in a year. Things change.
It’s rare for anyone to regret planning important matters ‘too early’. Starting early on finances and on the other elements of the application, gives you much needed flexibility.