Planning to apply to business school this fall? Though it’ll still be a few months before applications are released, there’s plenty you can do now to get ahead of the curve and reduce your stress when crunch time approaches.

6 Months Before the Deadline

If you still need to take (or retake) the GMAT or GRE, now is a great time. Not only can you give it your undivided attention but you also give yourself wiggle room should you need to take the exam again.

If you’re lacking in certain aspects of your undergraduate profile (limited quantitative experience, poor grades in business courses), you could also use this time to ace a local or online course in finance, statistics, or accounting. It’s never to late to show the admissions committee that you can handle the academic rigors of the program.

Additionally, this is a good time to reflect upon your leadership experience. If you fall short, find or create ways to take on more responsibility. Propose improving an area of your organization that is in need. Step up to be the captain of your recrational soccer team. If your personal passions have been pushed by the wayside, reconnect with them. Volunteer at the animal shelter. Train for your first half marathon. Finally, if you have yet to see the world, step up for a work project with international travel, or plan a summer trip overseas.

5 Months Before the Deadline

Start researching school websites to identify the MBA programs that suit you best. Beyond rankings and reputation, find programs that truly meet your needs—whether you are pursuing a specialized career track, thrive in a smaller class size, or want to maximize your recruiting prospects on the west.

You can also update and polish your resume at this point. Just leave room to add 1-2 new accomplishments that you can update just before submitting your applications. (If you hadn’t planned on doing anything resume-worthy over the next 6 months, please reconsider!)

This is also a good time to identify your potential recommenders. Ideally, you want someone you’ve reported to in some capacity, who thinks extremely highly of you, and who is willing to put this in writing for you. Reach out to them now so they can mentally prepare and budget time in their schedules for you. And so you can come up with a plan B in case they decline.

3-4 Months Before the Deadline

Now that you’ve chosen your target MBA programs, follow their blogs and social media pages to get as knowledgeable as you can. Attend MBA fairs and school info sessions to gain additional insight. And, if feasible, schedule a campus visit for when class is back in session. Doing so will give you unparalleled acuity into the curriculum, campus, and culture of the school. If you can’t travel, set up a phone meeting with current students or alumni.

Once essay questions are released, now is the time to start planning your content. Start with lots of brainstorming, then mapping out your content ideas across the entire application. Don’t just dive into each essay in a vacuum, without considering how it fits into the rest of the application package.

You can also sit down with your recommenders at this point and prepare them for their tasks at hand. Prepare a packet of information for them that will make their jobs as easy as possible. Include a list of their deadlines (earlier than yours!), your resume, career goals, reasons for pursuing your MBA, personal brand, and anything you’d like them to emphasize.

1-2 Months Before the Deadline

You should be in full essay-writing mode by now, though don’t forget the other aspects of your application. Leave ample time for the data form, which contains important questions that you’ll need to answer, and sometimes a number of short answer essays. Make sure your transcripts are in order, your test reports are submitted, and you’ve completed any other requirements.

Check in regularly with your recommenders to ensure that they’re on track with your deadlines. It’s your project to manage and your deliverable to complete.

At the same time, keep working hard on your essays. Anticipate numerous drafts and even some complete overhauls. It takes an enormous amount of diligence and effort to get them to the quality worthy of a top business school. Give your essays to two people you trust for final proofreading. It’s worth every ounce of effort in the end.

[For help planning for the upcoming applications season, or for general MBA admissions advice, contact us at]

© Shine/ MBA Admissions Consulting, March 2, 2015, 10:32am MT