Hopefully by now you’ve at least created an account in one or more of your target schools’ applications and taken a look through.
If you have not done so yet, STOP.
Click off this site.
Then go through it, page by page.
We don’t suggest actually starting to fill it out. Not yet. Instead, familiarize yourself with the full extent of what they’re asking. This is a great way to get oriented into the entire process and figure out what the schools look at. Every single datapoint that they ask about in the online application is important — else they wouldn’t ask for it! There are some fields that are optional and it’s up to you if you choose to include that data. This includes stuff like gender identity and how did you learn about this school and other non-core pieces. Typically we suggest entering every single item that they ask for, but we can appreciate that there may be situations where a certain tidbit should justifiably be omitted.
However, you’re not entering any of those tidbits at this stage, for two reasons:
1. If you start entering the data in a slapdash way the first time you’re in the system, then you are undoubtedly going to mess something up. Either you’ll enter in the data that you think is right, such as your start date at your current job, or your HR job title, or any number of things that you assume you already know. But it turns out to be wrong, and once the field is filled, it’s quite common for people to never go back and look at it again. Or, you’ll knowingly enter data that’s incomplete, just as a placeholder, and then you’ll forget to come back and fix it later on. Both of which would be real bummers if you submit your app with gaps and holes. It may sound obvious to say that but it happens all the time, so that’s why we’re trying to warn you about certain ways you can make things harder. Don’t enter your data until you’re tackling that task intentionally, with a significant chunk of time available to you to focus uninterruptedly, and to concentrate, and all the documents or reference materials you need available to enter it accurately, in one shot.
2. The purpose of the app review that we’re suggesting is not to do anything with the app. It’s to understand what the schools care about and get a tangible sense of the entirety of a “profile” in the context of MBA admissions. When schools say they do a holistic review, they mean “we look at everything you tell us” which obviously means they look at the stuff you submit in the app. When you understand what is within scope of this “holistic review” then it gives you more of a chance to optimize the entirety of your presentation. (We talk more about this whole “holistic review” thing here.)
Instead, take notes on what they’re asking for — including details. Especially if you’re a reapplicant! For example, many schools require reapplicants to submit only one recommendation, and some (e.g., Columbia) require that it be from someone new, who didn’t write for you last time. Other schools don’t care who you pick. (Pro Tip: If re-using a recommender from last year, make sure he or she knows not to re-use the recommendation!!! The letters of recommendation need to be fresh and new for a reapplication.) These details are often only revealed in the actual application.
In addition, many schools aren’t so great about keeping their websites up to date. We frequently see schools post one set of requirements on their website or use a particular phrasing in an essay prompt — or, as recently happened with Wharton, one word count for an essay (400 words for Essay 2). Then in the online app, there are subtle or not-so-subtle differences (Wharton’s essay 2 this year allows 500 words, but their website was only updated with this information last week). The online application is the final say (except in the case when it’s not! argh! such as happened with Booth earlier this season).
We’ve even seen BSers build out complicated spreadsheets tracking all of these items, though frankly, that seems like an exceptionally awesome way to totally procrastinate on doing any actual work on actual applications.
This pre-review step is also critically important for, say, the HBS essay. The Harvard essay question is basically saying, “Talk to us about stuff we didn’t ask you to talk about.” There’s many ways you can approach that, but fundamental to it is understanding what else they’re asking for, so you can get a sense of what content would be new. (We have an entire MBA admissions guide for Harvard Business School which goes into much greater detail on what to do with that challenging question, in case you want some significantly more detailed guidance!)
There are many commonalities among schools’ online applications but there’s also striking differences as well. Some are really long and involved. Some ask questions that may surprise you, or that you are unsure on what to do with. Some may require research or investigation.
We have additional tips and advice on maximizing the online application dataset in the ‘snarchive so don’t overlook those, and if you have a question on a specific school’s question on the app, hit us up in the comments, we’d be happy to offer some input on what they are asking for and how to deal with it.
If you're applying to bschool in Round 1, a great task to complete today is to go through at least one online app form in its entirety. Get familiar with what the schools are asking. It's an excellent way to get your feet wet in this daunting process!
— Essay Snark (@EssaySnark) July 29, 2018
We tweet tips like this sometimes!
The twittersnark will be more focused on essay strategies and specific school advice as we move towards Round 1.
And finally, a blatant upsell: If our comments about letters of recommendation for reapplicants got you worried about who you’re choosing and what they’re gonna say, our Letters of Recommendation App Accelerator is the perfect solution!