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  • Writer's pictureSam

My MBA Application Timeline: An 8-10 Week Guide

Updated: Feb 1

Getting started with your MBA applications? Want to understand how long and intense this process will be and the time commitment it demands? Here’s your answer.

At SWC, we like to take 8-10 weeks to build your MBA applications for three business schools. In this period, you would meet your Consultant two to three times per week over Zoom to work on your application narrative, essays, resume and recommendations. Between each meeting there will be some homework for you and your consultant, which helps to keep the process moving.

Of course, it is possible to do applications faster than that, but we don’t recommend it. Our 8-10 week timeline comes from experience. It ensures you have enough time to reflect and be thoughtful, and removes the element of panic which can hinder your thinking.

It’s worth noting that as well as our school packages, we offer hourly packages for applicants that want targeted help with one particular aspect of the application process. For example, maybe you’ve already done the brainstorming and mapping phases of the applications, and you want to jump directly into the editing process.

Now, let’s break down that timeline into specific stages.

Before Starting: GMAT or GRE

Applying for MBA programs is an intense exercise, we recommend you get your GMAT out of the way first.

That’s because GMAT/GRE and applications require a tremendous amount of work and rigor. If you’re trying to study for a competitive exam we don’t think you will be able to focus on your MBA applications properly.

Some applicants study for the GMAT while working on their MBA applications, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. We usually find clients can only successfully do 2 of the following simultaneously:


  • MBA applications

  • Full time work

For the GMAT or GRE, a good rule of thumb is to allow three months to hit your target score. So, ideally take the test in June before you get started with your Round 1 MBA applications.

Once the score is locked in, start your business school research and decide on your target schools.

If you’re finding it hard to prepare for GMAT on your own and need personalized guidance to get a better score, consider taking a few private tutoring sessions with Rowan Hand.

The MBA Application Timeline

Weeks 1-2: Introspection

Before diving into the essays, take some time to reflect on your past. Think about the four different stages of your life - upbringing, undergrad, previous work experiences and current work experience. Write down impactful stories from these periods. These could include stories about your achievements, leadership, communication, passion and so on.

We recommend using the SCAR format to write these stories:

  • Situation: Start by describing what happened in a particular situation, including any relevant points that you’ll refer to later. Skip unnecessary details that might distract the reader.

  • Challenge: Next, discuss the challenge you had to overcome, the goal you were working towards, or the task you had to deliver. This task should be aligned with the question you’re asked. For example, if you’re asked “How do you manage stress?”, the task would be prioritization for multiple deadlines or multitasking.

  • Action: Then, describe the steps you took to address the situation. This is your chance to demonstrate your character traits, the skills you applied, and your attitude to a particular type of problem.

  • Result: Now, describe the outcome you achieved. You should quantify or qualify the results, so it’s clear how you turned the situation around. Don’t feel shy about taking credit for the hard work you put in!

Now, think about your motivation. Ask yourself a few simple questions and try to clearly articulate the answers.

First, really consider why you’re planning to do an MBA.

  • Why is now the right time to do an MBA?

  • How will an MBA help you achieve your personal goals?

  • How will an MBA help you achieve your professional goals in the next five to ten years?

  • Why have you chosen your target schools?

Write these things down. A great trick is to set a timer and free-write about these topics for ten minutes per question. Remember, there are no wrong answers at this stage. You’re just writing what comes to mind.

Through this process, you’ll learn more about yourself and your motivations. The stories you’ve written here will help immensely when you’re crafting your essays.

Week 3: Analysis

Once you’ve written your stories, it’s time to do some analysis. See if any common themes emerge. Are some patterns or traits repeating themselves through the different phases of your life? Try to identify leadership traits such as building trust, empathy, mentorship, time management, conflict resolution, moral compass, taking ownership, stress management, handling budget, multitasking, etc.

Once you’ve got the stories written out, add the analysis and what you learnt from that challenge. So, for example, if you couldn’t manage deadlines of multiple projects simultaneously leading you to pull all-nighters every so often, then, the analysis would be how you learnt to multitask and use tools like Notion to manage your time efficiently. And the learning would be how you approached similar projects in the future.

Now that your stories and narrative are starting to become clear, it’s a good time to update your CV (make sure those leadership traits are clear), your recommenders (make sure they’re highlighting the same traits).

Week 4: Fit Narrative To Goals

Your core narrative is starting to take shape, which is crucial for a successful MBA application. Now let’s connect these with your short and long term goals.

Start by defining your professional purpose: A mission that you’re hoping your MBA will help you to achieve.

With this professional purpose in mind, outline your career goals: short-term and long term goals.

Your short term goal should be ambitious yet achievable. A role that demands an MBA to make the transition. Your goals should be realistic, so you should be looking to change a maximum of 2 of: geography, industry or business function.

Next, consider your longer term goal. What role do you hope to have before you retire? Again, this should be consistent with your narrative and your professional purpose.

Finally, think about how your goals connect with the business school and its own mission. Dive deep into the curriculum, specialization, faculty, research opportunities, clubs and societies to see what the school offers.

- How exactly will the school support you in your growth and transition?

- Be specific and avoid generic content that could be applicable to any school.

- As well as understanding what you’ll take from the school, consider you’d contribute. This could be through classroom discussions on topics you know better than most, projects, extracurriculars or even supporting your classmates in their career transition.

Now it’s time to put this material into essays.

Week 5: Map the Content

First, sign in to the school’s application portals and check the questions. Make a list of all the application questions you need to answer.

Next, start mapping your stories to essay questions by connecting your stories and analysis to the questions. For each school’s essays, try to balance:

  • Professional vs. personal essay topics

  • Several different traits

For example, Kellogg ask questions about Leadership and Values. In one essay you’ll write a professional story, the other you’ll write a personal story. In one you’ll write about leadership and teamwork, in the other you’ll write about grit and determination.

Kellogg Essay 1: Kellogg’s purpose is to educate, equip & inspire brave leaders who create lasting value. Provide a recent example where you have demonstrated leadership and created value. What challenges did you face, and what did you learn? (450 words)

Professional story.

Traits shown:

  • Leadership - Candidates with leadership as a key trait may use this question to examine the leadership of the manager they were working for at the time. What was it about their leadership style which drove you to pull an all-nighter?

  • Team player - You took on this responsibility and pulled an all-nighter because your team was relying on you to complete the work. What other strengths does this story demonstrate?

Kellogg Essay 2: Values are what guide you in your life and work. What values are important to you, and how have they influenced you? (450 words)

Personal story.

Traits shown:

  • Grit/determination - Tell this story to demonstrate ‘grit/determination’. Describe your mindset and priorities at the time.

  • Creativity - Your client presentation was successful and you could argue that a key reason for this success was the innovative and unusual solution you offered to the client.

  • Strength (technical) - By touching on the quality of the financial modeling required for this project, you could analyse a technical strength which you would bring into corporate finance and accounting classes.

Week 6: Develop an essay Framework

A simple essay structure to start you off is this two part structure: Story + Analysis.

As a rough guide, the two parts should be about the same length. This forces you to keep the story brief and the analysis deep. This is very deliberate; the admissions committee is looking for self-analysis.

If you’re evaluating multiple traits, you may want to break the analysis into two parts and analyse both of the traits in the second half of the essay.

Do this for each essay for each school. As a guide, it’s normal for the first school to take longer - don’t worry. Nhe next set of schools will get easier as you can lift content from your previous application and adjust it for other schools.

Weeks 7-9: Draft, Complete, Repeat

As you begin transforming your stories and analysis into essays, we tell clients that the first draft should be about 50% over the word limit. This way you have enough space to make your point, but a manageable number of words to cut out.

Check out our blog on essay writing for great tips on reducing word counts. If you’re still struggling to pick out what to keep and what to omit, you might benefit from hiring a consultant.

Once your essay fits the word limit, reach out to your network for an external review. Ask someone you trust to look at the essay objectively as if they don’t know you and to check the essays are:

  • Clear and concise

  • Easily comprehensible

  • Jargon free and layman proof

  • Grammatically sound

  • Coherent with your story and entire application

  • Bring a unique personality and perspective

Ask them to share constructive feedback with you so that you can make improvements.

Essay feedback is one aspect that Admissions Consultants do best, so feel free to connect with us for a free chat.

Week 10: Allow Time Before the Deadline

We always advise clients to give themselves at least a 1 week cushion before submitting the application. Understand that the admissions committee for all schools (not just the ones with official rolling deadlines) will already be looking at submissions as they come through. By beating the rush you demonstrate organization and commitment to the school. Think about the number of applications that are coming in at the very last moment, particularly on the last day. Do you really want to be part of that massive pile? Or manage the stress of servers going down or the portal breaking down because of the rush hour?

Of course not. Beat the app deadline dogpile.

Tip: Give Recommenders a "Fake" Deadline

Speaking of deadlines, once you know who’s willing to write your recommendations, make sure that you give them a “fake” deadline that’s about two weeks in advance of the actual deadline. Pretty much to a person, recommenders will write the recommendation letter the day before it’s due.

In short, there’s no reason for you to be biting your nails worrying whether yours will come through. Their last-minute concerns do not need to add to your worry list.

After you’ve hit “Submit”, you may have Kira Talent video interviews. If you’re in luck, you’ll also have interviews. Some schools ask for additional essays ahead of interviews. Access our resource library to learn more about:

Want to know how we can help you work your applications better? Book a free chat now.


About Us

Sam Weeks Consulting (profile).JPG

Hi, I'm Sam.  I'm the founder of Sam Weeks Consulting. Our clients get admitted to top MBA and EMBA programs.

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