Managing Deadline Pressure

by on October 4th, 2009

A few weeks ago, we speculated that application volume might fall this year. Nonetheless, application volume will still be near its highs at most top-schools, so many candidates are no doubt feeling added pressure as the first-round deadlines loom.  We have a few simple suggestions that we hope will enable you to minimize your anxieties and possibly even let go of your applications on deadline days.

At mbaMission, our modus operandi is to help candidates hold mirrors up to themselves and see who they are and how to best represent themselves. So, it should come as no surprise that we recommend that once you have completed each application, you show your work to an individual or two you trust (even if this person is not a professional consultant). However, if you do so, we strongly suggest that you limit the number of people you ask. You will discover that because the application process is so subjective, as you add readers, you will also add new and different opinions. Soon, a multitude of alternatives and interesting critiques will appear, and while these ideas will not necessarily be “right” or “wrong”—as a single candidate’s stories can be marketed in countless ways —they will create unnecessary uncertainty. So, we are not suggesting that you ignore critical feedback, but rather that you not complicate your final days and create doubt where it may not be due. If one or two readers support your ideas and confirm that your application needs minimal work, you are probably best off ending your feedback loop there and clicking “submit.”

As candidates race to meet deadlines, many will say that they wish they had completed the small details of the applications in advance, so that they could spend their final moments polishing their essays or maybe even decompressing. Indeed, realizing at the last moment that you need to go through dozens of online forms and fill in addresses, phone numbers, parents’ professional histories, academic information and more can be quite stressful  Thus, we suggest that you take some time now to get these details out of the way. By completing these forms early on, you will not only remove a source of deadline anxiety, but you will also ensure that your entire application meets your highest quality standards and has the greatest impact on the MBA Admissions Committee. Further, if you take the time now, you can actually make sure that these short-answer responses strengthen your candidacy. For example, many of the schools ask for thorough work histories, including accomplishments, responsibilities, setbacks and reasons for moving on. These sections are every bit as important as your resume and should be carefully addressed to maximize impact!

Of course, completing your essays and short answer responses is under your control, but recommendations are often stressful, because you must depend on someone else’s goodwill to guarantee that they are completed and submitted on time. In our opinion, the easiest way to ensure that your recommenders get their job done is to present them with your own deadline. If the application to your school of choice is due on October 15th, for example, tell your recommenders that you are submitting on the 10th. (Incidentally, submitting your application early can be good for your sanity as well.) By setting this advanced deadline, you can add some pressure on your recommender on the 10th (if he or she misses the faux deadline) and not be forced to deal with a major problem, if this were to have happened on the actual deadline day.

Finally, we strongly recommend that you not fret about the smallest of details. Candidates do not get rejected for exceeding the word count by one word, choosing to use a Calibri font instead of a Times New Roman font or stating their GPAs to the second decimal place instead of the third. Remember, the Admissions Officers are not mean-spirited people, just searching for reasons to reject you. So, if you have a small lingering question about the application itself, you can connect with the Admissions Office and ask someone there. Most often, they will tell you to use your judgment. As long as your broad story is compelling, the smallest of details should yield to your overarching themes.

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