Applying in Round 1? Start This Part of the MBA Application Process Now

by Vantage Point MBA, Jan 19, 2023

VPWharton

There’s something about a new year, the promise of what’s to come and the thrill of possibility, that has our whole team feeling excited about 2023! The new year is also when we see a major shift in the conversations we’re having with you all – from “help me put finishing touches on my round 2 applications” to “what can I be doing now to ensure my applications are the best they can possibly be for round 1 this fall?”.

We love this question and, in today’s article, we’re going to provide you a very thorough answer. There are a few things you can do now (take the GMAT/GRE, amp up extracurricular involvement, etc.), but one of the most important things that we absolutely recommend you begin ASAP is networking. Networking is such an important part of the MBA application process, and we find that it’s often overlooked or put off until the last minute.

When to Get Started Networking
It’s understandable, but we often find that people think networking should come after they solidify the list of schools to which they plan to apply. Yes, it’s absolutely true that you should network with all of your target schools, but we would argue that networking is incredibly useful when done before you solidify your list. In other words, use networking to help decide which programs are the best fit for you and your goals.

Maybe you’ll talk to a program representative and find out that the school is absolutely not your style – that’s not wasted effort! Wasted effort would be putting in the work to apply somewhere you wouldn’t be happy going. Deciding where to apply is so much more than looking down the rankings and blindly picking the top five or six schools that are reasonably realistic given your test scores, GPA, etc. And schools sound incredibly similar if you just look at their websites – hence why it is so important to talk to them (their adcom reps, current students, alums) live and individually.

How to Get Started Networking
There are a number of ways you can get started networking. Particularly if you are at the beginning stages of your school research process, we love the idea of attending MBA fairs like those hosted by QS or Poets & Quants. MBA fairs allow you to hear from and network with a number of programs at one time and some even offer one-on-one meetings with school representatives. We also love those that are held in person because there really is no substitute for face-to-face interaction. Many of these events take place in January-March so don’t wait too long to check them out.

Another great first step in your networking journey is to attend virtual admissions events for schools that are in your broad consideration set. Come prepared with a good question or two that is tailored to your focus area (and not readily available on the school’s website) and compare how various programs respond. These sessions are often more informative than people expect and the lift to attend is low.

Next Steps on Your Networking Journey
Once you’ve begun solidifying your target list – maybe you really like seven programs and plan to apply to five of those when all is said and done – consider ramping up your networking even more.

There are a few ways you can do this. You can schedule coffee or phone chats with people in your network (coworkers, friends, family members, etc.) who went to the schools you are considering or even just to business school in general. If your network is light in this regard (mine was!), many schools have ‘ambassador’ programs, where they’ll connect you with a current student for a brief phone chat. These programs are often listed on schools’ admissions websites, or you can give them a call to get started. Don’t be intimidated – these conversations can be SO beneficial.

Another option is to reach out to student leaders of clubs that align with your interests from a career standpoint, on an affinity basis (i.e., Veterans club, Asian business association), or because of a hobby (i.e., the ski club). Email addresses for club leaders are often listed on club websites or the admissions office may be willing to connect you. This type of targeted outreach can be a great way to connect with students whose experience on campus may be a rough proxy for your own.

Lastly, the spring is a great time to schedule campus visits (woohoo, they’re finally back post-COVID!). Classes are in session so you can often observe and even have lunch with current students. Many people wait until the summer when campus is empty or try to cram visits in at the last minute in the fall (these fill up super quickly!) – we urge you not to wait. There truly is no better way to the get the vibe of a program and determine if it is a place you’d be happy spending two years.

If you’re ready to begin the MBA application process, we’d love the opportunity to help! Reach out to request an initial consultation.