The process of applying to business school can be very time-consuming. It may feel overwhelming and add to an already busy schedule. You need to have a clear MBA preparation timeline to tackle each aspect of the application process, from writing essays to performing well on the GMAT. The following is a general guide for the MBA admissions season and provides suggestions for what to do at each stage to prepare for your desired program’s deadlines.

Begin with the end in mind

Before diving into the preparation process, start by setting your goals and aspirations. What motivates you to earn an MBA? Is it to advance your career, enhance your knowledge, or make a career change? Be clear about your reasons, as they will affect your approach to the application process and the program itself. For example, if your primary goal is to pivot into a new industry, you may focus more on networking and gaining specialized skills, while if your goal is to earn a promotion in your current company, you may prioritize leadership and interpersonal skills.

The summer before the application cycle begins.

The earlier you start, the better. Even if you haven’t decided on where to apply, you get your MBA preparation timeline in motion by researching business schools and their admission requirements. This will give you an idea of what to expect and help you prepare for the application process. You can also start studying for the GMAT or GRE, which is a critical part of your application. Allow yourself at least 3 – 6 months to prepare for the exam.

Tame the GMAT 

Most MBA programs require applicants to take the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) or the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). These standardized tests measure your quantitative, verbal, and analytical skills and are an important factor in the admissions decision.

To ensure that your GMAT scores are received in time for your program’s application deadline, it is recommended that you take the test at least two months before. However, if you plan to apply in round 1, it is best to take the GMAT during the summer before the application cycle. This will give you time to figure out which schools are suitable based on your scores. Remember to allow yourself enough time to retest if necessary.

Glasses, camera, calendar, glass of water are all potential elements of a carefully crafter MBA application timeline

Research your target schools

Once you have a clear vision of your goals, research the MBA programs that align with them. Look for schools that match your career interests, values, and learning style. Consider factors such as location, program length, curriculum, class size, faculty, alumni network, and reputation. Attending MBA fairs is also a great way to do your research and compare programs together.

Participate in admissions events

Any serious MBA preparation timeline should include a visit to the campus. Visiting the campus can provide you with much more information about a program than what is available on its website. During the visit, contact the admissions office to find out if you can attend classes, meet other students, or speak with an admissions representative about the program.

Attending admissions events is an important part of the MBA application process. At admissions events, you can connect with current students and alumni to gain valuable insight into the program and ask questions that are important in making an informed decision about a school. Additionally, admissions events provide an opportunity to demonstrate your interest in the program which can be especially helpful if you are applying from a distance. Most importantly, attending admissions events can provide you with an opportunity to build relationships with faculty and staff members who could be a valuable source of insight and support throughout the application process.

Identify recommenders

Generally, MBA programs mandate that applicants provide 2-3 recommendation letters from individuals who have knowledge of their work. The recommenders are usually immediate supervisors, but there is typically an option to use a recommender from previous workplaces, educational institutions, volunteer work, or clients for whom the applicant has done exceptional work.

During summer, choose people who can write you a good recommendation and reach out to them to ask if they would be willing to provide a “strong letter of recommendation.” If they don’t seem enthusiastic about it, thank them and reach out to someone else instead. It’s better to face a small rejection than end up with a weak letter, which could harm your chances of being admitted.

Red notebook and calendar for the month of january 2021

Polish your resume

Your resume and essays will play a crucial role in the MBA application process. They showcase your achievements, goals, and aspirations as a candidate. Therefore, you must spend time polishing your resume. Use concrete examples to demonstrate your achievements and make sure your essays are well-written and concise.

Your resume is a crucial part of every MBA application, as it is the only uniform aspect across all programs. Even though your essay topics may vary, your resume is a key factor that will shape your applications. It’s important to begin preparing your resume early so that you can dedicate your attention to the applications later on.

Application Season

Get organized

To prepare for the approaching deadlines, it is important to tailor your MBA preparation timeline to your choice of programs. First, choose your top three preferred programs as well as three to five backup options. Many people choose to apply to the top three in the first round and save the backup options for later rounds. Create a to-do list with the essay prompts of your top-choice schools and begin working on your responses.

Create your account in online portals

Creating your account on the online portal early in the application process is a great way to stay organized and informed throughout the process. It will allow you to keep track of deadlines, upload documents, and find out if there is any additional information or essays needed that might not be included on the program’s website (and believe us, it happens often!) Once logged in, you should familiarize yourself with the features of the portal so that you can get the most out of it during your application cycle. You should also make sure to complete all required fields accurately and on time. Doing so can be quite time-consuming…and slightly boring, so it’s always a great way to start early!

Calendar open at the page for the month of May


The MBA application typically requires a “career goals essay” along with several shorter essays which may include leadership essays, teamwork essays, and short-answer questions. To increase the chances of success, it is advised to start working on the essay early and customize them for each program. First, complete the resume and goals essay, and then proceed to work on the shorter essays that are specific to the preferred schools.

Contact your recommenders and secure your letters of recommendation

When it comes to securing great letters of recommendation for MBA applications, the best approach is to establish a protocol. Before asking for a letter of recommendation, you should meet with potential recommenders to discuss your goals and explain why you’re a strong candidate for the MBA program. Make sure to have a list of talking points that you can refer to during the discussion so they get an accurate picture of who you are. You should also share your resume and provide them with a draft of the letter you’d like them to write. This will provide guidance on what needs to be included in the letter. After asking for a letter of recommendation, you should provide them with regular updates about your application process and keep them informed of any developments. This will emphasize the importance of their letter and show your appreciation for their help.

Financial Planning and Scholarships

The cost of an MBA program can often be a significant financial burden for MBA candidates. Any serious MBA preparation timeline should include some time to start looking for financing options like loans or scholarships to help reduce the overall cost. Research the scholarships available to your target schools, and be sure to submit your application as early as possible. Scholarships can be very competitive, so the earlier you apply, the better your chances of receiving them. You should also work out the financial impact of pursuing an MBA, including the cost of tuition, textbooks, and living expenses.

Send Your Applications

To submit your application, gather all necessary materials such as transcripts and recommendations, and ensure they are in order. Then, click the send button.

Interview Prep

Programs typically offer interviews to select applicants based on their applications. If you are chosen, you will be part of the 20-40% of applicants who receive interview invitations. The interview is the last step before being admitted to your preferred school. Once you have completed the interview, all that remains is to wait for a response. If you receive rejections for your Round 1 applications, don’t worry. You can apply to lower-ranked programs for their second and third-round deadlines using the same process.

An MBA application timeline requires a lot of planning

Plan your transition to the MBA program

Congratulations! You have been accepted to your dream MBA program. Now it’s time to plan your transition to the program and prepare for the academic and social challenges ahead. Some tips to consider include attending orientation events, networking with your fellow classmates and alumni, setting academic and personal goals, exploring the campus and surrounding area, and engaging with extracurricular activities and clubs. Remember to maintain a work-life balance and take care of your physical and mental health!

For Last-minute MBA applicants

We highly recommend starting early when preparing for your MBA applications. However, if you’re a working professional, you may not have much time on your hands. If it is fall as you are reading this, and you’ve just decided to apply to business schools, you can still make the most of your limited time by condensing the application steps into a manageable timeline. We suggest aiming for round two, which typically occurs in January.

Prioritize the following tasks in the given order

  1. Start networking ASAP: whatever you have heard, you NEED to be seen (attend events, contact students, and build relationships)
  2. Contact recommenders and secure letters by the end of October
  3. Complete the Resume by the end of October
  4. Take the GMAT and achieve a satisfactory score before the first week of December
  5. Finish writing the Career Goals Essay by mid-December
  6. Complete writing the Program-specific Essays before the New Year.


You now have a better understanding of the elements that should be included in your MBA preparation timeline and what you should be doing to nail the application process. From researching programs, creating a timeline to having a clear understanding of the components of your application, you are surely closer to your desired program admission. Don’t forget to make sure that each part and detail of your completed application is absolutely perfect: this is where getting professional advice from experienced professionals can be extremely helpful. If you need some extra help with your MBA application don’t hesitate to check out our MBA application services which will provide you with enhanced guidance throughout the whole process. All that’s left to do is put in the hard work and dedication necessary for acceptance and good luck on this journey into an MBA program! Got questions about the application process, or would like to get a quick profile assessment? Sign up for a consultation. It’s FREE!

With a Master’s from McGill University and a Ph.D. from New York University, Dr. Philippe Barr is the founder of The Admit Lab. As a tenure-track professor, Dr. Barr spent a decade teaching and serving on several graduate admission committees at UNC-Chapel Hill before turning to full-time consulting. With more than seven years of experience as a graduate school admissions consultant, Dr. Barr has stewarded the candidate journey across multiple master’s and Ph.D. programs and helped hundreds of students get admitted to top-tier graduate programs all over the world.

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