Don't Fall Behind! Use This Expert Timeline for MBA Application Essays

You've got your list of b-schools ready and now it's time to apply. How much time should you spend on the MBA application essay? Expert Stacy Blackman shares her tried-and-true plan.

Smartly investing and budgeting time is crucial to generating great b-school essays that will accurately represent your achievements, talents, goals, and potential contributions to the admissions committee. You’ll also need to balance the demands of your applications with your other standing commitments — work, family, community service, friends, and hobbies. The best way to do this effectively is to organize your application calendar and allot time months before your target deadlines. Here are some key time management strategies for the written pieces of your MBA application.

Find the hours: time to grind out those essays

Although the time that MBA aspirants take to generate their applications varies greatly depending on writing ability, general work efficiency, and other factors, you should plan on spending 40–60 hours working on your collection of, say, four to eight applications. This amount of time should cover the writing, revising, editing, proofing, formatting, tailoring, and uploading of essays.

Aside from the essays themselves, you need to set aside the hours necessary to prep your recommenders and continue with the reading, community service, and other activities that enhance your candidacy. In addition, you’ll need to plan for time to prep for the GMAT. While this varies, you should plan on spending about eight hours per week in order to take practice tests and subsequently review and learn from your incorrect answers.

Plan your days: the best ways to structure your work sessions

Different folks have different work patterns. Some are most efficient when they can break up tasks into manageable pieces. Some work best when they can devote eight hours at a time in marathon writing sessions. You should be aware of the way you work efficiently and structure your writing/editing sessions accordingly.

I recommend to most of my clients that they allocate two to three hours each time they sit down at their computer to work on their essays. Shorter sessions, I believe, don’t allow enough time for people to get into a “literary groove.” Essays should be handled holistically, especially in the first two drafts. Strong Wharton leadership answers tend not to come from candidates who 15 minutes here and 30 minutes there. Essays composed in pieces often read as disjointed, unpolished tracts.

Most applicants should also avoid the “marathon session.” It is a rare individual who is as sharp or creative eight hours into a writing and editing session as he was at the beginning. If you need to catch up by doing extra work, break it up with a session in the morning and another in the evening.

Budget your weeks: allow time for reflection and feedback

It is extremely unwise to try to polish off a set of applications in just a week or two. Distributing the work over a sensible time period of four to six weeks will facilitate a steady, manageable pace. Spreading the work out will also enable you to reflect on things you may have written over the course of previous days; you may think of a better micro-example to illustrate a certain character trait, or develop much more engaging language for a specific paragraph. This will not happen if you are forced to work at warp speed.

Distributing your writing and editing over a reasonable period also makes it easier for friends, family, or colleagues to provide feedback on your essays if you choose to ask them. It’s unfair to ask someone to turn around comments in 24 hours, so provide any prospective reader with a few days to give you comments and critiques. And of course, leave yourself adequate time to reflect on and incorporate their feedback.

Finally, if you choose to work with a professional application advisor, make sure you take this into account when you map out your calendar. Advisors can make the process take longer — with the extra discussions and feedback cycles — but can also save time when all is said and done by ensuring you don’t follow any “dead ends” in your essay-writing process.

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