March Madness: Six Lessons for MBA applicants

Every year at this time, our thoughts here at The MBA Exchange turn to… basketball.Whether or not you’re a fan of the game, the media bombard us during late March and early April with in-depth stories about college teams competing for the national collegiate championship.Office betting pools test both the insights and the luck of those who fill out tournament brackets. This harmless, seasonal fun has relevance to another major competition that’s near and dear to our hearts – MBA admissions.

In considering the intensity and variability that surround these athletic endeavors, there are 6 valuable lessons that business school applicants can learn for their varsity basketball counterparts.

1. Know your competitors.
Just as every team that takes to the basketball court is determined to win, the same is true for MBA applicants.Success is a zero-sum game.For every winner there is a loser (and in the case of top-10 b-school admissions, it’s more like 6 or 7 losers for every winner!).So, before you rely on advice shared openly by other applicants in online forums, remember that they are seeking to win the same seat that you are pursuing. Be careful about who you trust.

2. Have your game plan perfected, but stay opportunistic.
Practice, practice, practice. The more diligently an athlete or an applicant prepares, the “luckier” he or she gets.However, as the competition for victory intensifies, one’s game plan must evolve. In the case of MBA admissions, this means initiating and seizing every opportunity to strengthen and distinguish the underlying candidacy. Accepting new roles at work and in the community, networking with alumni, attending an on-campus events, etc. These are ways that you can enhance your profile and improve your chances throughout the admissions campaign. Watch for and seize such moments without hesitation. Playing solid defense is important, but only if you score more points than the opposition.

3. Be ready for the unexpected.
In basketball and in MBA admissions — stuff happens. An unanticipated injury, a bad call by a referee, or a lucky half-court shot by an opponent can instantly change the course of a game. Likewise, having a trusted supervisor decide not to provide a promised recommendation or getting a GMAT score that’s 40 points lower than you expected can feel catastrophic. But it doesn’t have to be disastrous if you’ve anticipated that possibility and prepared for it with “Plan B.” A skilled and experienced admissions consultant is like a “coach” who has seen and helped others overcome such challenges.

4. Remain aware of the “game clock” but never ignore the “shot clock.”
Every athlete and every MBA applicant knows that the contest is not infinite. The game ends when the buzzer sounds. And the admissions campaign is over after the interview takes place. However, there’s another “clock” that must be watched. Basketball teams have only 35 seconds to complete a play and take their shot, or else the other team gets the ball. For b-school applicants, the equivalent is the completion of the various components of the application. If the resume isn’t perfected, if the recommenders are not working on the recs, if the essays are not taking shape on a timely basis, then the application will not be ready for submission by the deadline. So, each element of your admissions campaign is on a “shot clock” of its own. Establishing and managing a detailed plan is the only way to ensure that you’ll achieve your strongest app by the time the “game clock” hits 0:00.

5. It’s not over until it’s over.
Basketball players and MBA applicants who are determined to win devote every ounce of their energy to achieving this goal.However, just as a hoops game can go into overtime, the admissions campaign can lead to being waitlisted. Exhausted and frustrated, competitors on the waitlist can sit back and say, “Well, at least I did my best.” Or they can dig deep and rally one more time to claim the success that eluded them in “regulation time.”Winning in OT, or being admitted a few weeks before classes being, is a victory in the truest sense of the word.

6. Evaluate your strengths and weaknesses before the season starts.
Only by determining in advance where to improve can someone achieve his or her personal best.Athletes are assessed by their coaches starting at the first practice session. Likewise, MBA applicants can and should determine as soon as possible where they must improve. The earliest and best way to accomplish this is through a free, expert evaluation of the candidacy. The MBA Exchange is standing by to help you do just that for you.