Early Planning for MBA Admission is the Key to Success

Bridge and clock tower over Charles River at Harvard

by Jean-Philippe (“JP”) Odunlami, Senior Consultant at The MBA Exchange.

An MBA graduate of Harvard Business School, JP has been active in education and career counseling for the past decade, guiding individuals with varied backgrounds and goals through successful MBA admission campaigns at top programs worldwide. His professional history spans the US, Asia, Europe and Africa. JP has been a consultant and entrepreneur in investment management, cross-border acquisitions, and real estate development. He worked in research and analyst roles at JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs in New York. A native of France, he has also lived in Singapore and Japan.

Many applicants start thinking about their MBA admissions campaign only a month or two before the deadlines. Given that most business schools have just one or two essay questions, this can seem like a reasonable timeline. However, it couldn’t be further from the truth. The most successful MBA applicants I’ve advised launched their campaigns as much as a full year in advance!

It’s essential for candidates to understand that it takes much more to earn admission than simply completing and submitting an application. A MBA campaign is multi-faceted, with each of the following three components requiring sufficient time for thoughtful planning and thorough execution:


Introspection is the bedrock of any serious admissions campaign. It’s important to understand your core strengths and weaknesses, particularly as they pertain to what business schools want to see. Ask and answer tough questions such as, “How have I demonstrated leadership? What’s my experience with other cultures? Do I work well in teams? Why do I really need an MBA?” These and related questions will be posed later in essays, application questions and/or interviews. So, if you can’t answer them for yourself now, doing so will only be more difficult later. When working with clients, The MBA Exchange uses proprietary tools, administered by our experienced consultants, to ensure that the applicant’s answers are genuine and will resonate with adcoms.

Hands-On Research

While their core courses appear very similar, business schools are quite different in their respective cultures, specialties and networks. Adcoms expect applicants to understand and connect these distinctive aspects with the candidate’s background and goals. For example, Kirsten Moss, Dean of Admissions at Stanford GSB stated: “What are the classes, who are the faculty, what’s the club, who’s an alum that’s done something interesting to you? Put it into that essay so that I know that you really care and you really want to come to my school. Probably that’s the best advice I can give you. […] And the only way you’re going to do that is to get out there and research, and not just sit down one night and crank out an essay.”

So, it’s essential to fully research your target programs, not just online or through mass-market books, but rather by interacting directly with each school’s community. This process can take weeks or even months but is well worth the effort. At The MBA Exchange, our clients do this research in the context of a career vision with the guidance of a professional admissions consultant who is familiar with the historic preferences of each MBA program.

Strategic Planning

Equipped with self-knowledge and insights about each target MBA program, it becomes obvious whether you’re a serious contender for your target schools. With this realization, planning the admissions campaign becomes more efficient, more gratifying and less stressful.

Action steps for optimizing a candidacy might include earning a higher score on the GMAT, getting exposure to international projects at work or taking on a leadership role in volunteer activities. Once all the candidacy is in place, we address each section of the actual application by establishing a timeline for each deliverable, tracking progress and confirming completion.

As you can see, a successful MBA admissions campaign is a dynamic, comprehensive endeavor – far more than just writing an application – that demands and deserves an early start and ample time for excellence. The first step in this all-important journey is requesting a free, objective assessment of your candidacy to help you understand where you stand today and what you can do to become even more competitive.