DO apply to your dream school, even if it is a stretch. This is your only chance, don't leave yourself with any regrets.
DO apply to at least four schools of varying levels of competitiveness to maximise chances of success.
DON'T apply to more than six schools. This is an intense and time-consuming process. Applying to too many schools leads to burn-out and diminishing returns.
DON'T rely on rumour and others' opinions when deciding where to apply (including rankings such as The Economist's). Engage in first-hand research by visiting schools, and speaking with current students and alumni. Only you can decide which school is the right fit for your personality and goals.
It is important to take the GMAT exam seriously as this is one aspect of the application that is very much within your control. In a sea of highly qualified candidates, the GMAT is an important screening tool
DO take a class in order to prepare rigorously, with an established study schedule and practice exams in a realistic environment. One basic key to success is familiarity— with question type and the computer-adapted format.
DO plan to take the exam more than once. Fewer nerves and more experience often lead to a higher score the second time around.
DON'T cancel a score, no matter how badly you think you have done. Immediately afterwards you are given the option of not submitting the test. But schools will evaluate your highest score, so don't worry about a low score weighing you down. In any case, it will provide valuable information about your testing strengths and weaknesses. And you may be surprised that a score is not as low as you expected.
DON'T wait until the last minute to take your GMAT. Take care of it early in the year, before you have to juggle the other aspects of the application. Leave time for two rounds of studying and testing.
DO consider the alternative GRE test. Because the GRE isn't reported in class profiles and isn't a factor in b-school rankings, if you struggle with the GMAT but have good grades and other strong credentials, submitting a GRE may make it easier for a school to “take a chance” on you. If you do well on GMAT, submit it. But if you are a poor test-taker, the GRE may be the way to go.
References (letters of recommendation)
DO try your best to secure professional references. An academic reference will not be able to answer the most common recommendation questions. Schools are really looking for insight into your professional performance.
DO use references from your current and most recent jobs. The most recent insights help create a picture of you as you currently are. The admissions committee is not as concerned with how you behaved eight years ago.
DON'T secure a reference from a bigwig who hardly knows you. Make sure your referee can comment on you in a meaningful way.
DO prepare your referees and manage them closely. The references are a small test of your management abilities. If you cannot ensure that your referee submits on time, or follows other directions, what does this say about your skills as a manager?
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As with all aspects of this process, it is important to prep for the interviews. The subject matter of the interview will be you, and you will be expected to be the polished expert.
DO practise out loud, rather than just mentally preparing answers. You can have mock interviews with a friend or even speak to yourself in the mirror.
DON'T opt to interview on campus if you will perform better off campus. Set yourself up for success, by choosing the environment where you will be most relaxed.
DO follow up with a thank-you note, via e-mail or post.
Many schools are friendly towards re-applicants; if you approach the process correctly, a re-applicant can feel cautiously optimistic.
DO be sure to highlight how you have progressed since your previous application. Demonstrate professional and personal advancements. Help the admissions committee to understand how you have evolved and become a better applicant since your last attempt.
DON'T completely overhaul your application. Some schools ask you to submit an entirely new application, but too much change can signal that you are not being honest.
DO apply to new schools in addition to the old ones. If you were unsuccessful the first time, it may be because you applied to the wrong set of schools.
Ps. Practice makes perfect!
Don't forget to comment about your experience on the road to grad school!