1. Start early
So I know how some of the "early starters" of the class of 2009 feel now. To be honest, and that's going to be the first advice, I think it is terrific to start very early. If at all possible I would always apply for R1. It's all a matter of time management :-). The advantages of an early application in my opinion:
- apply only to your 1-3 top choices in R1. That way, you can save a lot of application fees, save your time if it works out, or if it doesn't work out you can learn something from your R1 application for R2 applications
- you have much better chances to sort out financing and scholarships
- you show your eagerness to attend just that school and your time management (you don't suddenly realize in spring that, actually, you wanted to attend b-school in summer...)
What has always helped me with applications is daydreaming about being at the school already. If you want to go to Columbia, read about New York, watch Seinfeld or Friends, read the New York Times, look at the school brochures, read anything you can find about the school. If you're headed to London Business School, study the brochure, watch student interviews on the CD they provide along with the brochure, spend a weekend partying in London, read about the history of London - all these things can make your application much more convincing. You can feel for yourself if that's the place you really want to spend at least 2 years of your life and you can let that desire shine through in your application. Obviously, bloggers of your dream school are another excellent inspiration for daydreaming (in my case, I discovered the blogs and blogging in general only after I had a place - but it helps if you discover them earlier!). For checking out cool stuff in London, check Yutaka Loves London!
3. Use your network or just build it up
Knowing current students and alumni from your school of choice helps for two reasons. First, it can again give you a great feel for the school and help you continue daydreaming. Second, they might offer help with essays or act as your advocates with the adcom. I knew that a sister's friend was an LBS alumni, and he actually made me consider LBS in the beginning since he once said that the 2 years at LBS were the best of his life. Then I checked our company database for anyone who had attended LBS. There was hardly anyone in the German office (only some MiF alumni), but I heard from a colleague that a girl from LBS had just interned and was going to join in September 2005. So in September I checked the new hires and called her up. She was extremely helpful and enthusiastic about LBS and I happened to be on a project in the same place she was doing her initial training, so we had lunch several times and stayed in touch ever since. She also named me some more people I could contact for advice. So before I ever started my application, I had spoken to at least 5 students or recent alumni. It was great to hear how everyone was 100% passionate and enthusiastic about LBS - this can also give you a good indication of the school's quality.
4. Make it specific
There is already plenty of useful advice on essay writing out there (see helpful resources) so I won't write much about that. However, what I would stress is the importance of knowing what you want and why you want it. This also refers to "why do you want to go to THAT school?". Make your essays specific to the school and don't copy and paste ANYTHING from other application. Of course it helps to have followed the first point, if you apply to 10 schools it will be hard not to copy and paste, but I think you can write much more convincing essays if you really want to go only to that one school, rather than sitting there wondering "what could I tell this school why I want to go there? I don't even know what makes them special, apart from the fact that they're in the top10!"
Being specific also means not waffling and deleting every unnecessary word and repitition. I can't believe how often there are posts on the Business Week MBA forum asking
"the word limit is max. 1000 words and I have 1200 words and it is impossible to reduce the length of my essay, how is this viewed by adcoms?"To me, what that says is that someone can either not write a concise answer to a straightforward question, or that someone is too lazy or unmotivated to make an effort to write a short, concise, convincing essay for a poor adcom member who has to read 1000 essays answering the exact same question! Be helpful to them! Don't waffle, don't bore them and they'll be grateful!
Also, to the aspiring consultants, soon you won't have a 1000 or 500 word limit, soon you'll be writing no text but only powerpoint charts where even the most important conclusion of your 3 months work needs to be compressed into a small tiny bubble at the bottom right of the slide and you have max. 10 words to fill the bubble (you need minimum 12pt font and you can't increase the bubble, otherwise it will expand over the graph!). So use your essay writing to practice your communication skills (making it easy for your listener/reader instead of doing it the way it's easiest for you).
5. Helpful resources for LBS applicants
Clear admit wiki's LBS application advice from students
Clear admit LBS topic analysis
Beat the GMAT - very extensive resources, advice and links for the GMAT
Business Week MBA forums (requires registration)
My previous LBS application advice
I know there was also helpful advice on Moe's blog (see link on the right), too, but his site seems to have been hacked recently, you always end up being redirected to some car insurance site.
(if you see other sites that are/have been helpful with your application, feel free to let me know and I'll add them here - thank you!)