Keeping Your Cool While Applying to B-School

By: Emilie Fournier

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If you’ve started the MBA application process, you know how easy it is to get overwhelmed. Everywhere you turn people are giving you conflicting advice and applicants who intimidate and impress you are getting rejected from your dream schools — the whole thing makes any sane person want to throw in the towel before starting. Your current job isn’t that bad, right? Luckily, we have been there, done that when it comes to the crazy world of elite MBA admissions and have the scars acceptance letters to prove it. Below are our top tips for getting it all done without breaking a sweat (outside the gym):

1. Focus on your priorities and forget about FOMO

Women are constantly reminded by society that they are supposed to have and do it all, all the time. At femBA, we are working hard to break that cycle and our recommended approach for applying to business school is no exception. The only way we were able to make it happen was by identifying our priorities and accepting that some things were going to fall to the wayside for the time being. For Emilie, this looked like forgoing most social outings on weeknights and not getting a haircut for a year. For Celine, it meant putting her side hustle on hiatus and skipping a few too many gym sessions.

We repeat: THIS IS OK! We missed birthday parties. We wore a lot of braids (Pinterest says they work best on dirty hair okay?) We didn’t clean our homes and ordered way too much takeout.

So what? If going to a top MBA program is your goal, some life adjustments are necessary to save yourself from burning out. Don’t forget that this phase is temporary and you can reset your priorities once it’s over. Your hair will reacquaint itself with the joy that is a good hair day in due time, we promise!

2. Remember what you bring to the table and quit the comparisons

It’s easy to forget at times, but you started down this path because you believed you could succeed in gaining acceptance to the school(s) of your choice. Then somewhere down the road (probably after reading too many Handicapping Your Elite MBA Odds series on Poets & Quants) you lost confidence in your ability to make this happen. We’ve all been there; the MBA admissions process makes most of us feel vulnerable and inadequate.

Our advice to overcome this anxiety is twofold: remember your strengths (make a list on a Post-it and stick it to your computer if you have to) and stop comparing yourself to other applicants. If we had listened to the naysayers and believed the comparisons, neither of us would be heading to school this year.

 3. Get a buddy!

From GMAT studying to pressing “submit” on that last application, the co-founders of femBA had each other to lean on (and occasionally weep on) throughout this stressful time. If you can, partner up with a friend who is considering the MBA as well. Our other friends, partners, and families were fed up with hearing us talk about GMAT strategies and b-school rankings. Having each other as outlets for that nervous energy was essential.

It may seem counterintuitive at first, especially if that friend is planning on participating in the same application cycle. They might feel like your competition. We believe that the pros outweigh the cons. By motivating each other and sharing information, we both came out with stronger applications.

Furthermore, it’s highly unlikely that you are actually in direct competition with your friends and peers and even if you are, it’s not as simple as a zero-sum game. If a school wants you, they won’t care that you fall into the same proverbial applicant “bucket”. Case in point, Celine and Emilie both gained acceptance to Kellogg and Tuck for the Class of 2019 despite having a lot of similarities on the surface — namely, doing the same leadership development program at the same company.

We realize that you may not have someone in your life who is hoping to attend business school. There are many online communities you can participate in to create a sense of support, commiseration, and camaraderie. If this is your only option, we recommend the GMAT Club Forum as it forces members to create a username and input some personal information, thereby reducing the amount of trolling and false information you will come across.

 4. Keep your eye on the final destination (hint: it’s not the MBA)

At some point in the process, we each lost sight of why we originally wanted to pursue graduate-level business education. At the end of the day, the MBA isn’t the final destination; it’s a stepping stone to other dreams.

We obviously believe in the MBA’s value, but it’s highly possible to be successful without it — after all, only 39 of the Fortune 100 CEOs are MBA degree holders. Unlike med school or law school, business school isn’t a necessity for most jobs. So whenever you hear yourself saying you have to study or have to tweak your essay for the eleventh time, remember you don’t actually have to do any of this. You get to do this.

So remember why you wanted to pursue this in the first place and harness that energy! By keeping your focus on the horizon, on your own personal “why”, you can cut through the clutter and stay motivated.

5. Have fun: exercise, watch some Netflix, and eat cake

All work and no play make Jane a dull miserable girl — and we don’t want you to be miserable (or dull). In between all the study sessions, coffee chats with current students, and…oh right, your JOB, remember to take some time for yourself. It doesn’t have to be anything big, and truthfully it probably can’t be because you’re short on time these days. Try to do something that is just for you. If you feel a little guilty about penciling it in your calendar then it’s probably the right thing to do. Go for a run, do your nails, watch Gilmore Girls reruns, have a giant plate of fries — whatever makes you feel good. Recharging your (emotional) batteries will make your more productive when it’s time to sit down and get to work.

Last but not least, take a deep breath...you can do this! We believe in you and we want to help. Are you ready to get started? Check out our Resources section for our approach to tackling b-school admissions in a meaningful way.

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