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Looking to finally go for that MBA in 2015-2016?  Happy hunting -- here are a few tips on how to handle your big year before your applications.  Photo by Daniel Zimmermann.

So Christmas is over, you got all your presents – hopefully they were good – and now you’re thinking about two things. One, going back to work on Monday, and two, getting ready for this year’s b-school applications if you’re planning to apply in 2015. Now some of you may be thinking, but I’m not even done with 2014-2015 applications!  Fair enough. But the fact is, the type of candidates who will be getting acceptance letters to Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton in October are the same type of candidates who are thinking right now, what should I be doing to strengthen my position before the mid-summer rush of procrastinators hits?

We are so happy you asked. This year, instead of resolving to burn off or bulk up that 15 pounds nobody’s going to notice anyway (did you miss All About that Bass?), or swearing up and down you’ll finally read “This is How You Lose Her” (such a downer!) Forster-Thomas has put together five New Year’s resolutions that are not only good for you, they’re great for your chances of getting into business school to. So read on, and find out what they are!

  1. Up your GMAT.  Some of you may not have taken practice tests yet, and some of you have taken practice tests but not exams.  But for those of you who already have a score, and did not get the 700+, 80th percentile quantitative you were after, resolve this year to improve that score – and not to beat yourself up if you can’t. It isn’t the end of the world … as long as you give yourself the time to adjust.  There are other things you can do to make up for the numbers gap, like taking additional quantitative coursework on the side. As long as you give yourself time. Which is why, your New Year’s resolution number one should be to work on that GMAT.
  2. Create leadership opportunities. A lot of you out there have been making excuses for a long time. Your excuses sounds something like this. “Oh, my job takes up so much of my time and energy, I just haven’t had the chance to take on many extracurricular activities since college!” Well guess what, Mary Jane – those extra hours you spent partying and someone else spent volunteering, or better yet creating volunteer opportunities for others, may well be the difference maker in September. So step one is to stop telling yourself you’re too busy. You’re not. Step two is to think about where you are already involved – are you currently volunteering somewhere on a part-time basis? Is it something you could scale up? Almost every volunteer organization needs good business thinkers. Fundraising, organizational, and logistical challenges abound at most nonprofits. And guess what? You are well-trained to help them with those things. If you don’t currently have any extracurriculars worth mentioning, it’s time to find one. And if you can’t find one, maybe it’s time to create one of your own.
  3. Target your schools. One thing that you can start doing right now while you are still on break is researching what’s out there in terms of b-schools. Yeah, I know you know that Harvard, Booth, Kellogg, and whatever that school is out in California are pretty exciting destinations. But what you know about Vanderbilt, INSEAD and Emory?  And those schools that you’ve got your heart set on -- what do you really know about them, other than their US news ranking? Differentiation is not just for candidates, it’s also for schools. The better you understand what makes your target school special, the more likely you are to get in. So get out there, meet alumni and current students, set up a campus visit when you have free time, and do all the reading you can on useful websites like Bloomberg and Poets and Quants.
  4. Prep your workspace. Nope, not talking about your desk, Milton. Every business school requires at least two recommenders. Some require three. Have you thought about who you’re going to choose? Are you making sure that the work you’re doing for them is really standout? Are you seeking opportunities to lead and make a difference at work?  I hope so, because they’re not going to come to you. You have to find them.  If you are due for a title bump or a promotion, do you have a timetable for when it’s coming? Do you have an exit strategy so that you don’t leave your employers hanging? Although it’s too soon to be having any specific conversations, it’s definitely not too soon to be laying the groundwork for those conversations.
  5. Get some help. Naturally, you have a lot of things on your mind. But when you’re talking about business school, you’re talking about your professional future. What could be more worthy of your time and attention than that? So make sure that you are getting the help you need to understand and prepare for the process. Talk to friends who have been through it.  Discuss your plans with your family and loved ones. And not to toot our own horn, but we do have a pretty awesome Leadership Action Plan, which gives you regular professional coaching months or in some cases years in advance. Talk about a leg up!

Anyway, like any good set of New Year’s resolutions, you’re definitely going to end up shame-binging on Haagen Daas one night thinking about how many of these you DIDN’T get to.  And that’s OK, we forgive you.  But if you pull off a bunch of these New Year’s Resolutions, you might find that your 2015 and all your tomorrows just got a whole lot brighter.