Business schools don't admit everybody. They are flooded with thousands of applications, and the numbers keep going up each year. If you want to be even considered you must think how you are going to market yourself in front of the admissions committee. Your application should shine in the crowd.
What is a strategy?
You need to come up with very clear short-term, medium-term and long-term career goals. The short term is the period of time that starts with your MBA graduation and last for 2-3 years. The medium term is 5 years from your MBA graduation. The long term is 10-20 years after your MBA graduation. Once you come up with your goals, you will be able to start planning your essays and recommendations. You should come up with the strategy about 5-6 month before the first deadline (together with your history list).
What Do Business Schools Look for?
First of all they look for specific characteristics. It's true that business schools vary in this category, but most of them want candidate with leadership potential, rich background, good references, and something interesting to tell. They want the candidate to be able to contribute to the atmosphere and the academic environment of the school. They want people with initiative and drive. But most important - they look for students with good chances to become very SUCCESSFUL.
The business schools want to climb the ranking ladder. The higher the school is ranked, the more prestige it becomes. With prestige comes large grants to build better facilities, better academic faculty, more companies will come to recruit. All of these will lead to higher ranking in the coming years.
How are the schools ranked? There are many criterions, but the most important (at least in my opinion) are the percentage of employment after graduation, the promotion of the alumni over the years, the brand name of the school, how desirable are the alumni of the schools, the diversity and number of nationalities, the facilities and faculty, the opinions of the students and alumni themselves, the salaries after graduation, and how many admitted candidates refused the offer and chose to go some place else.
The school wants to be sure that:
A. You will be successful - it will bring prestige to the school.
B. You will find a good job (that pays well) immediately after graduation.
C. You fit into the school, and you won't refuse their offer.
Your strategy must see that you are what the business schools look for. By admitting you, the business schools will not only gain an excellent students in their standards, but also you will help the school climb the rankings by being successful, and bringing good reputation to the school.
Creating Your Strategy
Your goals should be connected to your past, present, and future. If you are not into banking, why do you want to be an investment banker? If you have never seen a high-tech company from the inside how do you expect to fit into technology management? You should show that you know where you are headed and that it makes sense. For example: becoming an entrepreneur (with no experience) is very risky - you might fail. It is more safe to stay in your industry. If you want to change careers you need to realize that it is more difficult, so you better have good way of doing it and proving that you can. Some schools would prefer career changers while other won't.
Choose the industry - if it is an industry that you are familiar with it is more safe. Be very specific. Show why this industry is good - how much market does your industry have? What is the potential growth? Is your industry interesting? Do some research on the industry if you have to.
Choose your specialization - Do you want to be a project manager? A business strategist? A consultant? An investor? An entrepreneur? You need to know that this specialization fits your profile. The furthest you change your career the riskier it gets. And again - be specific. What exacly do you want to do, and how does that fit with your profile and industry?
Select your short-term goals - Where do you see yourself after graduating from business school? Do you want to create a start-up? (it might be risky). Do you want to return to your old employer? (if your boss can confirm this in the recommendation - it is safe. The school will like the idea that it does not need to find a work place for you). Do you want to switch countries or careers? Again, be specific - what kind of companies do you see yourself work for? Remember that your goals should match your background.
Select your long-term goals - you can dream here. Where do you see yourself when you are all grown up? How is that connected to your short term goals? Do you want to be VP or CEO of a large corporation? Do you want to be a mayor? Do you want to own start ups?
If you want to, you can come up with medium term goals that will connect your short and long term goals.
Your strategy should be solid and very specific. It should make sense. It should be interesting. It should be realistic. Your past, present, and future should be linked together. And most importantly - the MBA must be the natural connection between you past and present, and your goals. You will later have to prove in the essays and interview that without an MBA, you simply can't reach your goals. Don't forget - be honest. Don't invent something just so that the admissions committee will like you, because it won't work. Pick goals that come naturally to you.
Write everything down on 1 page and save it as a reference. You will need it when you write your essays, and when you plan the recommendations. You will be asked about your goals on the interview. Remember that your application must support your strategy 100%. In your application you will show your strengthes that will help you achieve your goals, and the weaknesses that you have to work on during your MBA.