It’s imperative that you do not underestimate the importance of your communication with the school of your choice – even if you are meeting them outside your MBA application. Once you start preparing your application package and the school officially gets in touch, it becomes even more important to demonstrate individuality, creativity, and consistency all at the same time. Here is what you can expect from the process and how you can craft the MBA application to your advantage.

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First point of communication with the school

As MBA admissions can be quite competitive, it’s a great idea to be proactive in your approach and initiate a point of contact with school representatives before you even apply. This can be a school fair, networking event, a school-led webinar, or a campus visit among other options. These formats present an opportunity to find out more about a particular program while also making a good first impression in a less formal, but still professional, environment.

As a start, be sure to get your foot in the door by researching the schools that will be attending this event. Take a look at details provided on their website, promotional YouTube videos, and social media channels. Is there a bullet point in there that piques your interest more than the rest? Writing down some ideas and details that grabbed your attention will show school representatives that you take this opportunity seriously. Dressing appropriately for a business networking event and being polite and open-minded are also a must if you wish to stand out as a stellar MBA candidate. Don’t forget to bring business cards or copies of your CV/resume if you are attending a face-to-face event.

Meeting alumni

It’s not just MBA admissions directors that you can meet early in the admissions process – business school alumni often make an effort to help out prospective applicants and meet them during school events. Successful graduates are an excellent source of information for those who would like to get an insider’s perspective on the program. In addition to providing useful advice about studying and career prospects, MBA alumni sometimes take an active part in the admissions process as well. Giselle Weybrecht, best-selling author and advisor on business and sustainability, explains for AACSB:

Given they have already gone through the process themselves, and successfully, alumni can give advice on what a particular school is looking for in their application essays and may even be able to give you pointers with your interview. In fact, many schools use their alumni to conduct entrance interviews.

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Even if you are meeting them outside your MBA application, keep in mind that networking with alumni can have long-term benefits both for you and them. The entire purpose of networking is to show like-minded people that you are eager to help them out professionally so that they would be willing to do the same for you. Try to approach the opportunity by adopting an unselfish attitude. Who knows – perhaps the meeting will help you succeed beyond your MBA application.

Application essays

The application essay – or essays, if you are required to write more than one – is your opportunity to express your creativity and uniqueness in front of the admissions committee. Although there might be an essay question or topic that you need to follow, it all starts with a blank sheet of paper. This is your chance to shine. As Jenna Cortis, MBA admissions trends researcher and business school expert, told The Economist:

It’s a complicated question; what sets you apart from the other thousands of people coming from your industry? Finding your standout factor starts with deep reflection in every area of your life: personal, professional, extracurricular/volunteer. Your standout factor could even be a pattern in your personality or in the way that you approach the world.

The application essay is yet another way to show that you have done your homework about your school of choice. Make a strong connection between your “standout factor” and how this particular program will help you accomplish your dreams. For example, if technology is your passion, perhaps your goals revolve around leading a team of technological innovators. Does the school you are applying to offer an MBA concentration related to the tech industry? Or perhaps it includes a business trip to Silicon Valley – the mecca of tech and digital innovation. Think this through and make your case in the application essay.

Check out: MBA Essay Topics at Top Schools and Their Tips

Interviews

The admissions interview is not the only decisive factor in your application – aptitude test scores, letters of recommendation, and your professional profile as a whole all play their part. However, the interview is usually the first formal face-to-face interaction with the school. If you want to strike them as a confident and well-prepared candidate, all of the advice mentioned so far counts – dress appropriately, be authentic, and prepare in advance. And here’s a simple tip from the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) that will definitely round up the interview in your favor:

Interviews almost always end with time for questions. Use this time to showcase your genuine interest in and knowledge of the program by asking specific questions about program experiences and culture. Don’t ask questions that can be easily found online, such as the cost of tuition or credit requirements.

Asking questions, as long as they are thoughtful and specific, will show that you are genuinely curious about the program at hand.

Check out: 4 MBA Interview Formats to Keep in Mind

Get ready to stand out at every stage of the admissions process and don’t forget that you can make a great first impression before you even apply for an MBA! After all, you won’t get a second chance to make a first impression!