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1July2015

Taking the GMAT or SAT? Learn to multi-task

by Originally Published in The Hindustan Times Education Supplement

As deadlines approach, some applicants still have not completed important components of their applications. The cause of delay often seems to be timing, scheduling and an inability to multi task. A common strategy for Indian applicants is to ‘take time off’ for GMAT or SAT preparation or to complete the essays. But the concept of time off is a luxury that will only hurt you in the long run. 

Foreign university admissions officers, particularly for MBA applicants, frown upon candidates who have taken time off to complete applications. Time off or a single-focus strategy, is a long-standing approach in Indian education (think of families of 10th grade students whose entire life comes to a stand still to until board exams are complete), but it is not a concept that is appreciated by foreign universities who view it as an inability to mulit-task, rather than as a positive matter of prioritization. Of course no approach is right or wrong, but to be successful in the application process to global institutions success in multi-tasking is required.  

For undergraduate applicants the ‘time off’ concept doesn’t work for several reasons: Firstly, if we go back to the 10th exam focus strategy, students will often leave extracurricular pursuits and even shirk the demands of classroom work to focus on board exam preparation. For US applications, the 9th to 12th grade school results are given as much consideration as board marks and SAT scores. And extracurricular pursuits are expected to be deep and intensive for top US colleges — not fleeting and given up when other demands arise. Secondly undergraduates do not have the luxury of stopping school demands when SAT/ACT prep time comes along. Even if they choose a summer or school leave period, those breaks must also be used for internships, projects and other extracurriculars. 

Even students who choose to take a gap year in order to give undivided attention to the application process are often surprised that they must be engaged in other meaningful activities. You cannot simply tell a college that you took a year out to make your applications better. You must show evidence that you have been also enhancing your knowledge, skills or experience in order to make a better decision about your future.

MBA applicants often say that the demands of their job prohibit them from studying properly for GMAT or working on essays. While this may be true, imagine that all competitive applicants from around the world are managing both their job and their applications at the same time. If that’s the case, then work demands are not a legitimate excuse. And remember that for top business schools, applicants with the most demanding jobs  (think investment banking, private equity, consulting, or entrepreneurs) experience the most success, so being able to manage all components simultaneously is implicitly a valued skill. 

Applicants often ask me if they should fib and say they took leave from work to tend to an unwell family member, but even this is a concept that does not exist elsewhere in the world – if a family member is sick, then you’d be expected to keep working so that someone can pay their bills! Leaving work for any reason does not demonstrate the professional commitment sought by top business schools. 

The best advice I have for applicants to avoid the pressures of multi-tasking is to plan ahead. I meet many applicants with high GMAT scores, for example, who have taken the exam in their later years of college (GMAT is valid for 5 years, typically). And for undergraduates, planning every summer from 9th -11th grade ensures that there is no scrambling to squeeze in last-minute internships or projects. Also planning ahead can offer a lot of clarity that helps in essay writing – why are you applying to business school? If you’re well prepared, you can answer this question better than someone who is under pressure. Similarly, for undergraduates, having all components ready when applications open in August, allows you to create a final list of colleges right away and start working on the applications. Whereas if you are still completing testing in October, you cannot take advantage of an early start, your list of colleges may change, and your reasons for choosing those colleges may not be clear to you if they are chosen hastily.

 

Rushing through applications rarely leads to satisfying results. Planning ahead and learning to multitask are two strategies that can significantly improve your chances for success.

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