The business world is fiercely competitive; that much, anyone can tell you. From the first day of school to the top of the industry ladder, hundreds or even thousands of ambitious prospects are vying for the few available positions. The path to success starts with the best education, so you will want to maximize your chances of getting into the best business schools available.

First of all, try not to be too intimidated by statistics. Quantity and quality are rarely the same thing, and just because 9,000 other graduates are sending applications to Harvard Business, doesn’t mean they’re all promising applicants. They may not even be qualified at all. Sure, the field is full of promising competitors, but it’s also full of duds. Be optimistic and confident in yourself going into this endeavor. A positive attitude goes a long way.

You’ll want to do some research into the best programs available for the field in which you intend to concentrate. The school that has an exceptional international marketing department may be comparatively weak in finance or strategic management. Read up on faculty, talk to alumni if possible, and even get in touch with department heads to find out if the program is really what you’re looking for. While you want to apply to a decent number of schools to maximize your options, you don’t want to be sending out so many applications that you lose focus and drive. Choose a few promising schools and focus on doing your best to impress them.

Your application essay is extremely important, as this is your first chance to make a real impression on the admissions board. Imagine you’re judging two applicants with identical undergraduate transcripts? How would you go about choosing? That’s right, the essay, so you’ll want it to be a home run.

The essay should be brief. Try not to go more than 50 words over the specified word count or you risk becoming long-winded and boring. There is a reason for these word count restrictions. The information you need to convey can be said in that many words, and the admissions board is reading countless essays. Don’t worry about word counts at first. Just sit down and start typing. When you finish, go back through it and take out every unnecessary word. Now you’re off to a good start.

Your essay should be focused, clear, professional, and full of specific details. Don’t be overly formal or overly casual. Executive MBA programs are prestigious, but you’re not applying for membership to the Royal Family so keep it business professional, not ballroom black tie. Included details about your experiences and particularly your successes. Every story is unique. Tell yours proudly without being cocky. You want to be likable and memorable, not stuck up and too cool for school.

Stay focused, keep your goals in mind, and forge your path toward success. Business school is only the beginning of a long and winding road. Keep these guidelines in mind as you set off on your journey.