Here is a question that is typically top of mind for every applicant – how do Admissions Committees at business schools evaluate candidates? There is a belief that there is a perfect formula for getting admitted into the top schools; however, this couldn’t be further from the truth. In addition to making sure that you can excel in the classroom, Admissions Committees are seeking to create a diverse class of students, which means diversity of professional experiences, personal experiences, geographies, and perspectives.
Therefore, there are three main areas that Admissions Committees will want to have a clear sense of as they evaluate you.
Academic ability and credentials
The first area is comprised of your academic credentials, which schools use to assess your ability to handle the rigor of the MBA curriculum – this includes your undergraduate GPA, post-graduate GPA if you pursued any other degrees, and either the GMAT or the GRE score. Your GPA, both in college and in any graduate programs, is what it is – you can’t change it. If you did well, that’s great, but if not, there are other ways to show your ability to handle the rigor of the curriculum, one of which is scoring well on either the GMAT or the GRE. Since candidates are applying from all over the world having attended different educational institutions with different grading systems, the GMAT and GRE help to standardize the process, which is why they are so important. But other than the pure stats, what you studied in college and in any other graduate program can also be an important part of your story.
The second area encompasses your career progression, what you have achieved in your career, and how that links to your post-MBA career goals. It is important to demonstrate the impact that you have had in your professional endeavors as well as to “connect the dots” between your prior roles and what you hope to do in the future.
Note that those who are in over-represented industries, such as finance and consulting, often think that they don’t have much to add, since the tasks, roles, and responsibilities are the same for everyone. But that is not true – by digging more deeply into what you have accomplished, you will be able to unearth the value that you have added in your projects – and this is true of each candidate.
This third area includes extracurricular activities that you have been or are involved in (both in college and post-college) as well as personal encounters that have shaped you. Engagement in extracurricular activities is very important to demonstrate since business schools use that as an indicator of how involved you will be as a student on campus. Moreover, your personal experiences are paramount with respect to differentiating you from other candidates.
Each of these areas – your academic credentials, your professional accomplishments, and your personal experiences – come together to form your authentic, compelling story. I often get asked which of these areas is weighted the most, and the answer is that each area is equally important. Strength in one area may overcome weakness in another, but since we don’t have insight on what the entire application pool looks like (that’s really only something Admissions Committees have insight into), it is in your best interest to make each of these pillars as strong as possible. Therefore, treat each area as an important variable in the overall equation.
The bottom line? Each one of you has something distinctly unique to convey in your applications, and part of the MBA application process is taking the time to think about your experiences and discovering what that is.
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Ivy Groupe is a boutique MBA admissions consulting company founded by Shaifali Aggarwal, who received her MBA from Harvard Business School and undergraduate degree from Princeton University. Shaifali’s philosophy focuses on authenticity and storytelling to help clients craft compelling and differentiated applications that stand out. With this approach, Shaifali’s clients have gained admission to top-tier MBA programs such as Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Kellogg, MIT, Columbia, Booth, Tuck, and Yale, among others.