With MBA application season now upon us, business school admissions consultant EssaySnark is pleased to offer some advice to Magoosh GMAT readers about the perennial MBA application question: “What are my chances??”
This is the most common question that we, or anyone involved in MBA admissions, ever gets. People hit up the admissions staff with this question, too. The response that most admissions people give is very instructive: They often say something like, “Sorry, we cannot evaluate your candidacy without a full application.”
You’ve got your GMAT score. The schools all seem to care about the GMAT in their admissions decisions more than anything. Why isn’t that enough for someone to help you with this very stressful question?
The reason that business schools have an extensive application with all these requirements – GMAT or GRE score, TOEFL if English is not your first language, college transcripts, recommendations, essays – is because they need all this information in order to determine if you’re a good fit to their program. Admissions processes are very well established. The schools make changes all the time, mostly to essay questions, but the process itself has been around for over a hundred years (or, if you mark time from when standardized testing was first introduced into college admissions, over seventy years – Ivy League schools began requiring the SAT in the 1950s).
Let’s talk about some of these misconceptions, starting with the MBA admissions requirement, the GMAT.
The common refrain about a GMAT score is, a high score can’t get you in, but a low score can keep you out.
The reason for the first part – a high score can’t get you in – is that the GMAT is just one part of the mix. The schools really are trying to evaluate you as an entire person when they look at your application. This is why the admissions people won’t answer that “What are my chances?” question; they’re asking for everything that they do in the application process because they actually need that information in order to evaluate your candidacy. (It’s also why EssaySnark doesn’t really like the current trend of everyone posting profiles on applicant discussion boards and having consultants tell them if they can get in – we do it too, but it’s so unfair to candidates to render a yes/no verdict on such limited information. But we digress.)
The second part of that truism – that a low GMAT score can keep you out of business school – is more discouraging. It’s also important to notice the word “can” in that sentence. A low score doesn’t mean you definitely will be rejected. Just like a high score doesn’t guarantee you entry, there’s a lot of other variables going on in your application that will be evaluated. These other variables – specifically the ones you have control over, namely the essays – matter for a lot. The schools make admissions decisions every year that are seemingly counter to what a GMAT score would indicate, based on the essays and the recommendations. If you have a high GMAT score, you need to couple that with a good pitch. The rest of the application needs to be watertight. A lousy set of essays is often the downfall.
Conversely, if your GMAT score is borderline, it’s still totally possible to get in if every other part of your application shines.
This means that the essays count for a lot. The recommendations do, too. And the resume. The piece that you have the most control over – once the GMAT test is done, at least – is the writing. The essays and your resume represent extreme potential for you. That’s where we believe that applicants have the most opportunity.
Nailing the GMAT is super important. It’s much more difficult to get into a great MBA program if your GMAT score is very low. Most people need to devote significant time and effort to preparing for the test.
But the battle is not won (or lost!) when the GMAT is done. Most people need to devote a comparable amount of time and effort to the application essays – the difficulty of this step is almost always underestimated. The first set of essays will be particularly hard. Even if you’re a good writer, this is a particular kind of writing, and it doesn’t come naturally.
Regardless of where you ended up on the GMAT, the final decision that the adcoms will be making on your applications often pivots on the essays. The essays are not the most important – everything factors in; you can’t isolate any one element and pin the final decision on that. But when you recognize that weaknesses elsewhere in an application can be overcome through a good set of essays, then you start to appreciate the role that they play.
Each piece matters, or the admissions committees wouldn’t be asking for it. Don’t underestimate the power of the written word – and don’t shortchange your chances for admission by trying to take shortcuts on the rest of your application, now that you have your GMAT out of the way.
Good luck with your MBA applications, everyone!
Admissions consultant EssaySnark offers MBA application tips every weekday at the EssaySnark blahg. If you’re especially brave, you can even submit an essay for a free review posted anonymously on the site. Hundreds of helpful articles available at essaysnark.com. Increase your odds of getting into a great MBA program with The ‘Snark!
Check out Magoosh’s GMAT Scores for Top B-schools infographic to learn the average scores of the top business programs.