Wondering if you’ve got what it takes to make it to your dream business school? Check out this post from MBAPrepAdvantage’s Michael Cohan. It’s the 3rd post in a 4-part series, and it’s chock full of guidelines for assessing your chances of making it into your dream business school.
This blog post “Evaluating Your MBA Admissions Chances” is the 3rd part of a 4-part series:
- Determining An MBA Program Type
- Selecting Suitable MBA Schools
- Evaluating Your MBA Admissions Chances
- Bringing It All Together
Hopefully by now, after Determining An MBA Program Type and Selecting Suitable MBA Schools, you are ready to evaluate your MBA admissions chances. Doing so requires introspection and honesty about the attractiveness of these programs and schools to you and vice versa – your desirability to these programs and schools.
So, the difficult question is always how do I compare to other MBA applicants? There are certain tangible and intangible factors you can use to answer this question. You want to gather all the class profiles and statistics of your target schools from their school websites (like HBS Class of 2015) as well as from external websites like MBAPrepAdvantage (Johnson School of Management at Cornell), BeatTheGMAT (Stanford Graduate School of Business), and US News & World Report (Wharton).
Then, benchmark your statistics versus the averages and medians published for your country of origin, sex, minority status, as well as your industry and functional area, because you will be evaluated along these lines. A self-assessment becomes more difficult because schools do not release average and median scores in this granular fashion. You will notice that under each question I pose below, there are qualifiers discussing the limitations of merely benchmarking yourself against these statistics.
How does your average GPA compare to the average GPA of each school?
- What is the approximate rank (competitiveness) of the undergraduate (and graduate if applicable) school from which you graduated?
- Does your school grade on a particularly difficult or easy curve?
- How difficult was your undergraduate degree or major?
- Did you do well in rigorous classes, such as statistics and calculus?
- Did you work through school to finance your education?
- Were you heavily involved in extracurricular leadership activities?
MBA admissions committees will factor the competitiveness and grading difficulty of your undergraduate school along with the rigor of your major. For instance, West Point is known to grade on a difficult curve while BYU grades on an easier curve. STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) students have more arduous classes and also are usually graded on a more difficult curve. MBA programs also factor the demands on your time in achieving the GPA, so working or leading extracurricular factors would be weighed as well. Thus, a West Point Electrical Engineering student with a 2.8 could be viewed as or more competitive than a BYU Political Science student with a 2.8
How does your GMAT score compare to the median or average GMAT score of accepted applicants?
- If you took the GRE this comparison will be more difficult because few schools publish median and average GRE data.
- What is your country of origin?
If you are an international applicant, how did you perform on the TOEFL?
GMAT (or GRE) scores are important because standardized test scores can be compared across all applicants. But schools will use these scores to compare you versus those from your country (and also industry). So, the scores for an investment banker from India or China would be compared to a higher average score than would the scores for a musician from Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia. Also, the scores are used in conjunction with your grades, thus the West Point Engineering student who has a 3.8 has more latitude to score lower on his or her test scores. In addition, there can be mitigating reasons for lower test scores, such as a learning disability. But for those applicants with learning disabilities, you can request a waiver for the GMAT or the GRE.
Do you have any certifications, such as the CFA (Certified Financial Analyst)?
Have you been published?
If you have respected certifications or have been published this could partially mitigate a lower academic performance or lower test scores.
Within your professional career, MBA admissions committees will compare you to other applicants from your country of origin as well as your industry and functional area adjusted for your age. MBA admissions committees will look to evaluate your career trajectory, achievements, demonstrated leadership and teamwork, global mindset, and other characteristics.
Have you progressed in your career quickly or slowly?
How often have you been promoted?
Have you received awards?
For certain industries, like strategic consulting or investment banking, promotions are given during somewhat standard intervals so gauging advancement is easier. For non-traditional industries or entrepreneurs, assessing rate of advancement could be more difficult. Likewise, with awards, honors are more common in the military so the level of awards would need to be higher to differentiate you from other military applicants.
What has been your impact?
You should try to quantify impact into increased revenue or decreased expenses; in other words show the business relevance of what you do. But, sometimes this can be more difficult so impact can be shown in other ways.
What has been your demonstrated leadership?
Leadership comes in many packages, from the obvious by authority to the less obvious by influence. MBA admissions committees will assess your existing leadership skills as well as your potential for development.
How have you functioned within teams?
MBA schools (and much of life) run in teams where sometimes you lead and other times you support. So, how do you manage conflict, facilitate, build consensus, etc. Wharton’s team-based interview format is specifically designed to assess this.
Have you worked in other countries or with people from diverse cultures?
MBA schools (and much of life) also involve thriving in settings with people of different backgrounds and ways of doing things. Do you thrive in these settings?
How have you handled ethical dilemmas?
I could put a hundred questions here to show all of the different intangible things MBA admissions committees seek. Integrity, initiative, resiliency (often addressed in “failure essays”), and emotional intelligence are some of these factors.
MBA admissions committees want to admit good people who will impact the school and lead its organizations, programs, conferences, etc. A track record of prior community service and extracurricular activities is a good indicator of community engagement at business school as well as another opportunity to assess some of the criteria discussed above. You will still want to assess your promotions, impact, leadership, teamwork, global element and other characteristics as you did within your career but might do so in a different manner.
Have you served on non-profit boards or in other leadership capacities?
How do you lead in non-professional settings with volunteers?
How do you positively contribute to group dynamics when your team includes members with different roles and motivations, such as staff and volunteers?
Does any of your community service or extracurricular activities encompass a global scope or involve a global mission?
What motivates you and what is your passion?
Do you have any noteworthy accomplishments or life perspectives?
Have you risen from especially difficult circumstances?
So, merely being an Indian candidate working in the U.S. would not differentiate you versus a significant portion of Indian candidates. Being a Slavic dancer who was almost sold into prostitution and started a global non-profit institution to stop human trafficking would (a real example from one of my former clients).
Up until this point, I have not yet differentiated between MBA admissions committees because all of them seek candidates with a strong academic profile and track record of promotions, impact, leadership, teamwork, a global mindset and other characteristics in professional, community, and personal dimensions. But schools differ in their guiding principles that influence their selection process. You can learn more about these guiding principles by carefully researching the schools and even by analyzing the questions they ask in their applications. Haas’ Guiding Principles are “Beyond Yourself”, “Student Always”, “Confidence Without Attitude” and “Question the Status Quo”, while both HBS and MIT Sloan publish “Who are we looking for?” and “What We Look For” respectively. MIT Sloan does not feel that short and long term goals dictate future success as a business leader (and hence MIT Sloan does not have a goals question), while Columbia considers the alignment of goals with recruiters and academic programs as an important criterion (hence why Columbia has a goals question).
Ok … so now what … ?
So, you might be now asking yourself any one of the following questions. How am I to gauge my overall competitiveness if only some of the comparative factors are quantitative and even those factors are only published in an aggregate sum and not by each of the sub-groups I will be compared against? How can I gauge my overall professional progression if I come from a non-standard industry or have some special aspect to my story that I feel is special but do not know if an MBA admissions committee would? How do I know if my leadership experience is unique versus the throngs of applicants?
MBAPrepAdvantage can help you with a free assessment to gauge the strength of your candidacy. After having evaluated thousands of MBA applicants since 2004, we have nuanced insight into “how you stack up” on these quantitative and qualitative factors. We offer a free initial assessment that can help you gauge the strength of your candidacy and your MBA admissions chances along with helping you determine which MBA program suits you. Email us a brief description of your goals along with your target schools, resume, GPA, and GMAT/GRE at email@example.com.
If you wish to better understand how MBA admissions committees assess your candidacy, feel free to refer to the blog post Evaluation Criteria.