David Petersam is the president of AdmissionsConsultants and the author of Top MBA Programs: Finding the Best Business School for You.
Since 1996, AdmissionsConsultants, www.admissionsconsultants.com, has helped thousands of clients gain admission to highly selective MBA programs. The company’s global network of seasoned consultants helps clients develop best strategies for admissions: identifying “best-fit” schools, developing applications and essays, and preparing for interviews. AdmissionsConsultants’ sole focus is on helping clients successfully enter college and graduate programs that will help them meet career and life goals.
I’m often asked what an admissions committee will consider most important or how much weight will be given to each factor. What part of the application will they focus on? How do you put your best foot forward? We find that it’s helpful to think about the MBA admissions process as a series of three hurdles where you need to clear each hurdle to gain admission to the business school of your choice.
The first hurdle is academic qualifications. You need to have the grades and tests scores to demonstrate that you are capable of handling the academic workload. If your GMAT (or GRE) and GPA are significantly below the average for that school, the admissions committee will doubt that you have the ability and/or work ethic to get the most out of their program. They might even conclude that you’re a risk to flunk out. Over 80% of b-school applicants clear this first hurdle with ease.
The second hurdle is your intangible qualities as they appear in your application. What do your essays reveal about your character and aspirations? What do your letters of recommendation say about what kind of person you are? What does your resume tell the committee about your career interests and talents? Remember that the admissions committee is trying to get a picture of who you are. They haven’t met you, but they’re trying to “get to know you” on paper. You need to ensure that your essays and your recommenders convey who you truly are – but, obviously, in a positive light.
The third and final hurdle is the interview and many schools only interview by invitation. Here, again, the schools are looking at your intangible qualities as well as how you articulate answers to questions such as “Why do you want to go to business school and why now?,” “What do you intend to do with your degree?” and “How will you be an asset to the program?”
Be sure to prepare for the interview by practicing (out loud) and answering questions – especially tough questions. Effective practice is crucial to your success. Make sure you find someone who can critique not just your eye contact and other mannerisms, but also help you prepare for likely questions and the answers you want to give to reinforce your story themes and wow factors. To accomplish these things, you need to go into the interview prepared with a couple of points you want to make about yourself and your experience – and some questions about the program that you want to ask. You can write these things in a small notebook that you carry with you. Be sure to send a thank you note to follow up the interview.
So, of these three hurdles, which is the most important? The answer is: all of them. You need to clear all three hurdles to gain admittance to a top business school. If your grades and test scores aren’t good enough, your intangibles won’t matter and you won’t be invited for an interview. If your essays don’t give a good sense of who you are, the admissions committee won’t be able to tell whether you’d be an asset to the program. And, if you bomb the interview, it won’t matter what undergraduate school you went to or how many promotions you’ve earned.