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Admissions requirements vary from institution to institution. Most rely on
the following criteria (not necessarily in this order): GMAT score, college
GPA, work experience, essays, letters of recommendation, interviews, and
extracurriculars, of which the first four are the most heavily weighted. The
more competitive the school, the less room there is for weakness in any one
of these areas.
Most applicants suspect that the GMAT score or GPA pushes their application
into one of three piles: "yes," "no," or "maybe." But that's not the way it
is. Unless one or more of your numbers is so low it forces a rejection, the
piles are "looks good," "looks bad," "hmmm, interesting," and all variations
of "maybe." In B-school admissions, the whole is greater than the sum of the
parts. Each of the numbers has an effect but doesn't provide the total
What's fair about the system is that you can compensate for problem areas.
Even if you have a low GMAT score, evidence of a high GPA, quantitative work
experience, or the completion of an accounting or statistics course will
provide a strong counter-balance.
No one single thing counts more than everything else. Your scores, work
experience, and essays should give the admissions committee a clear idea of
your capabilities, interests, and accomplishments. Any particular weakness
can be overcome by a particular strength in another area, so make sure you
emphasize whatever strengths you have and don't take them for granted.
How important are GMAT Scores and Grades?
The GMAT score and GPA are used in two ways. First, they're used as "success
indicators" for the academic work. In other words, if admitted, will you
have the brain power and discipline to make it through the program? Second,
they're used to compare applicants against the larger pool. In particular,
the top schools like applicant pools with high scores. They think that
having an incoming class with high score and grade profiles is an indicator
of their program's prestige and selectivity.
Virtually every MBA program in the country requires their applicants to take
the GMAT. In fact, one of the notable holdouts --
started requiring the GMAT again for people applying for fall 1997
admissions. Great GMAT scores won't necessarily get you into the school of
your choice (there are too many other factors), but low scores will almost
certainly keep you out. As a general rule, if your scores are more than 50
points below a school's average, you are probably facing an uphill battle.
If you're in this situation, consider taking the GMAT again. Business
schools generally focus on your most recent score.
Some schools look more closely at junior and senior year grades than the
overall GPA. Most consider the academic reputation of your college and the
difficulty of your curriculum. A transcript loaded with courses like
"Environmental Appreciation" and "The Child in You" isn't valued as highly
as one with a more substantive agenda. Increasingly, schools are looking
quite closely at your performance in quantitative courses, particularly
calculus and microeconomics, when evaluating transcripts. Given the
quantitative nature of much of the course work in an MBA program, they feel
that such courses are good indicators of your likely performance. If you
didn't take any quantitative courses as an undergraduate (or didn't do so
well in the ones you took), one thing that you can do to improve your
application is to take a calculus, statistics, or microeconomics class
before you apply. Of course, you need to do well if this is going to help
How important is it?
Of all the criteria, your work history is perhaps the most crucial to
acceptance. In fact, without work experience your chances of admission to a
are almost non-existent no matter how strong the rest of your application
is. Admissions officers believe that you need to have real world experience
before you can benefit from and contribute to an MBA program.
Work experience also provides tangible evidence of your performance in the
business world thus far and hints at your potential. This helps B-schools
determine if you're going to turn out to be the kind of graduate they'll be
proud to have as an alum. Your work experience also reveals whether you've
progressed enough (or too far) to benefit from a B-school education. Last,
your experience sheds light on the industry perspective you'll bring to the
How Much Experience Do You Need?
The standard for many years had been a minimum of two years of work
experience before applying to business school. As competition for seats in
MBA programs has increased over the past few years (many schools have seen
twenty percent increases in the number of applicants), some top programs
have started looking for applicants with at least three years of experience.
How is Work Experience Evaluated?
Work experience is evaluated using five criteria:
The Stature of Your Company
Does it have a high reputation? Does it produce well-qualified applicants?
Diversity of Work Experience
Have you started your own business, invented a new software program, or
worked in an industry that is under-represented at the prospective school?
Did you progress steadily to ever-more responsible positions, or did you
just tread water? Do your salary increases prove that you are a strong
performer? Did you put in your time at each job, or just jump from company
Your Professional and Interpersonal Skills
Did you get along well with others? Work as part of a team? Do your
recommenders see you as future manager material?
Did you excel in your positions, go beyond the job descriptions, save the
day, lead a team?
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