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MBA Admission

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 picture.

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.

GMAT scores

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.

The GMAT

Virtually every MBA program in the country requires their applicants to take the GMAT. In fact, one of the notable holdouts -- Harvard -- 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.

GPA

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 you.

Work experience

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 top Business School 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 program.

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:

  1. The Stature of Your Company
    Does it have a high reputation? Does it produce well-qualified applicants?
  2. 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?
  3. Your Advancement
    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 to company?
  4. 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?
  5. Leadership Potential
    Did you excel in your positions, go beyond the job descriptions, save the day, lead a team?

 

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