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MBA Admission Guide

From Redwolf’s my life,my blog and B’School somewhere in between

B-schools “grade” you on four major categories- Academics, Goals, Experience/Leadership, and something I’ll call “Worldliness”.
GPA: There is no “minimum score”. If you’ll notice, the average GPA for the top MBA programs is around 3.5 while the average GPA for the top Law schools is around a 3.8. Clearly, GPA does not matter as much (I think it’s unlikely that MBA applicants are less intelligent than Law School applicants and so their GPAs are lower). But, that doesn’t mean if you have a 2.0 you stand a good shot if you’re average in every other category. The GPA and the GMAT are used to reflect your ability to handle the academic rigour of the program. If you meet the minimum requirements, you’re pretty much all the same as far as the b-school is concerned. I’d speculate if you have a 3.0 or above you’re in contention, provided your GMAT is sufficient. GMAT seems to be the more important Academic factor.
GMAT: Again, no “minimum score”. But, schools have been more explicit about this one. Some believe that as long as you break 700 you’re ok. I’d beg to differ. I think the composite score isn’t as important as the individual scores. Wharton has explicitly stated they want an 80%/80% split between quant and verbal (that’s percentile, not raw score), and other schools seem to follow this as well. That’s not to say if you get less you won’t get in, but if you do it is a cause for concern. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t think a GMAT of 750+ means anything more than a GMAT of 710 in the adcoms’ eyes.
This section is the simplest part. You’ve got to be able to clearly articulate why you want, actually I should say “need”, an MBA. First priority- long term career objective. Shoot for the stars with this one (ex. CEO, run your own Private Equity shop, etc.), but make sure it makes sense (don’t say Chairman of the Fed if you were an Art History major and work at a non-profit). The nice thing about b-school is that it is what I call a “start over card”. One of the most common uses of the MBA is to change one’s career path, and this is a totally acceptable answer as far as the adcoms are concerned. They just want to make sure you’ve thought about it thoroughly and the MBA is the best path towards achieving your goals. You have to be able to say “I know currently know X, but I need to learn Y to become [long term goal] and b-school is the best place to learn that.” Finally, you need to paint the picture of how you intend to go from b-school to the long term goal. Talk about the job you want straight out of b-school and how it makes sense as a stepping stone to the long-term goal. Adcoms can’t always figure this part out.
This and Goals section are the most important categories. This basically comes down to two things- your work experience section of the app and your essays. On the numbers end, you probably need at least four years of work experience (three if you’ve worked in a slave-type job like I-Banking). But that number is nowhere near set in stone. What really matters is how you’ve developed as a professional. Experiences themselves seem to count for very little. All the adcom cares about is what you’ve learned from the experience. They want to know about you the person, not you the short bio. That is how you make use of the essays. List your work experience in the work experience section, but in the essays tell the adcom how these experiences have shaped what kind of professional you are. And, of course, the most important trait they’re looking for is Leadership. They want to see that you have experience leading from your work experience or extra-curricular activities and that you’ve learned something from these experiences. They seem to understand that some professions are not conducive towards leadership experiences (ex. research analyst), so then they look for it in the extra-curriculars and maybe try to infer it from the essays. The real challenge in this section is trying to explain everything you’ve learned sufficiently in 1,000 words or less.
This is a slightly less important category, but still something that can keep you out. Basically, b-schools don’t want corporate flunkies for their students. Nor do they just want professionals. They want people. If all you’ve done is work at your job and haven’t been a part of something other than your company and family, you need to do something else. They love volunteering. It shows you have interest in things outside of work but also that you actually want to give back to the community. B-schools like their alumni to be philanthropists. Also, they want their students to be open to other people’s ideas. That’s part of the whole learning process at b-school- learning from each other. If you can show that you have a “worldly” perspective, it implies that you’re willing to hear other points of view and potentially change your own. It also means that you’ll be able to add a melange of viewpoints to any discussion. Oh, and if you’re international and thinking “I’m from another country so I can add a different perspective to all the Americans at b-school”, guess what- so are all the other applicants from your country. Just being from another country doesn’t make one more “worldly” or “open-minded”.
That’s about it for this “guide”. I’m sure I’ve missed things and I’m probably a little off on a thing or two, but I think this pretty much covers the basics. Any comments/additions would be welcome. Remember, it’s easy for a school to reject an applicant, but harder to reject a person. Use the application to show them who you are. You may be great and all, but if you don’t tell them how in your essays how are they going to know?

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