What Matters Most in MBA Admissions?

If you’re like many MBA hopefuls applying to business school this year, you’ve begun to map out your application approach and are daydreaming in earnest about what it would be like to attend your top choice program. As you consider your own qualifications – both your strengths and your weaknesses – you may wonder, what matters most in MBA admissions?  

It can be easy to focus on the ‘hard facts’, including GMAT/GRE scores, GPA, and work titles. While those are certainly important, in our experience, simply having strong credentials on paper will not get you accepted to the top MBA programs.

Instead, we’ve found that what matters most in MBA admissions is far more subjective. Our most successful clients share a set of four characteristics. These attributes set successful applicants apart from others who may not emerge from the MBA application process having reached their full potential.  We hope that they help guide the intentions you set for yourself as you embark on this transformative (and admittedly stressful!) journey.

Here are the four characteristics that successful MBA applicants tend to have in common.

1. They are self-aware.

Above all else, the commonality we see amongst the most successful applicants to top MBA programs is self-awareness. This often manifests itself into an easier time distilling down the values, passions, and motivations that guide their past decisions and future goals – all of which is critical material to nail in your MBA essays.

Separately, strong self-awareness typically lends itself to deeper and more productive relationships with others, from which the best leadership and teamwork stories usually result.

2. They are open.

For many people, the toughest thing about writing business school application essays is getting comfortable sharing personal details. It can be surprising to learn that the admissions committees want you to let your guard down and share more about yourself than you would in a typical professional setting.

Think about it for a moment, it would be incredibly hard to differentiate between candidates if you were only judging them on their work experiences (consulting engagement stories really run together, we’ve read a lot of them) and GMAT scores. To truly assess your leadership potential and the value you would add to classroom discussion, admissions committees want to understand your unique perspective – one that was shaped by your upbringing, college experience, and personal hobbies.

If it is not your natural inclination to reflect on your values and motivations and then share them with perfect strangers, that is ok! But be prepared to get comfortable going down this path. Here is an exercise on developing what we call your ‘personal brand’ that might help.

3. They are curious.

When we speak to clients this time of year, they inevitably ask what they should be doing right now to prepare for their applications. Hands down, my advice is to seek any and all information and truly listen to those who have come before you. In other words, network!

Nine times out of ten, applicants underestimate the number of conversations they need to have to adequately learn the subtle differences between top MBA programs. Remember that each person you speak with is just one opinion; to develop a robust perspective on how a school fits or does not fit your goals, you need to accumulate a variety of views.

Let’s go back to the admissions committee for a moment. Just as schools probably sound the same if you are only reading the generic language on their websites, applicants sound boringly similar if they speak in broad strokes about a school’s ‘culture’ and ‘experiential curriculum’. No matter how compelling your profile, they will be hesitant to admit you if you can’t articulate how you will leverage their program to achieve your goals.

So be curious and enjoy the process of learning about the experiences of others. Many of the details they share may not apply to you, but those that do will make all the difference in the world.

4. They are willing to put in the work.

Just as networking takes time and effort to do well, so does the broader application process. From arriving at compelling short-term and long-term post-MBA career goals to recrafting your resume for an admissions committee audience, a strong application can’t be done in days or even weeks.

Remember that you are competing for one of 300-1000 spots (depending on the program) with a pool roughly nine times as big as the incoming class based on the latest acceptance and yield data. Invest the time into crafting an authentic, well-developed application and set yourself up for the best chances of success.

You may have been hoping for one concrete, achievable answer to what matters most in MBA admissions. We get it, crafting a compelling application is tough! If you would like assistance, reach out for a free 30-minute consultation!


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