Every year, thousands of deserving candidates apply to top MBA programmes –and are rejected. This year, for instance, Harvard Business School only admitted 12 per cent of applicants, the majority of whom are highly accomplished by any standards. This number is typical of all leading schools, so if you aim to attend a first-rate programme, you have to find a way to stand out from other applicants.
The obvious answer is to be among the best and the brightest in every area the admissions committee looks at. Having a magna cum laude AB from Harvard College and a few years’ experience at McKinsey or Goldman Sachs immediately catches the eye. So does a BS from Caltech and founding a successful start-up. However, the very reason most professionals want an MBA is because they don’t yet have such accomplishments on their CV.
Realistically, nothing can be done about an undergraduate GPA (grade point average) or a first job out of college. However, you do have a greater degree of control over the remaining parts or your business school application – the reference letter, essays, and GMAT score. In fact, I know of a few candidates who have impressed admissions committee with an outstanding GMAT score.
Usually, they spent a substantial amount of time preparing for the GMAT and other forms of standardised test. I have even read of some applicants quitting their jobs just to prepare for the test and add an extra 10 or 20 points to their total score. In my view, though, this type of dedication is misplaced.
My rationale is that trying to improve a GMAT score which may already be in the top 4 per cent overall, there is a diminishing marginal return on time invested. Most top schools accept candidates with scores in the range of 680 to 760 – out of a maximum 800. So, if you have achieved a fairly good GMAT score, it is more important to spend time crafting your application essays and coaching your referee to emphasise the right things.
The GMAT is important, but it is one-dimensional. It shows how smart you are, but in business school, as in the real world, being smart can only get you so far. Good essays give more colour, revealing other talents and aspects of your personality.
The primary goal of these essays is to let the admissions committee know who you are and where you want to go to. You should be answering the implicit questions why this business school and why you. When I wrote application essays, I kept thinking about how best to demonstrate the “why me”, while ensuring the essay was interesting to read and would hold the attention for a few minutes. The easiest mistake is to jump right in and take the set question at face value. Instead, you should think long and hard about what the admissions committee is really asking. Knowing what they want will help you tick more boxes on their scorecard.
Originally posted on Education Post.