The Presentation Only Elite MBA Applicants See

Every year, many of the most elite companies bring into their offices B-school admission officials and MBA admission consultants to give their two-year analysts the skinny on the MBA admissions game. These insider seminars are a common perk at McKinsey & Co., Boston Consulting Group, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and other organizations that pretty much require the MBA degree for advancement.

Jana Blanchette, founder and president of Inside MBA Admissions, has traveled around the country, giving two-hour-long presentations to top-tier consulting firms and Ivy League alumni groups. The sessions cover what happens after a person hits the submit button on his or her application, bringing you inside an admissions office to show how Adcom staffers evaluate applications.

Blanchette should know. In 2007 and 2008, she was a senior director in the admissions office for the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. While at Ross, Blanchette benchmarked the application processes and admissions criteria at other top business schools so the system at Ross could be reengineered. Then, in 2008, she left Ross to launch Inside MBA Admissions, an admissions consulting firm.


Blanchette received her MBA from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. After graduating from Kellogg in 1999, she worked as a management consultant for A.T. Kearney and later became a principal with the firm.

Readers can attend a one of several free webinars on “Understanding How MBA Applications are Evaluated” by Blanchette. They will be held on July 30, Aug. 7, and Aug 30. You can register here.


  • PLN

    Its typically Indian IT, Wall Street and Consulting that are overrepresented

  • GoalieLax

    i’m sorry, but this just read as a whole lot of “well, duh” to me

    how can we consider someone and “elite applicant” if they can’t, on their own, understand that managing people is a differentiator?.

    is it interesting to know students read applications? i guess. but when I was applying to (and getting in to) top 20 b-schools, they weren’t my audience.

    here’s my tip – go for an in-person interview. if you’re good there and meet the hurdles, you’re in. if you’re awful at talking to people, work on it…a lot. you’re gonna need that skill day 1 out of b-school.

  • Roger Goodell

    Students have an understand of THEIR own culture and THEIR own class’ culture. Who has a better understanding of a business school’s culture than someone who has seen half an MBA program? Someone that has spent 10-20 years on adcom and has seen 20-40x as much as that 2nd year student.

    I think the adcom brings a far more mature perspective and one that provides consistency. Also… MBA students are very impressed with sparkly credentials like being a Rhodes Scholar, being a staffer at the White House, making boatloads of money at Goldman Sachs or KKR… adcoms are more desensitized to the glitzy pedigree factor and try to look through these things to understand what an applicant’s true potential rather than what they have done to date.

    I’ve encountered a fair amount of MBA at top schools tend be rubbed the wrong way by some of their Wall Street classmates or otherwise wealthy classmates that don’t have to worry about debt/expenses. Some people feel left out of some events/trips because they have a more restrictive budget and their point is “the b-school experience isn’t about exclusion, even if its inadvertent via financial hurdles to do certain things.” Oddly enough they don’t consider this when having events/dinners/trips that are more moderate but still prohibitively expense to some of their classmates.
    I’ve seen this a lot… there is definitely a sour grapes factor, so I certainly see the point made above.

    Lastly, students also have a vested interest in making the school look selective or pedigreed, thus having a bias towards nuts and bolts stats that can be communicated in media and poets & quants to show how selective a school is — and not accidentally, how much of a star the current students are (including the one reading apps). I would think that have a higher median GMAT, higher median GPA and more pedigree would not do much for the class. Its about more than that.

  • Ryan Grossner

    I’m not sure they would only choose the best and brightest to attend the school. When using a type of sensitivity analysis, you could see that, given that the student’s input is only a small weight (GMAT and other numerical factors are much higher, even if adcom opinions weight equal to student input), there would be little difference in employers’ perception. Since it’s qualitative, I can’t say the exact effect and everything from normal variation to economic conditions at large will affect all of this, but the important thing is that the employers’ perception of one student can change dramatically when compared to other students in the same graduating class. Therefore, the student has a lot to gain (and the school has not much to gain or lose) from hedging against his or her own losses. Why recommend the best and brightest when they’re only a year behind you and can possible get promoted in 18 months when you were promoted in 2 years. Now they’re only a half year behind you. It won’t have much effect on the school and the weight of that student’s input in the admissions decision is small anyway, but IF that person is admitted and if that person is outstanding in the eyes of the student evaluator, that current student just added another competitor to his or her, and why would you want to do that? You could make the school look better and your resume look worse. I don’t think employers hire you based on rankings. Therefore, if you’re at the bottom or top of the rankings, I don’t think employability is sensitive to student input in the admissions decisions. If you’re in the middle like (on Businessweek) University of Buffalo, University of Washington, or (before 2012) University of Maryland, then admitting a millionaire entrepreneur that can talk to people and also apply physics to portfolio management while consulting for NASA might be good for other students overall, but if not, you just made all the other students work a lot harder because one less job at BCG or Goldman or wherever that genius wants to go is available to everyone else.

  • WhartonLover

    Wharton Over Everyting

  • Jtoro

    Current students see through ‘paper candidates’ way better than Adcom, no questions asked.

  • essen_1976

    Plus I think those students are trained to do their job well. No school would want a review to go bad and hence they are more likely to select those reviewers diligently.

  • rubicx

    That sounds really gay.

  • nanthro

    There is no science to back up that it is either. Way to state a half truth.

  • Cmoney

    At the risk of sounding ignorant, I think the notion of a well ’rounded’ class has gone completely over the top. I am in the camp that believes that in most companies only a handful of people truly get it, step up to the plate and hit home runs. Apple is the prime example of how one man can really make or break a corporate titan. DONT believe the hype ladies and gentlemen, B-school is NOT going to transform the tortoise into the hare. With that said, the focus of recruiting kids for bschool should not be whether you are gay, white, WASP, etc. HBS should be thinking, “Is this kid a rock star? can he or she get things done? What is this persons track record of success? Is he or she a leader”. “Fit” is important too, but I know a lot of dickheads who are really successful business people because they believe in their vision and they know what they want. Do you think HBS should reject a future world class leader because this person is a little arrogant? For the most part, the cream rises to the top and an admissions team’s job should be to simply skim.

  • L. Piccini

    Slide 8 and 9 are duplicated, this means that slide 9 is missing

  • DerpDerp

    So when did you choose not to be gay?

  • Arturo

    If I get to have an impact on who gets into my b-school and someone with a better profile than me wants to get in, I will want him to join. Makes my b-school more prestigious.


    Hmm I think its time to become magically gay before I turn in my MBA apps, and then to say, “oh oops I was just confused during that period, sorry I’m actually straight.” Very fair, no?

  • LeSkwal

    This thread is a good showing of ignorance. I don’t know about you guys, but despite what “the studies show” (what studies, how good were they?), I know that I never chose to be straight, and none of my gay friends claim to have chosen to be gay. Regardless, like Sassafras said, they want people with different viewpoints. Someone growing up LGBT, Black, Hispanic, Military, etc. can provide unique perspectives. These schools purposely try not to have a WASP factory so they can have well-rounded alums.

  • Justin

    We’re all born with preferences…for instance, I am absolutely addicted
    to rock climbing. I’ve never found anything else that makes me feel
    quite like climbing does. Although I didn’t know it at the time, I
    firmly believe I was born with a desire to push my physical limits by
    doing something just like rock climbing. I didn’t just “decide” it suits
    me…it’s part of who I am. I say all this to get to this point…I
    think one’s sexual orientation is a VERY significant factor in that
    individual’s life, and should definitely be considered in the process.
    Although being LGBT is much more significant in the grand scheme of
    things than my passion for rock climbing, both are things (along with
    race, gender, geography, disabilities, financial background, goals, accomplishments, etc.) that help adcoms get a well-rounded view of the
    applicant. In a vacuum one’s race, gender, sexual orientation, hair color, etc., are not predictors of success or potential (who said they were?), but they are all
    things that make up “who” an applicant is. IMO, it is crucial for adcoms to get that big picture so they can best gauge one’s fit with their program and their potential for success.

  • Just because you did your master’s thesis on this topic doesn’t mean it’s true. But whether it’s a choice or not is beside the point. Identity plays a large role in how we’re perceived and influences how we behave. LGBT people have different life experiences, which can translate into different perspectives.

    Do you think race and gender are indicators for a candidate’s potential? They probably aren’t, and that’s not the point. The point is that under-represented candidates have different vantage points and perspectives.

  • KKMA1869

    1. Sexual orientation is largely a choice as far as current research shows. Hypotheses that suggested pre-determination have largely been discredited. (I did my master’s on this).

    2. Even if it wasn’t a choice, it simply isn’t a relevant differentiator or indicator of a candidate’s quality of future potential, thus “90’s grad’s” point still stands. For example, schools don’t and shouldn’t consider the candidate’s height and adjust their criteria to achieve a normal distribution of heights.

  • Results

    Simply because it is a choice. There is no science to back up that it is not.

  • Realitycheck

    That you still use the phrase “sexual preference” — which suggests it’s a choice — is enough to question your level of knowledge on this topic. Ask a gay/lesbian friend, if you have any, why this is still an issue.

  • 90’s grad

    LGBT an “underrepresented group”? Since when is sexual preference something that should be considered? It certainly doesn’t make you a better or worse candidate, like say someone who brings military experience or not-for-profit experience. It shouldn’t be discriminated against but it shouldn’t be considered either. As an HBS grad this bothers me that someone can somehow “differentiate” themselves by claiming their sexual preference is something other than heterosexual.

  • VonSloneker

    E.g. exempli gratia, you’re right.  Basically “for the sake of example.”  i.e. Id Est, literally means “that is” and is used in the same way.

  • Jamalamot

    OK. Where is this presentation?

  • JackLondon

    Well, I would say you have a good point about possible prejudices. A few things you might consider though is that the students know the culture of the school better than anyone and have an acute understanding of “fit”. Secondly, students only choose the brightest and best students because (once they are in) they want their alma mater to be known for intelligent graduates as the student have staked their careers on this degree. It is the students who understand and have the most to gain/lose. In that case how could you ignore that feedback?

  • @mba colleges : i agree. Students should read such guide prior to applying to all very different degrees :

  • Bob

    Uh, no, Larry — “e.g.” indicates an example, while “i.e.” basically specifies (=”as in”)

  • Most of them try to get into the engineering and medical streams, there is a heavy rush seen for admissions.

  • Pushkin

    I should clarify – my comment above is specific to Clint’s comments. This reminds me of the concept of “model minorities” and I think this is something that schools would conciously try to avoid.

  • Pushkin

    I think the argument that schools will choose candidates will choose student who may not fit the “profile” but GPA or GMAT is a little outdated. There are exceptional people in the peace corps, in Teach for America and other similar programs, people who have the GPA (which is a requirement for many of these programs) and either the GRE or GMAT scores to be competitive.

    To me, these people are the ones that I worry about being competitive with. They are truly exceptional individuals who have demonstrated commitment to certain values, have shown the academic competence and risk tolerance that choosing a non-traditional path requires.

  • Hattori Honzo

    Mayte, why is it that a student who has himself made the grade insufficient in judging a potential student’s candidature ? Given an oppurtunity, I would definitely like to have a say on the quality of recruits in my firm. I don’t want to hobnob with folks who carry half their brains with them. Is that concept so difficult to grasp??

  • Inbold

    Students should never be a part of the app reading process. What do they know about judging the quality of an application? They are in most cases themselves fresh off the boat having been admitted recently. Students being competent to judge the ‘fit’ is total bull. They will carry a load of prejudice and reject people who earned more money than they did pre-MBA.

  • ParkAve

    Do this:

    3.5 GPA
    650-700 GMAT
    Don’t be another finance applicant
    Do something cool, like start a non-profit or something
    Write really good essays – I mean really good
    Interview well – this can make or break you

  • Just an itty bitty silly point. On the second slide, she should use (i.e.) instead of (e.g.)

  • srini

    Can you please elaborate on the over represented groups? Does the term refer to groups like the Indian IT professionals or the Wall Street finance types? In general, what are some of the over represented groups? Are the requirements different for over represented groups? Thanks for your help!

  • This is a very informative deck and packs a great deal of valuable information into a few slides. Thanks for sharing it. I too would like to see more information like this available to more applicants in order to level the MBA application playing field. Reducing information advantages held by “elite” applicants is a step in the right direction. Resourceful, thoughtful, diligent applicants will make the most of the tools and guidance once they are made available. Thanks!

  • Aaron

    Thanks for this post, @jbyrne. I may have to check out the full preso on the 15th. On a separate note, did you receive my earlier note about a potential meeting later this week?

  • Francois

    Clint: It is human that adcoms are sensitive of criticism and defend their stance without disclosing the inner workings of decision-making (keep cards close to chest).

    Adcoms want to stick to the proven formula of finance, consulting and blue chips. Sprinkle a bit non-traditionals from the mililtary and voila, the new class is ready. Nothing too radical to rock the boat. In incorperate social changes is mostly lip service to beat off critics.

  • Manishk

    Hi John,

    Great article. Though it only talks about what happens pre-interview.

    I would love to hear what happens after the interview process. Some schools like Wharton normally give out interviews to 50% of their applicant pool.


  • Clint

    I’ve always had the suspicion that admissions committees (as groups of individuals) are sensitive to various types of criticism against them, and might try and respond to that criticism in their admissions choices.

    For instance, a school thought to only take finance or 700+ candidates will admit an exceptional peace corps participant with a 2.7 GPA just to have backup against claims of being only concerned about ranking profiles.

    I’d love to see some article or commentary on how admissions committees respond to changing business and social dynamics, and what types of interpersonal interactions take place when discussing whether to admit a particular candidate.

  • Guiseppe


    Thanks for Jana’s presentation to us mere non-elite applicants. The components of evaluation process are well known, but small aspects such as weighting, underrepresented groups, designing preliminary class profiles and internal decision-making are informative.

    What is your take on recent declining application volume and correlation of class profiles in terms of strength and depth? adcoms do emphasize that quality remains unchanged in the top end of admits regardless of volume.

  • Ranjit,

    Very good catch. The presentation slides were done before anyone knew about this change, and we have been the only outlet to report that change in our interview with the deputy director of admissions.

  • Mr Questions


    Interesting article. Can we get a list of candidates she feels are over/underrepresented?

  • Ranjit

    Hi John,
    I just thought I’d point something out that I think is a contradiction or maybe I’m understanding something wrong.
    On page 3, it says that Wharton applications are read by a student before it goes to a admissions committee member.
    However, I recall reading in on of the earlier columns that this system has been changed and now students aren’t involved in the reading and the application goes directly to an ad com member.