How A Top School Screens MBA Applicants

by John A. Byrne on Print Print

The MBA recruitment and admissions team at the Rotman School of Management

Niki da Silva sits at the head of a long rectangular table in an ultra-modern glass-walled conference room on the sixth floor of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. As director of MBA admissions and recruitment, da Silva is the school’s top gatekeeper, the sentry who decides which candidates get in and which get rejected.

Huddled in the room are six other admission officers on her team, each with a red folder placed in front of them on the gleaming white table. Tucked inside each folder is the complete file of an applicant who sorely wants one of the 330 to 350 seats in the next entering class of Rotman’s full-time MBA program.

Now that the round two deadlines for submitting applications is over, it is a ritual that is playing out at business schools all over the world: Admission committees meeting to make hard and often painful choices whether to admit, deny or waitlist tens of thousands of jittery candidates.


For those who desire an elite MBA, the odds are daunting. At Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, the most selective B-school in the U.S., 94 of every 100 applicants will be turned down. Harvard Business School will rebuff nine out of every 10 applicants. Though Rotman’s acceptance rate is much higher, roughly half of the more than 1,200 MBA candidates expected to apply this year will be spurned.

What makes da Silva’s job tougher than most is that she is expected to increase the size of the entering class at Rotman while also increasing the quality of the admits. Last year, she managed to increase the students in the entering class to 313, up from 265 a year earlier, while increasing the class’ median GMAT score 20 points to 680 in one year. The school expects to welcome 400 MBA students by 2016 so that its total enrollment is similar to such schools as Stanford, MIT, New York University’s Stern School and London Business School.

On this brisk, snowy day in January, da Silva’s admission committee will render decisions on seven applicants from all over the world: a pair of software engineers employed by one of India’s most successful global companies, an out-of-work Brit who lost his job in asset trading after his firm was acquired, an ambitious Chinese woman who is employed by a global investment banking firm, a Russian woman with entrepreneurial ambitions who lives in New York City, and two young female Canadians who work in consulting and communications.


Their GMAT scores range from a low of 620 to a high of 780. They range in age from 24 to 30. And they’ve been educated at a wide variety of undergraduate universities from the London School of Economics to the University of Auckland in New Zealand. They are among the first 300 applicants to the school who have gone through the review process for what will become Rotman’s Class of 2015.

It will be a productive day for the committee: six of the seven applicants will receive good news and three of their files will move forward to a broader committee for a shot at an award from a $2.4 million pool of scholarship money. A 28-year-old software engineer from India with a 710 GMAT will be thrown into the reject pile.

With Rotman’s round two deadline of Jan. 7, applications for the incoming class this year are already up by some 20% over last year. If the upward trend holds, da Silva and her admissions committee will read and review more than 1,400 applications this year. The bulk of the work is done between January and April when the files pour into admission offices.

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  • JohnAByrne

    It hasn’t been at the top of our page all that time. We rotate these features in and out. The truth is there hasn’t been an inside story on MBA admissions in which a journalist was allowed to sit in on an admissions committee meeting. I believe the story is timeless and not perishable which is why it was at the top of the page, especially now that applicants are going through this process.

  • SU85


    I am planning to apply for a top 10 MBA program. I just took my GRE and got a score of 161 Q and 156V which is obviously low. However, my last degree was at Stanford where I graduated with a CGPA of 3.91/4.2 from MS in Management Science and Engineering. I have over 5 yrs of experience in different consumer tech markets across the world.
    With this in mind I am not sure if it would be best to apply with my current score or retake the test.

    Any advice on this will be really helpful

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