How A Top School Screens MBA Applicants

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.

  • Johny Q

    All I have to say..”2 Harvard business degrees does not recognize one of the best business schools in the world”. In regards to this point…which is sort of the basis of your entire arguement. On a world scale, fact is nobody has heard of or cares about Rotman. And compared to top 20 MBA programs world wide Rotman is a joke. Enough said. Hence the reason why our friend here with the two Harvard degrees hasn’t heard of it.

  • Ankur


  • 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

  • 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.

  • pepte jugbon

    One of the MBA candidates (top left) looks like the Obmacare website girl!

  • Hank

    Seriously, a story on Rotman admission that really isn’t that interesting is still at the top of your homepage a year after it was posted P&Q? Perhaps because it is most commented on, but doesn’t that say something negative about your site engagement? Is this a paid position perhaps? Just curious…

  • Taylor O


    Not only did Rotman reinforce learning about accepting evidence despite our emotions and biases, it was a key focus of the program, especially in their integrative thinking classes. I’m wondering what part of my reasoning you don’t agree with?

    Overall, for me, it was a pretty darn good choice since I enjoyed the learning especially their unique programs (design, integrative thinking, etc.), made good connections, increased my post-graduation salary, loved living in Toronto and more. I wouldn’t classify that as a mistake. All schools have their pros and cons, and we all have individual needs and contexts that differ. For me the choice worked well. Whether it could have been better somewhere else is really a guess after the fact. With the knowledge I had at the time it was a solid pick for me. Sounds like that’s different for you and that’s cool.

  • Hari

    I worked since I was 19 to save up for an MBA and I am appying to rotman this year. I am Indian and I am mid 20’s. So this “rule” will be just as biased.

    Rich kids can have string profiles too. Nothing wrong with being born priviledged either.

  • amy

    i am 36, i guess i can kiss goodbye any chance for an MBA at Rotman

  • Guest

    A 28-year-old software engineer from India with a 710 GMAT will be thrown into the reject pile. And the rationale behind it?

  • John

    I will repeat my question as well:
    “Why would you need to fake your way into an MBA program if you can just fake your way into a great job?”

  • Qin

    I’ll rewrite my original statement to be more clear.

    “If you can fake your way into an MBA program then you can probably fake your way into a great job (with the addition of an MBA degree).”

  • John

    WOW, you keep on refusing to answer my basic question. You now have an additional one to answer:
    What job requires you to have an MBA?
    Why would you need to fake your way into an MBA program if you can just fake your way into a great job?
    Prediction: You will once again not answer my question, but you will offer another red herring. Are you happy with that?

  • Qin

    You still need the degree to get into certain jobs, the other skills are not sufficient. But, they are necessary.

  • John

    You have not answered my question.
    Why would you need to fake your way into an MBA program if you can just fake your way into a great job?

  • Qin

    I suppose it’s a case of necessary, but not sufficient.

  • John

    If Steve J and Mark J were not in need for a MBA, then
    i) why did they hire people with MBA’s to fill their gaps?
    ii) why do they make mistakes that could have been avoided had they had more information (MBA armor)?

    A MBA is no substitute for experience, but only a fool would say that the great are unable to be educated. I did not know you discovered the 1st two perfect people; Mark Z and Steve J. Well done!

  • John

    So what?

  • John

    If this is really Rotman’s evaluation/selection process then I would not want to be selected.
    In fact, this a disgrace for Rotman. What makes it worse is that the anchor (inexperienced admission officers) are grounded in stifling ignorance bonded with inductive obscurantism.

    I have never heard of Rotman’s, and now I know why.

  • John

    You can not compare a science degree with a business degree.
    I was not aware that there was a bio-technology and bio-informatics bubble, nor aware that it burst.
    Deduction has highlighted 3 flaws in your reasoning. Why would you not be ashamed with that?

  • John

    The USA secret weapon is the H-1B visa.
    Without this H-1B non-immigrant visa the USA would not be at the forefront of innovation, scientific progress and high-tech.
    Silicon Valley consists of 50% foreign born.
    It is well known that US colleges are actually remedial high schools. The USA depends on the foreign genius and offers rewards. I am not convinced that producting fine tip graduates are one of the USA’s secret weapons.

  • John

    Why would you need to fake your way into an MBA program if you can just fake your way into a great job?

  • John

    I am not convinced you have either.
    You see, I can make the exact same claim about you as you do about Sameer.
    What makes you think you are more correct than me?

  • John


    So, getting an Engineering degree does not outweigh a Communications degree? An Eng degree is not harder, does not require more work, more inlcass time, and more homework, more assignments than a easy Comms degree?

    CPA was before he did the Eng degree, and GMAT was after. Or do you suggest MBA programs start evaluating candidates based on their kindergarten test results?

    Sameer’s procrastination may be his definition of it, which may be much less than someone who took the easy way (Comms degree) to cheat ahead.

    “Sameer’s” bad luck was that the Rotman’s assistant directors of MBA admissions are incompetent.

  • John

    The average GMAT score of all test takers is about a 540. Based on this, I can not completely understand why you would say that GMAT scores in the 500s is woefully low. Gee, 68% of examinees score between 440 and 640.
    Secondly, people do not only do an MBA to make a ‘career transition’. Please do it for different reasons, regardless of age.

  • John

    Since when is an MBA a professional degree? Can you elaborate on this – what is your definition of profession, when was MBA degrees made it, what is the relevance to it being professional?

    “The true purpose of applicants in MBA program is purely finding a better job and higher salary.”

    That is you subjective opinion. There are other reasons why people do MBAs:
    1) Some like to accumulate degrees – professional students

    2) Some are actually interested in the content of the topic subjects – realistic

    3) Some “think” it will lead to a better salary – greedy

    4) Some “hope” to mean networked people during the MBA program – social

    5) Some combination of the above.

    If Rotman’s really recruits / selects candidates as noted in this article then it is not a place I would want to be associated with.

  • John

    Two things:
    1) Personal attacks based on assertion fallacies are showing your lack of attention.
    2) Correlation does not imply causation. Your Wall st ramble is irrelevant, unscientific, and pure bogus.

    Why do you write lines like this “….you may want to comment on the fact that Americans travel to Europe with Canada’s National flags on their backpacks…”
    Do you know what evidence is, what falsification is? Can you back up your wild assertions and show the relevance to your argument, or countering user Kane Iyer’s arguments? No, try again.

    You clearly have not attended Harvard, nor has any professor said to you to: “I prefer knowing before saying.”

    Your reason filter is not working. It is letting all the crap thought, because it has been installed for so long, you do not even realize it is faulty.

  • John

    So not only are these young inexperienced assistant directors of MBA admissions biased, they are also experts at job interviews?

    WOW, these assistant directors of MBA admissions are probably the MBA lecturers too.

  • John

    Rotman accepted you but you defend your school even when presented with the fact of flaws.
    Seems like your MBA indeed was a waste – they did not teach you to learn from your mistakes or even admit mistakes.

    I would not want to be associated with Rotman’s that would accept me as a student.

  • John


    Do you know what a straw man is? Well, you are either straw manning Kane Iyer or you are being unintentionally ignorant. This is a false dichotomy that you find yourself in.
    Kane Iyer clearly wrote about the selction process and not about Rotman. In fact, Kane Iyer admits that he does not know or know about Rotman at all – he had to look them up.

    But you could not stop there. You had to launch onto a personal insult and make a assertion fallacy to back it it. How do you know he hates Rotman? How do you know he was rejected at Rotman? Why would you have condolences for him if you know he is a hater? Are you a hater also – like attracts likes….
    Writing lines like “ the fact that probably…” is littered in induction and obscurantism.
    No one can take your comment seriously. I had to respond to highlight this.

  • Shaun

    Business schools are making a great business clearly by creating a myth that MBA is essential for career development. Now this is just a bubble that is going to burst not far from now, like the bio-informatics or bio-technology myth, whose field are now oversaturated with PhDs.

  • theHIduke

    Harvard Business School accepted me – twice – when my grades at the University of Hawaii were so bad that, as I recall, I was ineligible to APPLY to the UH MBA program. Harvard’s B-School had no such GPA application hurdle and was rumored to have a “wild-man quota” at the time (since unofficially confirmed by just one “source” – of unknown reliability) which mandated that admissions screeners should put aside – for further, higher, review – applications that suggested real- world experience and unusual “quirkiness.” I had worked part-time in hotels in Waikiki through UH, won a heavyweight boxing championship, and held (just one) leadership position in “student government”; I also very intentionally wrote my application in a decidedly arrogant style.
    The B-School (HBS) accepted me the 1st time, conditional, of course, on undergraduate graduation; a UH professor who was notoriously prejudiced against haole (Caucasian) students failed me – although my test results were passing – & I had to retake the class, causing me to miss graduating; on reapplying to HBS the following year they accepted me again.
    I was blessed with excellent referral letters, two or three (+/ ?) from HBS alumni, which was possibly the only (other?) thing I had going for me in my 2nd application – other than taking over a 352-rooom Waikiki hotel as Manager between finally graduating from UH and applying to HBS the second time. HBS was incredibly great!!!

  • Parag

    Nice Point Harsha. I second your views.

  • Willie Keith

    Big takeaway: the key to admission is to be blindly lucky enough to have your application fall on the right side of whichever unabashedly biased reviewer it happens to be assigned to that day. Your grades, GMAT, and work experience are just window dressing. This article is so depressing; what qualifies any of these people to judge the ability of anyone to be successful in business school? So ridiculous.

  • rick

    MBA degrees are great as long as they are monetarily controlled. I bet you anything that people who become bankrupt from medical bills will be eclipsed by people who become bankrupt by being saddled with student loans leaving only trust fund babes at the helm. Its funny, with all of this brain power around us you’d think somebody would figure that out….

  • John Nelson

    “…a candidate is too old for a full-time MBA program, in the mid-to-late thirties, da Silva might immediately toss out the file …”

    Nice to know age discrimination is alive and well…

  • alice

    I enjoyed reading your comments…i have been in the same place as the guy with 710 in this admission process (not Rotman though)…reading your comments gave me an interesting perspective. Because it’s so easy to be dejected in this entire process for no mistake of yours, but result of an effective process.

  • David

    Pity after all that trouble an MBA does not even guarantee you a job interview. There is no substitute for real as opposed to a paper performer, just ask Mark Z and Steve J. You won’t this sort of stuff out of a book.

  • Jerry

    Is the 30 age max a tactic to show largest salary jumps with their MBA graduates. More mature and experienced career advancers have probably richer experiences that ad new value to the MBA world, but have reached salary levels that %-wise can grow less (not good for the MBA Business School profile).

    Myself starting an MBA at 38 and happily graduated at a business school that does not discriminate age.

  • Matthew Lipschultz

    “No one including those barely read or write has ever lowered Harvard’s
    brand, since everybody considers it “HARVARD”, so keep your mouth shut
    up towards other schools, merely as a Harvard grad, won’t lead people to
    think you are ignorant”…..FANTASTIC run-on sentence. You were educated where? Also was taught in my lowly public school, that it’s also an error to start a sentence with “but”. You are doing exactly what you accuse Iyer of: NOT knowing, before saying……BOX!

  • MBA Applicant 3941

    These AdCom profiles are very interesting. It amazes me how they can allow outsiders to read between the lines and identify schools that actually “fit”. For example, some of the statements in this article completely deter me from applying to Rotman(e.g. Chengdu is small). Also, the way they seem to dislike honesty.

  • MBA Applicant 3941

    I had the same exact thought. I really would love to learn more about that Chinese recruiter…could be a posh job. I knew a woman that recruited for a British Uni in China and basically she hopped from Sofitel to Sofitel and proclaimed her distaste for China at every opportunity.

  • kk

    chengdu is hardly a small town…guess even canadians are still myopic in their worldview

  • Peyton

    seriously? whatever “flagship” college you went to- you don’t have the right to be racist. you think studying in India is easy? try writing your ICSE exams- here in India, we have major public exams in the 10th grade and in the 12th grade and along with that- we need to write entrance exams for EACH AND EVERY school or college we apply to. and many school in India have till the 10th grade only. so we basically end up writing like 10 entrance tests after a tenth board exam and 10 entrance tests after the 12th board exam along with standard tests. and the boards are just getting tougher and tougher. we don’t get the American luxury of writing just the SAT’s/ACT’s/GMAT’s and using those scores to get in to how many ever colleges. there are many, many meritorious students in India and the competition is very tough- the cutoff in most Indian universities is 98-99% which is higher than even Harvard. you might want to think again before you make racist comments as above and then be audacious enough to smooth it over by saying you feel for students who have valid applications. That comment is utter rubbish.

  • Peyton

    I think it’s awesome you went to Harvard because that’s a dream school for business students- but I don’t understand why you would make that comment about most “kids” going into consulting just for the heck of it -as you seem to imply- I myself plan to go into management consulting as a matter of fact. Also- the reason the procrastinator wasn’t admitted was because he admitted it, and hadn’t done anything to change that quality of his. If he had- like if his employers had said he had overcome his weakness- he most probably would have been admitted. there is also the fact that he was immature.
    and you are right about the myth that an MBA is COMPULSORY to go into consulting. its a fact that the average consultant with a bachelor’s degree gets $60,000-$100,000 as an annual income.

  • YouCantInterruptHarvard

    Hey, shut up! That guy went to Harvard. You’re stealing his well-deserved spotlight.

  • Qin

    If you can fake your way into an MBA program then you can probably fake your way into a great job.

  • Le

    What continues to amaze me are the numbers of Americans who have never left this country (12.5% have passports) and who think the world envies us.

  • Chris

    Dear Kane: Yes, your view is very myopic and very american. I had PhD degree from one of top schools in the US, but I realised that there are many better schools outside the US. U of Toronto and Rotman is one of them. Rotman is about the same rank with Berkely, Michigan, and NYU, — likely slightly lower than Harvard, MIT, and INSEAD. MBA is a professional degree, like a law school or medical school. The true purpose of applicants in MBA program is purely finding a better job and higher salary. Not sure how you can link the purpose of applicants in other disciplines to that in MBA program.

  • hbssowhat

    No one including those barely read or write has ever lowered Harvard’s brand, since everybody considers it “HARVARD”, so keep your mouth shut up towards other schools, merely as a Harvard grad, won’t lead people to think you are ignorant. But the fact that you keep commenting here based on your 5-minute online investigation kind of convinces me, along with many other people, that Rotman is a top brand which the “Harvard” brand is envious of.

    That being said,within the American academic circle there has been a survey based on facts & data and it is giving such conclusion: when there are more Harvard grads working on Wall the year, the stock market gradually becomes a bear market; when there are fewer Harvard grads on Wall St., the stock market tends to be a bull market. Since you are proud enough to present your in-depth knowlege here as a “Harvard” grad, we hope you are not one of those. And as you love “North America” enough to see “USA” instead of to get informed that there is actually a “world” in which your “USA” exists, you may want to well spend your time on figuring out why USA boasts so many “top business schools” including Harvard, but just cannot let their people avoid the economic suppressions.

    On the other hand,since you are patriotic enough to be a typical American who’s ready to comment on anything he has just heard of for 5 minutes, you may want to comment on the fact that Americans travel to Europe with Canada’s National flags on their backpacks.

    Haven’t your professors at Harvard ever said to you during one of your professor-student lunches? “I prefer knowing before saying.”

  • Arindom

    What a business school will look for in a candidate who has cleared GMAT or any other entrance test? Should they go with their scores and other academic qualifications or should they look for their job or business profile? This post has indeed kept us thinking what should be the most effective selection procedure to enroll the best possible students in business schools or management institutes.

  • As an American who attended Rotman, I’m in the unique position to provide more insight. I can tell you that we aren’t the target demographic for students as the makeup of the student body suggests and the Dean has mentioned in talks to us. There were but a handful of fellow Americans in the 2010-2012 class.

    When I look at schools I think it’s more clear to break it down this way in comparing:

    1. Prior to Program – Student Quality ie GMAT score, GPA, etc. (Related point: The ivy league churns out successful people or people that would be successful anyway go there?)

    2. In Program – Learning & Experience

    3. Post Program – Opportunity (Career, Salary, Networking)

    The reason I chose Rotman was primarily for #2, which admittedly is not what most people are thinking which is likely #3. From Peter Drucker’s positive comments about what Rotman is doing, to their innovative Business Design program and Integrative thinking and newly developed Self-Development Lab program and amazing electives like Innovation, Foresight and Business Design. They even have a new creative destruction lab that looks promising. The rock star roster of Professors from Roger Martin to Richard Florida or Alex Manu, sometimes every day feels like a Ted talk. The number of speakers that their relationships bring in is equal to or exceeding any other school.

    As far as #3 Post Program, they could certainly use improvement in attracting a range of non-typical finance employers to campus but most students are going in to finance now and the transition to shift the percentage will be tricky. A lot of new changes in leadership of this area will be interesting to watch. Canadian salaries are lower than the American equivalent (and paradoxically the cost of living is higher) but this absolutely kills their stack ranking and will continue to do so, as long as students stay in Ontario which right now is the vast majority (with notable exceptions of myself and a few other awesome people).

    You mention the appalling reliance on GMAT but the schools you suggest rely on it even more.

    Canada’s economy isn’t a hotbed of economic activity? From vast mining and commodities, Bay Street finance, social media and enterprise software acquisitions it’s not too bad. Less volatile so far, but it’s not boring.

    Rotman’s a relatively young program that is growing rapidly, along with an amazing beautiful new building. It’s also in the heart of a great part of truly awesome livable city, sort of Brooklyn meets Chicago but with less crime and more fries covered in gravy.

    As far as the myth of getting in to those industries without an MBA and instead another degree I applaud such great thinking, but the fact is the path is well worn for the MBA and thus systematized making it easier, especially without pre-existing connections. It seems only the likes of the Ivy league can get away with placing an art history major in consulting– try to find examples of that in the Big 10 schools (I haven’t heard of may).

    Your point is well taken about a potential bubble (Peter Thiel discusses this eloquently) but I think this applies across the board to all institutions. That deserves it’s own full thread.

  • RancidAnimal

    This post clearly shows that Rotman’s Admission’s Committee, for all their purported knowledge, are woeful at comparing candidates who differ vastly. A strong theme that stands out throughout is that these Admission Officers have strong biases in evaluating candidates.

    1. Karen is admitted with a scholarship and assessed as very bright, when she has a score of 630 with a pathetic 61 percentile in Quant? AdCom claims she’s committed to the school and has done her homework on her goals. Umm, could she not have spent a couple of weeks on quant and attempted the GMAT again?

    2. I was ROFL at this gem from one of the officers.
    “I’ve been to Chengdu. It is a small town.” –> Chengdu is a small town? Its the 4th largest Chinese city, with 14 million residents (NYC is 8.5 mn). Are you kidding us with that sort of people evaluating applications?

    DISCLAIMER: MBA admit to a M7 US school.

  • LeSkwal

    I think they all do.

  • hbsguru
    This clip takes you inside the Harvard Admission process–worth a look. 🙂

  • LabatBlue

    Nikki is very photogenic. One of the reasons for applying there would be to talk to her. Loved the article. Go Canada! Go Nikki!

  • Ravi V (Toronto)

    I, too, felt uncomfortable at the fact that the applications are being reviewed by people who themselves have never got an MBA degree, or any other graduate degree. Are these people the right ones to judge who will do well? Never having gone through a similar experience, how an they judge?

    The fact that they selected someone with a 4.0 GPA in communication studies from the University of Windsor, Ontario, Canada, but low GMAT suggests that they are only looking at applications superficially. It is not too difficult to get a high GPA at a not so good Univ., but GMAT, being universal is different and diminishes the GPA.

    I would be shocked if I were to apply for an MBA program and learn that no professor ever looked at my application. If this is the practice at other places, then it is well worth avoiding such MBA degrees.

  • Jamal

    It is funny to see how a “successful” top-tier firm professional with
    two degrees from Harvard would take the time to write such an educated
    comment in a full article about how to get into one of the most
    important MBA Schools in North America. More funny it is to see such a
    deep-heartened hate towards a school that she doesn’t even know…

    Sorry but it seems to me that you know Rotman better than a lot of
    us do, and such an unfundamented hate towards the school is in reality
    fundamented in the fact that probably once you were rejected from the
    big opportunity to pursue your MBA at Rotman. My condolences to you!

  • wi11iedigital

    Agree 100% Was shocked that so many very obvious opportunities for bias are ingrained in this process. I always assumed schools we’re making a largely quantitative evaluation with 50%+ of the Yes/No based on some sort of GMAT/GPA weighting and the rest of the application being given numeric scores as well adding to the other 50%. At a public school with a $300 CAD application fee, the sense of groupthink would be a red flag for me as an applicant.

  • Ian

    Anyone that is over the age of 30 knows that an MBA (M.eans B.^gger A.ll) so if they dare applying then they deserve to be rejected.

  • AD

    Are you intimating an educational institution ought to have more confidence in its ability to educate properly and sufficiently to increase an applicant’s/student’s employability post-degree????? (insert Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” here)

  • Sassafras

    I think his major mistake was not having LEARNED from his weakness. He hasn’t taken steps to improve it. It’s like, yeah I suck at this. Oh I guess I could work on it…tomorrow.

  • nobody

    It is interesting that when you meet adcoms in various fairs, they emphasize that their program is not all about jobs and ROI but much more in educational terms. However, while deciding whom to admit they simply go for ‘most presentable’ person or the one who is most likely to get the job after MBA. Or maybe, this is the mark of substandard MBA program, advertising itself as a top one.

  • AD

    Eh, I was always suspicious of the arbitrary and sui-generous/self-biased adcom ‘process.’ Start with the whole ‘diversity’ canard: what ever happened with admitting the best and brightest? By definition, there will be ‘diversity’ of other factors if you’ve chosen based upon the best and brightest–but there are some strange ‘social’ currents at work in society…. Exhibit A for this are the artificial %ages and categories for each ‘factor’ to try to engineer in each class. Perversely, the diversity myth ends up having an effect opposite to that intended. Curiously, where is the diversity on the adcom staff? You might have guessed, I think the drive for diversity for diversity’s sake is somewhat useless, and often counter-productive.

    I can appreciate looking at a candidate ‘on the whole,’ but I am not comfortably confident that the admissions process and stated factors achieve this. I am a tad troubled that the ‘adcom’ staff haven’t much, if any, experience with what they are admitting people to. That is, none have actually completed an MBA program–or apparently even graduate school or much personal experience outside academics/HR/admissions. While this needn’t be a prerequisite per se, at least have some sort of proxy or similar experience. Accordingly, I find it a bit hollow when the adcom folks talk about the rigors of the ‘program’ and qualitatively making decisions about the same because they ‘feel like’ person X can’t hack it. Then again, without the benefit of experience, what else would they have to go on…. Interestingly, it seems as though the ‘hard numbers’ part of the admissions file (GMAT, GPA) can be disregarded when desired, to the primacy of ‘liked her’ etc. I understand weighting factors differently, but just found it curious how the adcom staff were quick to dismiss either ‘hard’ criteria as somewhat inconvenient to ‘liking’ someone for whatever reason. Someone can be quite friendly and personable, but actually quite useless in a work environment (we all know or have worked with people like that); I should think that the ‘feelings’ part of the process should be confirmatory or cause for concern of factors I think should be more primary (references, work history/progress, courses taken, undergraduate institution quality, achieved on a higher level than peers etc).

    So what about scores? Well, the Chinese and Indian schools/applicant concern me. Its been my experience that disturbingly often these scores are fraudulent. I began shaking my head when they mentioned the Chinese woman that was ‘too perfect.’ I’ve seen this, and its depressing that it continues, but more so that people fall for it. Now no, I’m not saying all applicants from China or India submit fraudulent applications; but its all too often that it besmirches those applicant from those countries who DO NOT submit fraudulent applications…and this, is the real crime. I would tend to do a much deeper and analytical perusal of such applications.

    I shant get into the reasons for pursuing and MBA as that is personal, and frankly I can’t say, and don’t think its really of value, to attempt to value it too much. I was a bit surprised the committee did so. People’s stated reasons are A) Subject to such change, B) Probably bogus admissions fluff to begin with. So, can’t say I see much probative value in it. Which brings us to the age thing, this was quite disconcerting. As others have noted, this was quite ill-thought-out.

    I’m sure there is more, but I’m off to dinner. By way of disclaimer, perhaps I should note the following:
    I am American
    I went to undergraduate at one of the flagship US schools.
    I went to graduate school at another flagship US school for science

    I worked in academics during/post first graduate school at the same graduate school

    I went to graduate school again at one of the oldest and most respected ex-US schools, and yes, in my mid-30s
    I have done a career change post my second graduate degree (MBA: finance)

    What I’ve written is my experience and opinion, no axe to grind here. I’ve no affiliation or experience with Rotman or U Toronto–though I’ve friend from Toronto, and I went to Toronto late one night while in college….

  • true

  • You’re probably right; though I think the school should let the candidate decide which program is right for them instead of attempting to cattle herd them into one or the other.

  • Agreed; I was being facetious. I don’t fault any school for how they handle that..they all have their reasons..and they all have exceptions when they think a candidate is a fantastic fit. I wouldn’t doubt that the 37 year old’s DBA aspirations weren’t expressed in his MBA app. A future doctoral student is a definitely reason to be more relaxed on age at a place like HBS.

  • Meany

    Maybe they are targeting the older candidates for the Executive MBA….

  • Kane Iyer

    I believe Sloan takes older candidates as well. As do LBS, Stern, and a number of other schools better ranked (and better known) than Rotman. A friend of mine applied (and was admitted) to HBS at 37. He went on to do his MBA and then his DBA.

  • Kane Iyer

    It’s a good school, but Top 10 in North America is going a bit too far. Not even in the Top 20 (look up any rankings). Even so, employability is seldom a function of your school’s rankings, and more a function of reputation (or to use the more colloquial, dirty word, popularity).

  • Taylor O

    At 14M Chengdu is 2-3x Toronto’s size. Sounds like the equivalent of a New Yorker calling Chicago a small town.

  • sachin

    “I laugh because I must not cry, that is all, that is all. ”
    ― Abraham Lincoln

    Often things are too simple to be believed,e.g.

    “If you look for the bad in people expecting to find it, you surely will.”
    ― Abraham Lincoln

  • nobody

    what a wonderful make believe world you live in!

  • sachin

    Thanks John, wonderful first-hand insight.

    Every organisation (school/company/NGO included) is a living organism, the management is responsible for its prosperity and has unquestionable rights to form a set of code (written or verbal) for new entrants (except for primary education providers, in India as “Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan” i.e. “(primary) Education for All” is a fundamental right). I have read that Harward had a minimum six foot height norm for their new students (not verified though), based on reports that taller candidates are excellent managers. Its responsibility of the management to confer scholarship to the righteous candidate.

    In summary, if the candidate is

    1) aware about what he/she is doing

    2) be genuine with his/her shortcomings

    3) willing to learn

    will be selected in most of the leading business schools (with scholarship).

  • sky

    Might be the employability thing again…….a booth or wharton grad will have no problem finding a gig but someone from rotman >35 at graduation might have trouble…

  • Mark O

    Rotman, I believe, is probably now the runaway leader in Canada.

  • I think the bias towards certain candidates vs. others (e.g. “the procrastinator”) mostly have to do with how they were measuring employability. If you tell an interviewer for a prestigious job you’re a procrastinator, you’re toast. The adcom uses their interviews as a hint at how you might interview for such a job; and they want to admit people who they feel confident that an interviewer will like and extend an offer to. Same thing with consulting. That is a job they know they can deliver on. Some of how they choose people has just as much as what they think they can realistically do for that candidate in light of their goals as it has to do with what the candidate will bring to the school.

  • Oh no! I guess all the old geezers in my age group will just have to settle for Chicago or Wharton since we are “too old” for ROTMAN! Damn blue bloods…

  • Cross Cultured

    University of Toronto (Rotman) one of the leading universities in the world. Top 10 in North America.

  • nobody

    you should be ‘mature’ enough to know when to stop telling the truth. 🙂 what is wrong with these people.

  • cookie09

    I had to chuckle when they quoted Chengdu as being a small town lol, given that it’s probably bigger than any Canadian or US city except LA or NYC if you count every of their suburbs

  • Chris

    Dear Kane: Yes, your view is very myopic and very american. I had PhD degree from one of top schools in the US, but I realised that there are many better schools outside the US. U of Toronto and Rotman is one of them. Rotman is about the same rank with Berkely, Michigan, and NYU, — likely slightly lower than Harvard, MIT, and INSEAD. MBA is a professional degree, like a law school or medical school. The true purpose of applicants in MBA program is purely finding a better job and higher salary. Not sure how you can link the purpose of applicants in other disciplines to that in MBA program.

  • Kane Iyer

    Oh, you’d be surprised at how little I know. For instance, until I googled Rotman, I was unaware that there were such schools as Iese Business School from Spain or Ceibs from China in the top 20 (I even had to look them up). And I am terribly sorry that I do not hold up to the high standards of some of my other (clearly, better informed) brethren.

    Now that we have established that, the question of Rotman’s popularity and familiarity has nothing to do with how much I have traveled. The reality is, unless you’re interested in business schools (either because you or someone you know considered doing an MBA, or because you work closely with B-school graduates), there really is no reason to be familiar with any schools other than the top 10 or 20. I looked up Rotman’s rankings and it was ranked #46 (according to FT, anyway), which in the grand scheme of things is pretty average at best.

    The other aspect has a lot to do with the popularity of the university in question. People forget the fact that long before HBS or Sloan were popular, Harvard and MIT were themselves pretty well regarded. That’s not to say UoT isn’t a good school — it’s just not in the same leagues as MIT or Stanford. And unfortunate as it may be, part of that reason is also because Canada isn’t exactly a hotbed of economic activity. After all, it would be disingenuous to assume that Stanford’s popularity had nothing to do with where it was located, and the opportunities that were created as a result.

    But none of that takes away from my comments on their selection process.

  • The fact that you don’t know Rotman makes you unqualified to comment. It’s a sad commentary on the State of American “myopia” or lack of world view that a guy who has 2 Harvard degrees does not recognize one of the best business schools in the world. Get out of Cambridge, take a trip, travel abroad or start with Thunderbird and that’s in Arizona another World Class school that’s not in your vocabulary but the whole world knows. Truly Sad! And no, I am not a Rotman Graduate, I just know it and do business with people who went there, like most of my colleagues in business and economics including the guys who went to Harvard.

  • Harsha

    A Indian Student’s (if self-financing) will usually have to be in late 20’s -early 30’s to be able to afford a North American MBA . So If the school is looking for a good profiles from India they should be ready accept older students or else they will end up with few rich kids with shallow profiles.

  • Harsha

    Sameer’s mistake was that he spoke of procrastination honestly. The point to understand is if the person is not mature enough to understand what quality can raise a red flag it means he needs to work on his interviewing skills. Imagine if he says the same thing to a recruiter in his interview, there is a good chance he will not be picked there too.

  • Kane Iyer

    A couple of additional points:

    1. It looks like GMAT scores are essentially meaningless, because they are just used to confirm a bias. If you have a good enough profile, poor GMAT scores are irrelevant. If you have a profile the adcom doesn’t like, then even good GMAT scores are irrelevant. What’s the point, then?

    2. As others have pointed out, mid 30s is hardly old. While I understand not wanting to bring in people who are much older, people today retire at 65, on average. Assuming you start working at 21, you’re barely halfway through your career at age 33. A lot can happen in that time. Some of the most interesting people that I know are still figuring out what they want to do with their lives, at age 50. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Diversity brings with it its own lessons and experiences.

    3. I am surprised at the role that luck has to play in the selection process. What if I was unfortunate enough to be the worst of the six that were picked, but good enough on my own? That’s a terrifying prospect.

  • whymba

    seems such a superficial process. “too old” is chucked out. I like the MIT approach where it is all ranked with #s. Anything else is subject to arbitrariness..

  • Brent

    I think Kane has a valid point as an American, look at the USA economy. I would say they’re doing just fine producing top graduates.

  • Matt M

    A business school’s underlying approach appears to be all business. What will the candidate do for us at the school in the short and long term. No surprises here, however, those of us without the” family business background” and possibly endowments are therefore handicapped. This approach may be good for the school but continues to destroy the bridge that connects potential candidates with opportunities for success in business. It almost gives the impression of a predetermined outcome or prejudice. Those few outsiders that make it into the club undoubtedly experience this first hand and often aren’t allowed to be part of the success unless they can overcome that adversity or succome to their peers. I believe that there are many hidden candidates that with the proper business training would be successful in changing our world for the better and business in particular. I think a university has an obligation to take risks in identifying a few of these candidates much like balancing a diversified portfolio you just don’t always know who will become a star. We all have hidden talents and being a successful business person may just be one of them. I just wish we had more real humanitarians in business but then again the business culture generally dictates a self-serving focus and reward system. I believe a university has an ability to set expectations for students or potential students to live up to or down to some more than others just need someone to open the door so they can rush in and offer a welcoming new perspective. As an American I personally think we need that in politics today otherwise the US renaissance will soon be over as we breed mediocrity or self serving interests. It can all start with a business education we just need to give the opportunity to a few more of those we see with potential and passion that don’t initally rise to the top because of a particular background.

  • Jeff

    Agreed . . . this is a great Article. Did anyone catch the comment: “If a GMAT score is woefully low, something in the 500s, or a candidate is too old for a full-time MBA program, in the mid-to-late thirties, da Silva might immediately toss out the file”.

    I can completely understand woefully low GMATs/GPA’s. However, immediately tossing out the file on a person who is too old for a full-time MBA doesn’t seem to make sense. I would have to think that there would be many applicants who hold advanced degrees (ie medical school + residency, law school + clerking). Most of these candidates would be in their thirties by the time they have any meaningful work experience under their belt. I’m not sure if mid-late 30’s constitutes as being too old for a full time MBA. If you are 65 years old and wanting to make a ‘career transition’, then MBA is probably not the place . . . mid-30’s = too old? Give me a break.

  • Kane Iyer

    As an American, this may be a rather myopic perspective, but I had no idea that there was such a business school called Rotman, or that it was even important. In terms of top international schools, LBS, HEC, INSEAD, Hult and a handful others get named but Rotman?

    That said, I did find a few points to be of particular interest. One was the selection criteria in that the admissions committee wanted to go in for candidates who pretty much “showed well”. So, essentially, they are more concerned with Type 2 errors than Type 1 — i.e. they’d rather reject a potentially good candidate than risk admitting a potentially bad candidate. While this is understandable for, say, Stanford or UChicago, I have to question its value for an unheard of place like Rotman. Then again, perhaps they are indeed seeing a boom in MBA applicants, given how they blatantly mention that “Niki da Silva sits at the head of a long rectangular table in an ultra-modern glass-walled conference room on the sixth floor”. Let’s see how long that bubble lasts.

    The other aspect, one that particularly surprised (and troubled) me, was picking on a candidate because he was a procrastinator. I could be wrong, but isn’t the idea that one ought to be honest? There were others who admitted to their shortcomings, and the adcom was quick to praise them for their self-awareness and so on. More importantly, he was a candidate who seemed to trend upwards — i.e. does moderately well in school, and works on his GMAT and does well. But he is rejected nevertheless. Ditto for the Brit — while he isn’t rejected, the fact that his gap played a role at all is appalling. But isn’t that the purpose of an MBA? To understand and address your shortcomings so you could move on to something better? If you only took the picture-perfect candidates and put them through a pointless two year program and gave them a certificate at the end of it, of course they are going to succeed. And you and very little to do with it.

    Finally, I wonder how many of these candidates want to pursue something more meaningful, like entrepreneurship or non-profit. Consulting seems to be a common theme, and that always makes me chuckle because as a former consultant, I was always amused by how much churn we had. A good many of these kids will get into consulting, and get out just as fast. And let’s face it, while an MBA is certainly great to get into consulting, it is by no means a prerequisite (and I say this as someone without an MBA at a top tier firm — I did have a degree or two from Harvard, though). Most of the people that I worked with had PhDs or studied interesting subjects — everything from French Literature to Philosophy and Pure Math. Being intelligent and coming from a good school had more to do with their success than anything else. But I am sure the business schools have a vested interest in perpetuating the myth that you need an MBA to get into some of these industries.

    Anyway, while I have never taken the GMAT or never even applied for an MBA, I will say this: the two years that you spend in B-school are only worth it if you are going to a truly top tier one (e.g. HBS, Stanford etc). Otherwise, your time and efforts are better spent getting a focused degree (e.g. an M.Sc. in Finance from LSE or an MPA from the Kennedy School) or investing in entrepreneurship, politics, non-profits etc. At the very least, you’d be further along in two years and devoid of any debt.

  • Dr. K

    Excellent Article!! Seems like John really loves doing what he does. Although, one thing I gathered from the story and about MBA Schools in general. They prefer people with high marketability and driven personalities so that they don’t have to groom leaders and managers. It is just a lazy approach to selecting candidates. It is like, admit great leaders to churn out great leaders and in the process take over 200 grand from them (incl. 2 yr earnings)! Wow what an awesome way to make money. I should start my own MBA institute. Make big halls, fill them with students, do a bunch of presentations from entrepreneurs and big names and wallah I am a corporation making tons of money. These universities have turned into corporations who have learned the secret sauce to making money! Honestly, giving an admit to the IIT guy is just good sense! He is bound to do well in life! It is equivalent to admitting a guy from MIT and saying, look I created a genius!

    This is the reality of things and that is how it goes! No point fighting the system though! Successful people what constant affirmation that they are good and these MBA schools give it to them, but at a huge cost…
    Oh again…John is awesome!

  • Instead, they noticed that he had been stuck in the same job for 4 years, while the other applicant from the same company had been promoted several times in a shorter period, that he seemed immature and that his classmates may not want to be in the same group as someone whose procrastination was flagged by both himself and his recommenders.

    The article points out that the school would have had to get a dispensation from the university to admit someone with his low GPA and that, overall, they didn’t feel that he was a desirable enough candidate to merit going that extra mile to get a dispensation for.

    “Sameer’s” bad luck was that a more well-rounded candidate from the same company applied in the same round, but it looks like he got a fair roll of the dice from the adcom.

  • Ravi Deva

    Like most commentators have said this article is very informative, especially about highlighting the one of the main weakness of the majority of educational institutions globally which is that almost all of them are ill equipped, incapable, and unwilling to mould let alone build leaders!

    These top schools are taking in highly motivated, extremely talented, and already very accomplished individuals who would succeed regardless of the fact whether they had an MBA or not. I would be willing to wager that if we were to follow the careers of any of the candidates selected to the and of those not selected by Rotman as well as at any other major business school, the trajectory of the majority of those candidates would pretty much be quite similar if not identical.

    The benefit these schools provide in my opinion is the “pedigree” and “networking” which helps opens door in quite a few instances in the beginning of their career and when they are on the the top. During the middle / consolidating portion of their career nothing, but their own sheer brilliance and resourcefulness will help them stay afloat!

    If admissions officers cannot connect the dots and recognize that “Sameer” with with a GMAT score of 710, but week undergraduate GPA, fairly strong career accomplishments, with a great degree of self introspection of his own SWOT is not the kind of candidate they should be admitting then in a way I am glad “Sameer” saved almost $100K. That’s something he should be happy about!

    The fact they inexplicably and inadvertently admit their curriculum is incapable of instilling time management skills in a person who admits that as his weakness glaring! The fact that he has displayed the motivation to get a 710 on the GMAT despite a previously weak GPA is lost on them. The fact he is already employed by a major engineering company is lost on them.

    So friends the “Pygmalion Effect” is well demonstrated in this article, as well as what George W Bush once said – “the soft bigotry of low expectations”.

  • A very telling report in deed. I’m curious to know how many made it finally and the criteria applied! I’m prepared to wait and watch.

  • highwyre237

    Wow, great great read. Thank you!

  • Paul George

    Looks like this MBA program practices blatant age discrimination.

  • This article seems to raise a red flag about the overemphasis on GMAT scores as a proxy for “applicant excellence”. It’s great to see that Rotman focuses on the individual behind the score (as long as that score begings with a 6) I can’t help but wonder however if they feel any indirect pressure to try and nudge up their program’s overall GMAT average score, since this is a metric that gets bandied around a lot when comparing MBA programs against each other?

  • Good post.some informative material about MBA study in London Business School to be shared

  • kingfalcon

    Great, great article, John. You’ve truly outdone yourself! Please keep up the fantastic work.

  • John, this has to be THE most relevant article on the MBA admissions process every written; well done. 2013 Applicants should look no further than this expose’ to begin crafting their application strategies.

  • those assumptions can be overcome; not everywhere, but at most places.

  • DB

    “…or a candidate is too old for a full-time MBA program, in the mid-to-late thirties, da Silva might immediately toss out the file”

    How can one be “too old” for studies? A whole lot of assumptions seem to be put in place by the admissions department about someone in their thirties.

  • Shaniqua “La Bootay” James

    Admissions and HR: all chicks. Why is that?

    Niki is very, very attractive. Wonder if she’d interview me.

  • Bond

    Great Article!

  • hbsguru

    GREAT article John, detailed, great access, and fair to the sincere, thorough, and smart (and visually SMOKIN’ ) adcoms involved. As to admissions consultants reverse engineering this for tips about how to game the process, as suggested by Toronto Denizen, well, ahem, speaking as an admissions consultant, there was nothing really new here, in terms of secret adcom sauce, what was new to me was how talky the process is at Rotman. Believe me, at HBS and Stanford, these decisions are made (for the most part) to paraphrase Warren Buffet, by a committee composed of one person and a mirror.

  • Toronto denizen…

    I appreciate the inside scoop of this school’s admission office. This school is in my hometown and is a default choice for lots of folks simply due to convenience and proximity to the financial centres of Toronto.

    However, as I read through this dialogue and process, I feel their system is probably fairly susceptible to “gaming” and “fake admin stories”. To me, this means that admin consultants will probably pick up lots of candidates to help them “mold” their story. And UT will swallow it up and love it… And, also, their admin committee seem to be filled with “yes man” with little discord…But that would be more difficult to judge from this sample of candidate reviews.

    I’m not sure yet how I feel about it. Curious to hear other’s thoughts.

    Just one opinion…

  • Excellent article, John!

    I was thinking of reading a few lines from the first page and leaving the rest for later. But I ended up reading the full article though I have another pre-scheduled call to get into.

    I’ve met the Rotman admissions team at an MBA fair. One of the most enthusiastic and genuine teams I’ve come across. So I could totally relate to the admission officer descriptions in the article.

    – Sameer |