The 30 Commandments Of The MBA Admissions Game

A Prophet I am Not


Despite the nature of heavenly event #1, heavenly event #2 and heavenly event #3 in my journey to an elite MBA, I’ll be the first to admit that I am no expert on the subject of getting into top business programs. In fact, the only true experts are the adcoms themselves (because they make the actual decisions) and, perhaps, admissions consultants (especially if they have dealt with hundreds of applicants over time).

One of many defining “aha” moments for me during this journey came back in March of 2011 during my Stanford visit when one of the senior members of the GSB’s adcom said to a group of us (in so many words–gross paraphrasing alert!) “…and for those of you who are asking current students and recent graduates for advice on ‘how to get in’, here’s the thing: THEY don’t even know why they ‘got in’ “.  While I feel strongly that the advice that I received from successful admits on my own applications was invaluable, I’ve always kept this idea in mind.

Lack of expert status notwithstanding, my performance in this process does imply that I at least have a pretty good idea. The premise upon which that implication is based is similar to those of my friends who were gracious enough to impart some wisdom to me just a few short months (or weeks; or days) ago when I was losing my mind (like many of you are right now).  Multiple admits is  never an accident; and a set of best practices can generally be gleaned from the journey of one with such fortune.

I’d like a share my personal take on some of these best practices for the sake of current and future applicants. This is neither the first nor last word or opinion on this topic; but it is my small contribution to the mountain of op-ed that one can find in about a bazillion places around the internet.

My 30Something Thesis on Top-MBA Admissions (and Beyond)


  • Thou shall play to win: You’re in the big leagues. Why even bother if you’re not going to play full out? A lot of your results (good, bad or in between) will have to do with execution (GMAT, essays, positioning, interviews). Plan on putting forth your maximum effort if you really want to play at this level.
  • Thou shall respect the elite MBA application process by starting early:From beginning to end, this process is a TON of work. From school research to GMAT prep (and retakes) to essay writing each phase from day 1 til day last will seem more arduous than the next. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by waiting until the last minute to get everything done. This is not like high school where there are only a handful of folks who are a lot sharper than everyone else. 70-80% of your competition is more than qualified to take your spot at any school you could name. Respect that and give yourself enough time to make sure that every answer choice, essay paragraph and recommendation serves you well.
  • Thou shall respect the GMAT and take it seriously: Most people who’ve tried to cut corners on the GMAT have ended up marching to their own funeral on test day. If you want a spot in an elite MBA program, it won’t be enough to just do well. You’ll need to do better than the vast majority of people, which means getting as close to the 90% percentile or better, if at all possible. Unless you’re a natural whiz on BOTH of the major sections, don’t kid yourself by trying to be cheap and skimpy on your prep. Buy the books. Take the classes. Put in the long hours. Do whatever you need to get into your target schools’ middle 80% percentile of scores or better. The GMAT won’t get you into your dream school, but it will definitely keep you out of it if your results communicate that you may possibly be incapable to handling a rigorous first-year curriculum.

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.