How A Top School Screens MBA Applicants

Marie-Eve Roy, assistant director of MBA admissionsTHE APPLICANTS: A 28-YEAR OLD ENGINEER IN INDIA WITH A GMAT OF 710

The outcome for another candidate at the meeting, however, wasn’t nearly as good. The applicant, Sameer, is from India, where Rotman has gotten its most MBA students after only Canada. That’s why two of the school’s assistant admissions directors are assigned to recruit and evaluate candidates from India alone. In the class that arrived last fall, 54% hail from North America, 36% from India and China, 3% from Latin America, and 2% from Europe. Chinese and Indian students find Canada especially welcome these days because the country grants three-year work visas to graduates, giving Rotman a distinct advantage over U.S. and U.K. business schools.

“I think I’m up next,” says Roy, who with Dookeran mainly reviews applications from India. “Unfortunately, I have a no. This person’s name is Sameer. His resume is decent. He has four years in a pretty big company in India as a test engineer. He is 28. He scored 710 on the GMAT. He wants to get into IT consulting.

“At first glance, he seems pretty good,” she continues. “Then, I discovered that his GPA falls below our minimum requirement so he actually has second class standing.”

At Rotman, any applicant with an undergraduate grade point average below 3.0 cannot be admitted to the school without approval from the University of Toronto’s School of Graduate Studies. In any given year, Rotman will ask for approval to admit “non-standard” candidates for about 3% of its admits. But this applicant isn’t going to be one of them.

“I decided this person would not be a good fit for Rotman when I interviewed him,” Roy revealed. “He was very informal in the interview. He came across as immature. When I asked him to talk about a negative, he mentioned that he was a procrastinator. I thought it was probably not a good idea to tell me that especially for an intensive program like ours.”

Most of the admission officials in the room nod in approval.

“Everyone is going to want to get out of his group,” jokes Bailey Daniels, who reviews applicants from the U.S., Western Europe and Africa.

“The minute he said that I was like okay,” continued Roy. “I found him again to be on the immature side to have said that and then upon further examination both of his referees mentioned that he waits until the last minute to get things done. And another said, he needs to work a little on his time management skills.”

“At least, he’s self-aware,” chimes in Claire Gumus, who reviews the files from China.

“But at the same time he doesn’t meet the minimum,” adds da Silva. “The grades aren’t good.”

“Based on the grades, my interaction with him and the interview and his career goals in consulting, I don’t think he would be a good fit for Rotman,” concludes Roy.

A fascinating social dynamic seems to take hold in the room. An admissions officer who feels strongly in favor of an applicant becomes that person’s unbridled advocate. She coddles and protects the candidate against every gentle and pushy challenge. She extols the great promise of a successful young professional but still unformed future corporate leader or entrepreneur. And among the evaluators, the enthusiasm for any one person tends to become infectious. A favorable swell forms and support for the applicant builds.

But if the admissions officer is against the candidate, the opposite effect tends to occur. Little by little, the group seems to pile on cautious disapproval, reinforcing each other’s negative views that the applicant isn’t a good fit for the school. The person might not survive the rigors of the first-year curriculum, might not work well in a team, and could very well be considered an “admissions mistake” by the career services staff when the recruiters come and few offers are extended.

“I think you’re right,” agrees da Silva. “His GMAT is not enough. Alright, who’s next?”

Within the next few days, the applicant will receive an email from the school that will inform him of the decision.

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