That’s an intriguing and very relevant question because the lowest GMAT score by anyone in the Class of 2014 is exactly 570–160 points below the median score for the class. It’s the difference between being in the rather lofty 96th percentile–the mere median for Harvard’s latest enrolled class– and being in the comparatively mediocre–at least for Harvard–55th percentile.
How could anyone ever overcome that low a score to get an invite from Harvard, of all places?
Of course, a GMAT score is merely one element in an MBA application. Surveys of admissions officers suggest that it is the single most important reason why applicants get turned down for admission. But a host of other factors, from undergraduate grade average to the quality of one’s work experience, also play crucial roles in determining whether a person is accepted or rejected from a top business school.
ONE OF ONLY 13% OF THE APPLICANTS ACCEPTED LAST YEAR AND THE ONE WITH THE LOWEST GMAT SCORE
This “holistic” approach is especially at play at Harvard, which accepted only 13% of the 8,963 people who applied for admission last year. The student with the 570 score is one of 919 in the Class of 2014. Is it possible that the person is an ethnic minority who overcame great hardship (24% of the class, or 222 students are U.S. ethnic minorities)? Or is the candidate a woman (40% of the class, or 371 students)? Or an unusual international student from an under-represented part of the world (international students make up 34% of the class, or 315 MBA candidates)?
Harvard’s admissions office, which publicly discloses the range of GMAT scores by enrolled students every year, declined to shed any light on the successful candidate. So we asked leading admission consultants, who have helped candidates get into Harvard, to take a flyer on the likely profile of the 570 candidate.
Sandy Kreisberg of HBSGuru.com surmises that the student could very well be a “development case,” which he points out is adcom slang for, among other things, “the relative of a rich donor, or even better, a potential rich donor, or offspring of a faculty member or board member at Harvard.” Jeremy Shinewald, founder of mbaMission, suggests it could be “the kind of unattainable stereotype that drives ‘typical’ candidates a little crazy — the elected member of parliament in an under-represented country or the prodigy who sold an internet company in college.”
AN AFRICAN TRIBAL CHIEF? AN UNDER-REPRESENTED MINORITY? A FIRST-GENERATION IMMIGRANT?
Linda Abraham, founder and president of Accepted.com, thinks it likely that “this individual came from a background that does not send many students to HBS. Maybe an African tribal prince who excelled at a leading international university. Maybe an under-represented minority challenged by poverty…or, a first-generation immigrant from a poor neighborhood, or someone from a country that is underrepresented at HBS.” Graham Richmond, a co-founder of Clear Admit, believes the student had to have a very successful academic record given the lowish GMAT score. “If this candidate had a ‘570 equivalent’ GPA (e.g. was a ‘C’ student in college), it would be incredibly difficult for them to overcome two strikes in the academic portion of their file and they would have very likely been rejected. “
Evan Forster of Forster-Thomas Inc. guesses that the candidate overcame the low score with an example of “transformational leadership”–“people who do amazing things with limited resources (no matter their stats) are more appealing than someone with all the right stats but who has never colored outside the box, taken a risk, or transformed his environment in some way.”
And Dan Bauer, founder and managing director of The MBA Exchange, along with his colleague Pauline Jennett, who had been associate director of admissions at Harvard from 2008 to 2011, create a fictional character, “Sam,” in speculating how his academic, professional and personal attributes line up to offset that 570 score.