Harvard’s ‘570 GMAT’ MBA Student

Graham Richmond, co-founder of Clear Admit

Graham Richmond, co-founder of Clear Admit

Graham Richmond of Clear Admit

“For starters, I must admit that it’s hard to speculate on something like this without seeing the candidate’s file, for the simple reason that MBA admissions at the very best schools is truly a multi-variable equation, comprised of so many different factors that it can be hard to pull out a single data point and build the rest of the profile around it.  In fact, it’s precisely this multi-variable aspect of MBA admissions that drew me to take a job in admissions at Wharton and ultimately to co-found Clear Admit – since I was really fascinated by the fact that there are so many different moving parts and that each candidate is given a fair chance (unlike the somewhat ‘binary’ nature of law school admissions, for example).

“That said, it is indeed interesting to speculate on this kind of thing.  So why might HBS admit someone with a GMAT score than is more than 150 points below their average?  The short (and perhaps obvious) answer is that the candidate must have consistently excelled in all of the other key ‘variables’ of the application – e.g. undergraduate profile, work experience, outside activities, leadership skills and personal background.  Of course, excelling in those other areas alone would not likely be enough to push someone over the hump.  As such, I would venture that the candidate also had something fairly incredible in their background – likely leadership oriented – that truly made an impact.

“It’s important to note that the admissions board’s process in moving past a 570 GMAT result likely starts with a careful consideration of academics – since the GMAT is a key sub-component of this broader category.  In other words, no matter what the applicant brought to HBS in terms of work, life, leadership or community experiences, Dee Leopold would be highly cautious about admitting anyone who might not be an effective member of the fast-paced, case method-driven HBS classroom community.  In short, 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.  As such, my suspicion is that the applicant in question likely had a solid academic record with a GPA that was at or above HBS’s average (~3.7).  I would also mention that given the low GMAT score, the admissions board would likely have carefully considered not only the GPA, but the caliber of the university the candidate attended, the rigor of specific coursework pursued, and any other evidence of academic aptitude that might exist outside of the GMAT exam (external coursework, comments from recommendation writers, etc.).  They might also consider any extenuating circumstances around the GMAT result itself – e.g. if the candidate lives in a remote market and was only able to fly to a test site to sit the exam once amidst a busy work schedule.

“Of course, having a stellar academic portion of the file (aside from the GMAT) and ticking all the boxes in other areas of the application would only keep the candidate in the running, which leads up to the question of that ‘impact experience’ I alluded to earlier.  My suspicion on the applicant in question is that they likely had some sort of unprecedented leadership experience – heading up a battalion in Afghanistan, building their own company comprised of dozens of employees and selling it to a large corporation, successfully launching their own charter school, etc.  For example, I recently learned that the head of the NFL players union was admitted to HBS – and although I have no idea how that candidate’s academic profile measured up, it’s clear that having that sort of incredible leadership background made him highly competitive for a spot in the HBS class.

“I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that my comments thus far have all been around the ‘raw materials’ that make up the applicant’s background – as opposed to the application itself.  In short, an applicant can have a wonderful set of raw materials (or ‘ingredients’) to work from, but if they don’t make the ‘recipe’ (e.g. craft compelling essays, solicit powerful letters of recommendation and interview well) then they will likely fall short in the admissions process.  As such, my final thought is that the candidate with a 570 GMAT score likely succeeded due to a combination of a) excelling in all other areas of the multi-variable admissions equation, b) presenting an otherwise sound academic profile, c) highlighting a set of impressive (and rare) impact-oriented leadership experiences, and d) weaving it all together into a compelling presentation in the written and oral portions of the admissions process.  Finally, I’d add that it wouldn’t hurt if the candidate also happened to come from an under-represented portion of the applicant pool – be it socioeconomically, ethnically, industry-wise or geographically.”

Stacy Blackman is the founder and managing director of Stacy Blackman Consulting. She is writing a series of articles called Confessions of an MBA Admissions Consultant

Stacy Blackman is the founder and managing director of Stacy Blackman Consulting.

Stacy Blackman of Stacy Blackman Consulting

“Let me give you a profile of an imaginary candidate, based on several real clients, of a person who could score a 570 on the GMAT yet still get accepted by Harvard.

“Darren was raised in Arizona, the youngest child in a tight knit family of six. His mother was Irish & his father was a Southern Cherokee Indian.  His generation was the first to go to college, and he was the first to go Ivy League.  He graduated from Dartmouth with a dual major in Mathematics and Philosophy, and a 3.5 overall GPA. His grades were quite low his first year, as he had an undiagnosed learning disability at the time.   Once diagnosed, he was able to better manage it, and the grades increased dramatically. Following college, Darren’s professional career and extra-curricular activities accelerated at an impressive pace.

“He landed a job at a hot start up based in San Jose, initially working in operations.  During his first two years, he gained experience in almost every aspect of the business, impacting sales, marketing, business development, HR and finance.   He developed strong relationships with company leadership as well as investors.  At his three year mark, Darren left to join one of the venture firms that had provided initial funding to the company and after one year in venture, he was confident that his longer term aspirations lay in the investment world.

“During this time, Darren also launched an ambitious non-profit, inspired by his American Indian heritage, which assisted with medical care in very low income communities.  Initially based in the US, the organization expanded overseas in year three.  Darren had mediocre French speaking skills, was a big brother to a young boy in San Francisco, completed three marathons, and was actively involved with fundraising for his alma mater, Dartmouth. After four years out of college, he decided to apply to business school in order to round out business and finance knowledge, expand his network and develop his leadership skills. Harvard Business School accepted him.”

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