HBS Under Attack…By A Silly VC?

nerdOvercoming a Low Quantitative Background in MBA Admissions


If you were a liberal arts major, you probably imagined writing the great American novel or counseling troubled teens. But life has a funny way of working out. Maybe you took a sales job…and fainted after seeing an extra zero on your bonus check. Or, perhaps you joined a friend’s start-up…and learned to pitch and code on the fly. Suddenly, you’ve discovered a world of possibilities. Deep inside you know you can compete with any branding maven or finance whiz.

Just one problem: You studied Shakespeare and Skinner as an undergrad, not Schumpeter. Ah yes, the English major’s dilemma: You can deconstruct Ulysses, but can’t read a balance sheet. If finance is the language of business, then you’re as illiterate as a newborn.

If you fit that description – and you want to enroll in business school – you’ll be competing with candidates with classic business educations. Sure, this places you at a disadvantage, but you have plenty of options according to Stacy Blackman, author of The MBA Application Roadmap.

In Blackman’s view, students with limited quantitative backgrounds “will need to prove to the admissions committee that their relatively minimal academic experience in quantitative subjects won’t be a hindrance once they hit those core courses.” That’s right: They’ll view you as a potential risk and a burden…at first. And that just means you must work a little harder to prove them wrong.

And that starts with your GMAT score. At Harvard Business School, for example, the median GMAT score is 730. From the Graduate Management Admission Council’s research, it takes 92 study hours to product a score between 600 and 690 and 102 hours for a 700. And if you don’t hit those ranges? Well you just need to take the test over again. And there’s nothing wrong with that. In Blackman’s experience, “this dedication to improving your score is often interpreted by the admissions committee as a sign that you’ll do whatever it takes to prove you’re ready for business school.” And signing up for classes or a tutor doesn’t hurt either.

Another strategy? Take an undergraduate level finance or calculus class. If you score a B or above, it proves you can handle similar quant courses at the graduate level. At the same time, Blackman recommends that you “focus on the essays, extracurriculars and working with your recommenders so that they support your quant aptitude in their recommendation letters with real-life examples…If you have strong quantitative work experience and can show a solid grasp of quantitative subjects, then a weak GMAT score may not be overly problematic. The admissions committee will sometimes give candidates the benefit of the doubt if other aspects of their application are exceptionally compelling.”

Even if you’re still worried about your quantitative abilities, you can enroll in school-sponsored summer camps for incoming students designed to strengthen their mastery of key concepts.

And one more piece of advice: Don’t underestimate yourself. According to Carolyn Sherry, a first year at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, draw upon the experiences that made you into the strong, creative professional you are: “Did you do well in college? Do you have a demanding, complex job where you excel? Can you grasp concepts pretty quickly? … These attributes will see you through a rigorous curriculum!”

Source: U.S. News and World Report

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