Ivy League Adcoms: Be Thoughtful & Yourself

Christina Shelby of Columbia Business School

Christina Shelby of Columbia Business School

The message could not have been any clearer. When applying to business school, be thoughtful, and communicate your story in a way that is authentic to who you are.

That’s the advice given by two admission directors for two Ivy League business school MBA programs during a recent panel discussion sponsored by Poets&Quants, mbaMission, and ManhattanGMAT.

Christina Shelby, director of admissions at Columbia Business School (CBS), and Bruce DelMonico, assistant dean and director of admissions at the Yale School of Management (SOM), spoke about a wide range of admissions issues during a lively conversation lasting nearly two hours.

Among other things, they insisted that applicants who submit GRE scores instead of GMATs are treated equally, with no preference given to GMAT test-takers. They spoke candidly about what they believe are the misperceptions about their schools, and Shelby of Columbia said that the school’s unusual early decision admissions policy helps the school identify candidates who end up being among the most active in the MBA community as leaders of clubs and organizations.

Headshot of Bruce DelMonico

Yale School of Management admissions chief Bruce DelMonico


Asked if either school preferred to see GMAT scores from applicants, an assertion made by some admission consultants, both DelMonico and Shelby said flatly that it didn’t really matter. At Yale, which admits more candidates with GREs than any other highly selective business school, DelMonico said it’s largely a consequence of the School of Management’s applicant pool. “We do go back and calculate acceptance rates on our enrollment students, and every year we find that we accept GRE test takers at the same rate as GMAT test-takers,” he said. “Both the quant and verbal breakdowns are viewed the same across the two tests.”

Yale, where roughly 20% of its admits to the MBA program came in with GRE scores, interprets the scores “with a slight shading in a few ways,” disclosed DelMonico. The admissions office looks at percentiles rather than raw scores on the test. “On the GMAT quant, there is no minimum or threshold but we like to see people in the 60th percentile and above,” said DelMonico. “For the GRE, we like to see it closer to the 70th percentile or above. We believe that equates to each other. That might change as we look at this further.”

At Columbia, where roughly 5% to 6% of admits have taken the GRE, Shelby said “there is no clear preference for one or the other. An applicant is not at a disadvantage by applying to Columbia with a GRE score. We use the ETS (Educational Testing Service) comparison tool. People shouldn’t be scared about what test to take.”

Shelby and DelMonico consistently repeated that what they want is for candidates to take a considered and thoughtful approach in their applications. The guidance first came up in response to a question about the importance of visiting one’s target schools before applying. Delmonico explained that the value of a campus visit does not lie in the admissions committee’s being able to check that box, so to speak, for the candidate. Instead, spending time at a school can improve an applicant’s candidacy by enabling that individual to become more knowledgeable about the school, which in turn helps the candidate write a more sophisticated and personally tailored application. Both directors emphasized that the admissions process is not just about schools’ determining whether a candidate is a good fit for the program, but also about applicants’ determining whether the school is a fit for them as well.

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