Harvard | Mr. African Energy
GMAT 750, GPA 3.4
Duke Fuqua | Mr. Quality Assurance
GMAT 770, GPA 3.6
Columbia | Mr. Energy Italian
GMAT 700, GPA 3.5
Duke Fuqua | Mr. Salesman
GMAT 700, GPA 3.0
Stanford GSB | Mr. Army Engineer
GRE 326, GPA 3.89
Chicago Booth | Ms. Indian Banker
GMAT 740, GPA 9.18/10
INSEAD | Mr. INSEAD Aspirant
GRE 322, GPA 3.5
Duke Fuqua | Mr. Army Aviator
GRE 314, GPA 3.8
Kellogg | Ms. Big4 M&A
GMAT 740, GPA 3.7
Harvard | Mr. Renewables Athlete
GMAT 710 (1st take), GPA 3.63
Harvard | Mr. Healthcare PE
GRE 340, GPA 3.5
Harvard | Mr. Military Quant
GMAT 730, GPA 3.6
Wharton | Mr. Future Non-Profit
GMAT 720, GPA 8/10
UCLA Anderson | Mr. SME Consulting
GMAT 740, GPA 3.55 (as per WES paid service)
Chicago Booth | Mr. Healthcare PM
GMAT 730, GPA 2.8
Kellogg | Mr. Concrete Angel
GRE 318, GPA 3.33
Kellogg | Mr. Maximum Impact
GMAT Waiver, GPA 3.77
MIT Sloan | Ms. Rocket Engineer
GMAT 710, GPA 3.9
Wharton | Ms. Interstellar Thinker
GMAT 740, GPA 7.6/10
Harvard | Mr. Finance
GMAT 750, GPA 3.0
Harvard | Mr. Defense Engineer
GMAT 730, GPA 3.6
Kellogg | Ms. Sustainable Development
GRE N/A, GPA 3.4
Chicago Booth | Mr. Unilever To MBB
GRE 308, GPA 3.8
Harvard | Ms. Female Sales Leader
GMAT 740 (target), GPA 3.45
Tuck | Mr. Liberal Arts Military
GMAT 680, GPA 2.9
Harvard | Ms. Gay Techie
GRE 332, GPA 3.88
INSEAD | Mr. Product Manager
GMAT 740, GPA 63%

Behind The Scenes: How A Business School’s Admission Committee Decides

Students stroll through the front doors of the Questrom School of Business

Students stroll through the front doors of the Questrom School of Business

On a chlly winter day in Boston, the group is huddled in a windowless, nondescript room. Piled high on a side table is enough junk food—potato chips, popcorn and Oreo cookies—to put an extra five pounds on every person in the room—evidence of the likelihood that the locked-door session will test everyone’s endurance.

The seven people around the rectangular table in room 112G are enacting a scene that is playing out at business schools all over the world as admission committees decide the fate of tens of thousands of applicants to their MBA programs.

In this case, the group is the MBA admissions team at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business. Led by Assistant Dean of Graduate Admissions Meredith Siegel, the seven members of the committee will present dozens of candidates today, mull over the pros and cons of each application, and ultimately decide whether to admit, reject, or waitlist an applicant.


For BU, this is an uplifting time. Less than a year ago, the school received a $50 million naming gift from alumnus and long-time retailing giant Allen Questrom and his wife, Kelli. The gift, the largest ever received by the university, is going toward the endowment of 10 faculty chairs and will result in a new graduate program facility.

Ken Freeman, a former corporate executive who is now in his sixth year as dean, not only reeled in the unprecedented gift, he has put new life into the school which for years competed neck-and-neck with Boston College behind the two giants of business education in town, Harvard and MIT. “We have basically turned everything over,” he says. “There is no aspect of the school we haven’t touched. We have strived to create a warm, welcoming, scrappy, collaborative culture.”

That could explain the quality of the school’s first round applicants. Siegel, who has done MBA admissions at both Emory University’s Goizueta School of Business and Northeastern University, says it is one of the best pools she has seen since joining the school in the fall of 2009. (The school agreed to allow a journalist into their deliberations as long as the identity of the applicants remained private).

Among the dozens of candidates the group will review today is the usual array of wildly diverse professionals wanting an MBA degree: Math and engineering undergrads along with English and history majors, consultants, analysts, military officiers, non-profit managers, and entrepreneurs. They hail from all over the U.S. and the rest of the world, including Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Thailand, all wanting to come to Boston for an MBA experience.


Today’s crop is so strong, according to the committee members, that the vast majority of applicants will receive acceptances. Few snacks will be eaten (they tend to disappear on days when the dings outnumber the acceptances). Some candidates ultimately will be offerred scholarship money to boot. By the end of two full days of meetings in mid-December, the group will admit 93 applicants, deny 22, put 51 more candidates on the waitlist, and defer eight would-be students to get more feedback from career management on their employability at graduation.

In a typical year, Questrom receives about 1,100 applicants for just under 150 seats. Roughly 20% of the applications flow into the first of three application rounds. Overall, the school admits 35% of the candidates, turning down the vast majority of those who want to come to BU. “Our goal is not to keep people out,” insists Siegel. “Our goal is to build a class that will be excited by the opportunities here. I would never say that we’ve gotten every decision right, but we have a thoughtful system and the number of mistakes are reduced on both sides because of it.”

The entire committee meets 15 times in an admissions cycle, while subsets of the group will gather for other sessions to take a second look at candidates who were initially declined for an interview. All decisions of the committee must be unanimous. In this closed room, acronyms and unfamiliar words and phrases abound. There’s  “TBI” which means the candidate has yet to be interviewed. There are behaviorals, answers to behavioral questions that start with “Tell me about a time when a group project you were working on failed….” And there are oblique references to such things as CELOP (more on that later).


Questrom is looking for a mix of the typical admission metrics: a strong undergraduate GPA, solid work experience, a track record of achievement, leadership ability, a good GMAT or GRE score, favorable recommenations, smart answers to both the written and video essay questions, and professional poise and presence in an in-person interview. “There is no formula,” insists Siegel. “The more factors a candidate brings that are above average, the more successful the candidate will be.”

But then, there are other hurdles for candidates. “Unlike in life, we get to pick our family,” says J.P. Matychak, dean of student experience, who sits in on admission committee meetings. “We are looking for non-arrogant, genuine, gritty people, ready and willing to take on the world.”

Those attributes are integral to the process because the school’s culture emphasizes community and high degrees of collaboration. “Our candidates,” Matychak makes clear, “are more than a piece of paper.”

About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.