Inside The Mind Of An MBA Admissions Officer

An excerpt from the newly published book Get In, Get Connected, Get Hired by Brian Precious

An excerpt from the newly published book Get In, Get Connected, Get Hired by Brian Precious

Will Jane be employable by graduation? Would I hire her? 

Applicants may have excellent grades, test scores, and other credentials, but if they aren’t likely to be employable by graduation, it’s hard to get excited about admitting them. What does employable mean? It means having the technical skills—such as an understanding of marketing, accounting, or finance—coupled with the intangibles needed for success in today’s interconnected and increasingly complex global workforce. These intangible qualities include interpersonal, leadership, and communication skills; work ethic; maturity; ability to work on multicultural teams; and a strong ethical compass.

I look at all components of the application to gauge employability. The quantitative elements (e.g., grades and test scores) help me understand the applicant’s ability to be successful in a competitive environment, while the essays and personal statement highlight communication skills, thought processes, and the ability to make a persuasive argument. Letters of recommendation, particularly from previous or current employers, help me better understand the applicant’s personality, work ethic, and ability to thrive in a professional environment. In the interview, I try to determine drive and motivation and consider whether I believe the applicant will be impressive to future employers.

For Jane, this was another tough one. For certain roles, she may be a great fit. She has an engineering background and speaks three languages, so I’m sure she will find a job somewhere. And yet, will the employers who typically recruit our MBA students be interested in her for a high-level management role? Maybe, but probably not.

Does Jane specifically want to attend our school? Will she stay involved beyond graduation?

I would much rather admit a student with lesser quantitative qualifications but a great desire to attend our program than the other way around. I can usually tell from the essays and definitely from the interview whether applicants are passionate about my school or if they see it as just another MBA program they will attend if the price is right.

Why do I care if a student is passionate about our program? Passion is infectious. In my experience, those who are excited about attending our program usually earn better grades, work harder, get more involved with extracurricular activities, and have a better experience than students who pick their program based on rankings, cost, or which one gave them the largest scholarship. They are also much more likely to stay involved as alumni and give back to the program.

After a while it gets pretty easy to tell the difference between an applicant who has tailored their application specifically for our program and one who has cut-and-pasted the name of our school into the appropriate places in essays and personal statements. The distinction becomes even clearer when an applicant submits essays with the wrong school name. As you can probably imagine, this is a huge turnoff. While I have sometimes had to admit people who have made it clear that we weren’t their first choice, these folks usually don’t get our best scholarship offer. We try to save our top awards for those who are qualified and sincerely want to be a part of our community.

There’s no question that Jane wanted to attend our program. She spent time in both her essays and interview talking about how her dad went to our school and how her dream is to follow him there. Although we like passion for our program, we are more concerned with whether applicants are likely to stay involved beyond graduation. Will they open pipelines at their future employer to recruit at our school? Will they host recruiting events abroad for prospective students in their home country? Will they help mentor future students? Again, nothing in Jane’s application or interview tells me she’s in this for the long haul.

Had our decision been based solely on her grades and test scores, Jane probably would have been admitted; however, after a more holistic review, her application became much less competitive. Of the three applicants we admitted instead of Jane, none had a higher GMAT score, but all had better essays and letters of recommendation and performed better in the interview. Over the years, I’ve repeatedly seen these subtle, often overlooked aspects of an application serve as the qualifying factor between success and failure—both in the application process, and in the pursuit of a degree once admitted.


Author Brian Precious

Author Brian Precious

Brian Precious has managed the admissions, recruiting, and marketing teams at three major MBA programs — Oregon State University, Purdue University, and, his alma mater, the University of Illinois. Brian’s passion for business school education stems from his own experiences as a student in the Illinois MBA program from 2004-2006. During that time, he gained the skills required to change careers, had the opportunity to start a company, travel the world, and make some of the most enduring friendships of his life. Get In, Get Connected, Get Hired is his first book. Brian can be reached via email at


  • Brian

    Fair enough, Jane was an extreme case. However, many students I work with focus more on test scores then really putting a quality application together. Understanding how truly multi-faceted the admissions process is (or should be) may be helpful to some students. Also, in the book, the rest of the chapter breaks down each component (LORs, Essays, Interview, etc) and offers specific tips applicable to even more qualified applicants. – Brian

  • Pseudonym

    I’m sorry, but I did not find this article to be useful for me, and I suspect that it is probably not useful for the average P&Q reader. The applicant described in this article is so far off the mark, that it is really difficult for anybody to relate to her. The applicant clearly knows nothing about the MBA admissions process and has screwed up almost every aspect of her application in the most egregious manner. It would be much more meaningful for P&Q readers to learn about an applicant who is well informed and has actually nailed most parts of her application, but has unknowingly slipped up in just one or two critical areas.

  • Brian

    Interesting perspective, thanks for sharing. While there’s nothing wrong with preferring to work alone and there’s certainly nothing wrong with being an introvert (I’m actually one myself), employers of MBA graduates are typically looking for those who can lead teams and manage others. Therefore, as MBA admissions officers, it makes sense to screen for this trait. I think the point of the excerpt is that there’s more than one thing on our minds when we review an application or conduct an interview. Teamwork is just one of the traits I’m looking for.

  • bschoolalum

    I am so tired of b schools’ obsession with “teamwork”. While a stellar team will always outperform a stellar individual, those stellar teams are rare. B Schools often force teamwork upon its students, stifling originality and creativity many times. What I hate about the author’s article about teamwork is his implication that teamwork is always better than individual work. There seems to be some sort of stigma against being introverted and preferring to work alone.

  • Brian

    Thanks Tad!

  • Tad Brinkerhoff

    Brian, thanks for your insights. Admissions is more art than science. These comments will be useful to applicants as they seek to present the big picture. Great book by the way.

  • Brian

    Thanks JKM! In my experience, I’ve found students who pursue the degree for right reasons, find the right program for their unique needs and take advantage of all curricular, extra-curricular and experiential learning opportunities typically have the best outcomes. Thanks for you insights.

  • JKM

    Spot on, Brian. As an associate dean & director of a highly ranked MBA program for 13+ years, your comments are right on target. In an effort to improve rankings one year, we aggressively recruited high GMAT students and to some extent ignored many of the other aspects of their application. Unfortunately, these students often were not engaged in our MBA community, many were “problem children” w.r.t. their groups and frequently had attitudes that did not result in favorable internship or job interviews. A curious thing also happened to several of these “academically gifted” students, they failed to meet academic standards and were placed on academic probation. While I have no firm evidence as to why this happened, I feel that it was due to their failure to connect with their team which caused them to miss much of the out-of-class discussions that addressed the nuances and subtleties of complex business decisions.