P&Q Editor John A. Byrne Answers Reader Questions About The MBA

Christopher Aleman, the associate director of MBA admissions at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management meets with participants. Photo by Nathan Allen



When do I apply for admission to MBA programs?

The ideal window for most elite U.S. programs is to apply when you have three full years of work experience and you would matriculate with four to five years behind you. That means you would enter the MBA program between the ages of 26 and 28. As to the ideal timetable, we have done a video on this that I think you would very much enjoy.

The Ideal Timetable For MBA Applicants


How important is the GMAT for MIT admissions?

It’s way too important than it should be. That’s for sure. We recently surveyed MBA admission consultants and they agreed. The vast majority of consultants say they believe business school admission officials are weighing GMAT scores more heavily than ever. After the GMAT, written essays, admission interviews, and undergraduate grade point averages are what gets an applicant in the game. But GMAT scores are being given more consideration by schools largely because the exam scores are factored in annual rankings published by U.S. News & World Report and The Economist and the emerging view that a school’s average GMAT score is an overall proxy for the quality of students it enrolls.

Our survey confirms other findings as well. Every year, Kaplan Test Prep surveys admission officials at the top business schools and asks them to rate the importance of the different variables on an MBA application. Years after year, no single part of the application is more important than the GMAT. One of those surveys found that 48% of some 288 responding admissions staffers said that a weak score on GMAT or the GRE is the biggest application killer. A low undergraduate GPA placed second at 33%, while the lack of relevant work experience followed at just 10%.

All that said, it’s important to note that a high GMAT score—anything over 700—is not guarantee of admissions. At several of the best schools, including Harvard and Stanford, the average GMAT for the entire applicant pool is 700 or above. But a low GMAT score will pretty much do you in, unless you have other offsetting parts of your application that are driving you into an MBA program.

Here’s the story on the survey we did which weighs the importance of each aspect of an MBA application:

How Important Is Each Part Of Your MBA Application?


I’m a student at HBS and have failed 7 interviews in a row. Am I an admissions mistake?

Rather than think of yourself as an admissions mistake, I think it’s extremely important for you to work very closely with the folks in the HBS career management center. As you undoubtedly know, HBS provides access to a great deal of one-on-one coaching. You need to take full advantage of this opportunity immediately. A good coach or mentor would be able to identify what is turning off the recruiters and help you overcome the issue.

Just the fact that you are interviewing in all three of the top industries for MBAs is somewhat concerning, to be honest. It tells me you don’t really know what you want so you are taking a scattershot approach. Your lack of direction would, I bet, be coming through in how you present yourself. Also, by targeting three different industries, you are bound to be less informed on any one and that would hurt you as well.

The career and professional development team at HBS is one of the best at any university or any school in the world. You need to work very closely with them to help you out of this. We did a great story that gets into how that team works. Not sure if it would be helpful to you, but I know others reading this would find this behind the scenes look pretty fascinating:

How Harvard MBAs Get Those Six-Figure Jobs

Good luck to you. See your coach now and make your visits frequent.


On taking help from a MBA admissions consultant, how long would it take to form an application for a good candidacy to a top B-school?

If you count the GMAT in the application process, it would take you far more than one month. If you already have the GMAT or GRE out of the way and it’s just down to one to three applications, I would think you could do that in one month but it would demand complete focus and discipline. It also would not leave any time to improve your application by cultivating recommenders, adding extracurricular activities that demonstrate your leadership ability, taking an online course or two to develop an alternative transcript in the event your quants are below average for your target school, or crafting truly introspective essays.

Not long ago, I did an excellent video with a couple of MBA admissions consultants—the former head of admissions at INSEAD and the former acting head of admissions at Wharton—that gets into the ideal timeline. Believe me, it’s a lot longer than one month.

The Ideal Timetable for MBA Applicants


Do applicants from feeder schools receive preferential treatment in admissions to top business school (full-time MBA) programs?

Absolutely. It’s one of many criteria commonly used to screen candidates, particularly at the more elite MBA programs. Admissions officials are, by nature, a risk adverse bunch. So are MBA employers. So the more fine screens you can get through: a prestige undergraduate program that is highly selective, a world class brand name company that hires only a small percentage of the people it interviews, and a 700+ GMAT that puts you in the 95th+ percentile of test takers, the more likely you are to gain admission.

That said, it’s possible to get into a very good MBA program without having gone to either an Ivy, near Ivy, or public Ivy school. It’s just a bit more difficult.