A common concern among business school applicants is that their quantitative skills might not measure up to their target programs’ expectations or requirements. For some candidates, this concern is valid, but this does not mean those aspiring MBAs must give up their dream of going to a top school. A few simple tactics can go a long way in helping demonstrate one’s quantitative aptitude.
But first, why are quantitative skills so important for MBAs, anyway?
Business schools want to ensure that the applicants they accept are data savvy and will not struggle in rigorous quantitative classes. Much of the standard MBA curriculum involves understanding and analyzing data. For instance, Columbia Business School’s core curriculum for all first-year students includes courses such as “Business Analytics,” “Corporate Finance,” and “Managerial Statistics.” Applicants often ask, “What if I am applying to a business school that is not quantitatively rigorous?” But an MBA program that is light on quantitative work simply does not exist! They all entail demanding quantitative subjects.
Schools also want applicants who can apply the quantitative skills they learn in the classroom to real-world business problems and who will be marketable to recruiters. For candidates whose post-MBA career goals involve working in a field such as consulting or finance, quantitative skills are particularly a must, but fields such as marketing and business development are increasingly data driven as well. Many post-MBA professions require the use of quantitative tools such as surveys and statistical modeling to evaluate problems or forecast behavior.
The bottom line, then, is that all MBA applicants must prove their quantitative aptitude. Harvard Business School, for example, states on its Web site, “There is no particular previous course of study required to apply; you must, however, demonstrate the ability to master analytical and quantitative concepts.” This is easy for some applicants, because they majored in a subject such as finance or engineering, or they work in investment banking, or they aced the Quantitative section of the GMAT. But if this is not the case for you, here are five steps you can take to boost your quantitative profile:
- Start early with standardized testing: This key part of your application is still largely within your control (unlike your GPA), so make sure to give yourself plenty of time to study thoroughly and take several practice exams. Getting an early start also gives you time to retake the exam if you do not achieve your target score on the first try (schools will always consider your highest score). You want to keep your overall score high—as close to your target program’s average as possible, if not higher—while showing a minimum level of competence on the Quantitative section. (Keep in mind that if your overall score is strong, but your Quantitative score is low, you are still admissible.) To demonstrate the necessary level of quantitative acumen, you should strive for a raw score of 47 on the Quantitative section of the GMAT. If your efforts to achieve the GMAT score(s) you need are not going well, consider taking the GRE instead, and aim for a Quantitative score of 165. And if you are unsure about which standardized test is a better fit for you, check out mbaMission and Manhattan Prep’s GMAT vs. GRE infographic.
- Supplement your transcript: Another great way to show competence in quantitative areas is to take pre-MBA course work in relevant subjects, such as statistics, calculus, accounting, and finance. You should aim to earn an A grade in these classes and to complete them before you submit your application, so you can include the transcripts. Check with universities in your area to find out what in-person courses are available (often through a continuing education program), and do not forget online classes as well (such as those from UC Berkeley Extension). Another option to consider is Harvard Business School’s online HBX CORe program, which the school describes as a three-course “primer on the fundamentals of business thinking.” Some candidates could supplement their transcript by studying for and passing Level I of the CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) exam, though we recommend this path only if obtaining this credential is beneficial to your career plans.
- Choose your recommenders wisely: You should pick recommenders who know you well, have several specific stories to share that will attest to your strengths, and enthusiastically support your decision to earn an MBA. If you think proof of your quantitative abilities is lacking in your profile, be sure to choose at least one recommender who can write about and provide examples of related skills, such as analytical problem solving, navigating complex situations, and quick learning. Your recommender’s endorsement of your abilities in such areas will help the admissions committee feel more confident about your capacity to handle quantitative work.
- Nail your resume: Your MBA application resume needs to be different from one you would use for job hunting. It should not be an exhaustive list of every project you have ever worked on, the software you know how to use, or how you spend your time every day. Instead, your MBA resume should focus on your most impressive accomplishments, emphasizing your key successes and the results you achieved, and tell a story about the highlights of your career. To best frame your quantitative skills in your resume, include examples of any quantitative work you have done, such as managing budgets or analyzing survey data. Also, try to quantify the impact of your efforts whenever possible, even if your work was not quantitative in nature. For more resume tips, download a free copy of the mbaMission Resume Guide.
- Be convincing about your career goals: Communicating a realistic and compelling vision of your career goals requires a good amount of self-reflection, research, and networking. Start this process by educating yourself about typical post-MBA roles and fields and assessing how you measure up against the requirements for those you may be interested in pursuing. Although all MBA programs welcome career changers, you still need to bring some relevant skills to the table. If you are concerned that you fall short with respect to certain quantitative skills, explain how your target post-MBA role aligns with your existing abilities and articulate a logical plan for how you plan to secure that job. Also, be sure that you demonstrate authentic passion for your career goals. Show the admissions committee that you are confident not only in your decision to change careers but also in your potential for success in that new role, even if your goals seem ambitious for your current skill set.
In summary, quantitative skills are an important part of both earning an MBA and succeeding in your post-MBA career, so business schools naturally want to know that you can handle the rigors of quantitative work. Use these five recommendations to proactively address any concerns you think the admissions committee might have about your quantitative aptitude. And remember, MBA programs want to assemble diverse incoming classes, so never let your limited quantitative background stop you from applying. Good luck!