DOES THE GMAT PREDICT HEART AS MUCH AS SMARTS?
Jokes aside, incoming GMAT scores and outgoing academic performance may be far more than a narrow measure of success. Instead, they may predict why some students rise faster than others. “People who do well in the academic institution will do well outside of it,” Jain argues. “People who excel in one domain will continue to want to excel in other domains.”
Jain draws upon his own experiences to build upon this point. In the Indian educational system, applicants complete a brutal entrance exam that weeds out 99% of candidates. Indeed, this 1% excels in what Jain calls a “very narrow cognitive domain.” Fast forward 15 years, these same students are still racking up achievements across a wide range of professions – even creative endeavors, Jain says. This success, he believes, stems from something more essential than possessing innate intelligence or reaping the advantages of an elite education.
“My conjecture on why this is the case is not that the narrow mathematical and analytical ability that served them well in the entrance test ends up to being consequential to successful careers in leadership,” he grants. “There is something more fundamental about these tests. Perhaps inadvertently, that more fundamental attribute that they pick up could be called grit, persistence, willingness to compete, or hard work. These tests have the ability to pick up things that are more much consequential.”
That’s why Jain, ever the contrarian, would like emphasis on academic inputs…just measured in a different way. “If surveys began to put more weight on these simple and fundamental attributes of the students, I think that will distinguish them. With the qualified GPA and GMAT or GRE, you can explain where students are going when they have choices and I think you explain in the long run which students turn out to be successful because these factors are more powerful than many of us realize.”
YOUR BUSINESS SCHOOL IS THE CHOICE OF A LIFETIME
Most applicants use rankings as a starting point designed to help narrow choice. For LBS’ Ortalo-Magné, the process should really start with self-reflection, with a focus on the long-term over the here-and-now. In particular, he asks students to picture the type of person and alum they want to be. This vision will ultimately help them pick the culture, experience, and career path that will allow them to become that person. And that’s an undertaking, Ortalo-Magné warns, that can’t be taken lightly.
“You’re committing, for the rest of your life, to be an alum of this school,” he cautions. “You can’t, once you graduate from a program, say you’re going to divorce that program and become an alum of Wharton. You can’t do that. You will never be allowed to attach yourself to another brand. There is no price at which you can do that.”
So what does Ortalo-Magné do when applicants ask him for advice? He’ll whip out a ranking…with a caveat, of course. Instead of touting the main number, he’ll point to the underlying data. “Let’s say your GMAT is 720,” he postulates. “I’ll help you find the table with the quantile range of GMATs at the different schools. Then, I’m going to ask you to reflect as to what will be comfortable for you. Some people don’t mind being the lowest GMAT in the class. Others are used to being the smartest student in the class, so it would be a real challenge to be in the bottom quantile. That reveals something about your comfort level and the kind of people you want to be around.”
Ortalo-Magné will continue by probing for risk tolerance so he can help students pinpoint what he calls “acceptable sets” in terms of placement outcomes, salaries, debt loads, and geography. Once he has helped applicants narrow these sets, he can guide them back to who they want to be and what type of experience they want to enjoy.
START WITH THE HARD QUESTIONS
“Once we have narrowed, I will be able to say, ‘Do you want to stay in the Midwest?’ ‘Do you want your range of GMATs to be between 680 and 740?’ Then I’d encourage them to look for stories about schools. Some programs are pretty explicit and understand their brand. After that, read student blogs and watch student YouTubes. Go to social media, get a sense of the place, and then go and visit and spend time with them. My sense is you will end up visiting three to five schools and then you’ll understand the community you will join.”
Rice’s Rodriguez follows a similar process predicated on a familiar axiom: Know thyself. In Rodriguez’s experience, it is hard for prospective students to make a mistake at the very top end of schools. Like Ortalo-Magné, he believes the best choices are governed by how well applicants understand their learning style and objectives.
“It begins with a few basic questions. Do you want a program that’s high touch and can give you a lot of attention,” he poses. “There are a number of schools that can do that. Is your primary aim instead to have a program that caters to specific industries or even a set of firms? Remember that almost all schools are somewhat regional in their placement. There are only a handful of truly national schools that can boast that they can get you anywhere. Even there, you have to carefully think about the odds. So that’s another good question to answer.”
‘DON’T LOOK FOR THE EXTERNAL MEASURES TO ANSWER THE INTERNAL QUESTIONS’
In the end, the goal of any ranking is to reduce the possibility of making a bad choice. However, Rodriguez believes ‘fit’ usually starts with the depth of personal reflection. “I often tell students, ‘Don’t look for the external measures to answer the internal questions. Answer the internal questions first and then go match them.’ That usually matters a lot… Know where you want to go and what you like and everything follows from that.”
Alas, Rodriguez believes rankings are the natural outgrowth of the importance of the decision. They are a logical and intelligible way to justify a six-figure investment paired with a year or two absence from the workforce. They have a place in the discussion in his estimation – but perhaps not at the center.
“Rankings are critical in many ways – but no one can afford to invest too much in any of them,” Rodriguez adds. “They’re relatively volatile. Among all of us, there is this sense of not letting rankings cloud true change and advance or retreat in any performance measure. As deans, that’s what we’re really concerned about: Are we doing better by our students and alumni, year-to-year?”