The MBA Summit: How To Get Into A Top Business School


 
Byrne: And how important is that journey or path? Is it important for it to be linear? How important is a person’s post-MBA career goal in their application? Bruce?

DelMonico: I can speak for Yale, but linearity doesn’t mean too much to me. I think what we care about more is not that you’re going directly from point A to point B, but more about what you’re learning at each step of the process and how you’re thinking about it. If you take a diversion, and you decide that’s not for you, and you want to tack back in a different direction, as long as you had a reason for doing that and you know why what you wanted to do is no longer what you want to do, that’s really what we care about.

We care less about what you want to do post-MBA, because we know so many people change their minds. I think it’s really a poor way to make an admissions decision to say, “We want X number of consultants and bankers and entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs.” I think it’s just a false signal, so we care more about how you think about your journey and not where you ultimately want to go.

Kwon: To add to that, I think what we look for is, do you understand the point that you want to get to, and have you demonstrated that you know what it’s going to take to get to that point? Because it’s demonstrating a skill of doing your research and of doing the due diligence that you need to do to get to whatever you want to achieve. As Bruce said, students change their minds about what they want to do after they get their MBA, so we want to know that you have the skill to do what you want to do.

DelMonico: I don’t know if your stats show the same, but I think about two-thirds of our students change what they want to do, actually, from the time they start the MBA.

Kwon: I would get your chances being equal at the start of it. Everyone is on a level playing field, because we’re going to read every single application. We’re going to understand where you were, how you got to where you are, not just this point in time, and where you want to go afterwards. And that path is going to be so different for every applicant. It’s that path that is unique, as opposed to “I was this, and I want to be that.” So it’s not two points in time that we’re considering, it’s the entire person.

John Byrne: And how important is that journey or path? Is it important for it to be linear? In other words, if it is linear, you would think that that person would be most likely successful. The odds are in that person’s favor, right? And if it’s non-linear, there’s someone like in a nonprofit world who wants to get an MBA to work in a private equity firm, not a whole lot of chance it’s going to happen, right? So how important is that description of where they want to go with the MBA in terms of the success of their application? Bruce?

DelMonico: I can speak for Yale, and obviously, check me, but linearity doesn’t mean too much to me.

Byrne: That’s great to hear, actually.

DelMonico: And I think what we care about more is not that you’re going directly from point A to point B, but more about what you’re learning at each step of the process and how you’re thinking about it. If you sort of take a diversion, and you decide that’s not for you, and you want to sort of tack back in a different direction, as long as you had a reason for doing that and you know why what you wanted to do is no longer what you want to do, and what you learned from that experience, and what you can bring with you from that experience, that’s really what we care about.

And for us particularly at Yale, again, not to talk B-school specific, we care less about what you want to do post-MBA, because we know so many people change their minds. I think it’s really a poor way to make an admissions decision to say, “We want X number of consultants and bankers and entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs.” You know, I think it’s just a false signal, so we care more about how you think about your journey and not where you ultimately want to go.

Kwon: To add to that, I think what we look for is, do you understand the point that you want to get to, and have you demonstrated that you know what it’s going to take to get to that point? Because it’s demonstrating a skill of doing your research and of doing the due diligence that you need to do to get to whatever you want to achieve. As Bruce said, students change their minds about what they want to do after they get their MBA, so we want to know that you have the skill to do what you want to do.

Bruce DelMonico: I don’t know if your stat’s the same, but I think about two-thirds of our students change what they want to do, actually, from the time they start the MBA.

Byrne: Is it important to pretend that you know what you want to do after getting an MBA to get accepted?

Bernstein: Oh, the million dollar question. I think it’s like what Soojin and Bruce have already said, which is that we recognize that candidates, once they come in and they enroll in the program, are going to be exposed to new industries and functions and opportunities that you may not even have been aware of initially. We also know that there’s a lot of learning that happens after you submit your application and before you ultimately make your enrollment decision. So I think we’re very well aware that sometimes the goal that comes through in the application is pretend, whether that was unintentional or not, but I think as Soojin mentioned, it’s really important to connect those dots. Just help us understand that you, at least at the point of applying, have a good sense of what you think you want to do.

We’re really interested in what your passion is, what your purpose is, not so much in what is that end goal immediately after business school, but why, what is the fuel that is sort of igniting that fire? Because we recognize that even if somebody gets a job directly out of business school that did align with what they said they wanted to do in their application, that something like 90% of people are going to be changing jobs within the first few years. And so we want to better understand that underlying passion and purpose, so that when you do graduate and you get to that moment of ‘hmm, is this actually what I wanted to do,’ that you’re still being guided by something deeper to allow you to be successful.

Byrne: One of the things that is endemic in the MBA application process is the fact that there is a bewildering array of metrics, tangible and intangible, that an applicant has to provide to get accepted. So besides the standardized test score, you have your undergraduate GPA, you even have what institution you graduated from, what you majored in, where you went to work, why you went to work there, what you did, whether you were promoted or not, your recommendation letters, your career goals, etc.

DelMonico: You’re making me tired.

Byrne: How do you weigh all these different variables together to get at a result?

Kwon: It’s kind of a mixing bowl. It’s not it’s X percent this and X percent that, it’s very much a holistic process. As we review it, we’re viewing the entire application. We’re trying to get that full picture, as I mentioned. And so it’s not about one thing that is going to stand out more than another. It’s how does the whole thing hang together? If someone’s academics aren’t as strong as the next applicant’s, and they have no quant skills, we’re going to want to see a stronger GMAT or GRE quant score and/or work experience that shows that you can handle the analytical aspect of an MBA program. So we’re looking at each person and weighing each factor differently, based on what they bring to the table.

Byrne: So a 780 GMAT score is not going to get me in?

DelMonico: Not by itself. And a sub-600 GMAT might get you in, depending on the rest of your profile. I mean, I would echo Soojin’s point completely, that the same piece of data can mean different things, depending on the rest of the profile, and what you present to us. And so it’s not one formula, it’s not one set of weightings, it’s not one sort of algorithm. It’s much more nuanced than that.

Byrne: And yet so many people put so much emphasis on the standardized test score?

Bernstein: I think that if anybody wants to tackle this and come up with predictive analytics for what it takes to get in, I’ll pack my bags and go to Tahiti for the next cycle. But I appreciate the challenge and the anxiety that comes around what are my chances with X, Y, Z scores and this background and number of years of work experience, etc., but I think as Soojin said, it really is, it’s a holistic approach. And I realize that that’s not always the answer that provides comfort, but it’s the truth.

I mean it is not all about standardized test scores. It is really about the complete picture. We will admit students who have low 600s or below 600 scores if there’s something else that really makes them stand out. Similarly, I think as I look back at our applications this past year, I think we denied close to 60% of students who had a 750 or higher.

Byrne: Ouch.

Bernstein: Because it’s not just about the standardized test score. It’s about so much more.

Byrne: So for the candidate who got a 710 and is asking, “Should I retake it to get an 730 or 740?,” what’s your advice?

Bernstein: Tell me more.

DelMonico: It depends. What I honestly tell people is, scores within 10 or 20 points of each other are functionally equivalent. If you think you can get 30 or more points by retaking, and you think you can reasonably do that, sure, why not? That could make a difference. But if you’re just going to change it 10 or 20 points, it doesn’t make any sense.

Byrne: Okay, let’s move on to another topic that I know a lot of people are interested in. Soojin, what are the most common mistakes applicants make?

Kwon: I’ll give you a few. One is not researching the schools that they’re applying to, and it shows up in the application where it’s pretty generic. For example, someone may say, “I’m really interested in sustainability,” and if they don’t mention our dual degree or our concentration in sustainability, then it makes me wonder, are they really interested in that or have they even done homework on our program? Another is copping out on the standardized test. We had one applicant write an optional essay that said, “If needed, I’ll retake the test.” But it was already a low score, and we encourage people to retake the test and submit the best application that you can do. So we want everyone to put their best foot forward, and if you can tell me that you can do it if we want you to, you’re not really putting your best foot forward from the start.

THE COMPLETE MBA SUMMIT

Candid perspectives from MBA students, admission officials, and employers

VETTING TOP MBA PROGRAMS

HOW TO GET INTO A TOP BUSINESS SCHOOL

WHAT AMAZON, GOOGLE & MCKINSEY REALLY WANT FROM MBA HIRES