Inside An Adcom Session: How A Top B-School Decides Who Gets In

Pascal Michels, director of MBA admissions at IESE Business School

Pascal Michels, director of MBA admissions at IESE Business School. Photo by John A. Byrne

A 620 GMAT BUT IN HER COUNTRY THAT PUTS THE APPLICANT IN THE 99TH PERCENTILE

A female candidate from the Middle East with a 620 GMAT and a solid GPA from a U.S. university where she earned a degree in finance also gains strong support from the committee. She has seven years of work experience for a major global company in business development, corporate planning, and financial advisory. Malvika Kumar notes that she has been speaking with her since February. After reporting the low test score, Kumar points out that she had looked up GMAT percentiles by country. “In her country, she is in the 99th percentile.”

“She blew me away in our interview,” adds Karen Crisostomo, who says the woman reminded her of a classmate at IESE she admired. Crisostomo rated her a four in her admissions interview. “She will lead not only lead a company some day but she will lead in her country. This is a super clear admit. She will be very successful here.”

Quips Michels, always playing the challenger, “Then why did you not give her a five if she blew you away?”

“There were some things she was unclear about and some of her answers lacked insight,” responds Crisostomo, who chalks it up to nerves. “But her GMAT score is very high for the region and she did well in her academics.” The applicant gets admitted.

THREE ADMITS AMONG THE SEVEN AMERICANS IN THE ROUND FOUR POOL

Of the seven Americans who come up at the meeting, five are men and two are women. Their GMAT scores are fairly solid: 640, 670, 680, 700, 710, and 750, the highest score of any interviewee in round four. Ultimately, three would get admits, two are rejected, one is waitlisted, and another is set up for a second interview. Besides the 750 candidate who was dinged for his lack of self-awareness, among other things, the other applicant was turned down because he was deemed to be a career risk.

Another male candidate with a 680 GMAT but “abysmal undergraduate grades” was put on the waitlist, partly because the committee felt there was a “cultural fit issue.” That was not a problem for the U.S. applicant from San Francisco. With a 710 GMAT, the candidate wants to use the MBA experience to transition into financial management. It is noted that IESE is the only school to which he has applied.

As the meeting drags on and the time approaches 6 p.m., it’s clear that the energy level in the room is falling. A Spanish candidate who lives in Barcelona yet failed to show up for assessment day is deemed “super average.” “Let’s reject,” says Michels abruptly “That’s the end of the conversation.” There’s another quick rejection for an applicant who works for a consulting firm in Spain. The group agrees they are only “lukewarm” about him, in part, because they don’t believe he will be active in the IESE community and his goals–to get into international finance–are considered not realistic.

‘IT’S BEEN A LOW GMAT DAY’

With the waitlist now bulging at 88 applicants, there are only two spots left in the class, being held for candidates who will undergo a second interview. Unless some of the 368 admits withdraw or fail to post their deposits, Michels and his team won’t have to go very deep into this year’s waitlist.

Round 4 allowed the group to rebalance the class, by gender and geography. Most of the day’s admits were female, and the team managed to increase the number of women in the MBA program to 31.7% from 28.6% at the beginning of the day. Interestingly enough, applications from women this year were up 26%. The Europeans granted admits brought their total up to 30.6%, versus the day’s start of 27.2%. Of course, these are the numbers before withdrawals so they are subject to change. One metric that didn’t go up was the class’ average GMAT.

“It’s been a low GMAT day,” declares Michels. The average provisional GMAT for the incoming class has dropped to 680 from last year’s 686. All in all, Michels expect the average to end up in the 678 to 682 range once all the acceptances are in.

‘THIS IS LIKE GAME OF THRONES’

“I am happy with that number,” he says. “What matters most to me is that we are systematic about requiring the GMAT or GRE. I am more and more convinced that the strength of our interaction with candidates allows us to reduce the selective dimension of the GMAT in favor of a more binary use of the test.”

When the session ends, exhaustion is evident. Many of the admission officers have been at it for nine hours straight. Including a final, uncompleted look at candidates on the waitlist, the group had reviewed nearly 80 applicants, turning down the majority of them.

“This is like Game of Thrones,” concludes Andrea Hayem.

After all, just like life in the fantasy drama, you either win or you die in an MBA admissions committee meeting.

DON’T MISS: IESE: WHERE SMALL CLASSES & CASE STUDIES ARE A BEAUTIFUL THING or POETS&QUANTS’ RANKING OF THE TOP INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS SCHOOLS

About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.