I’m not sure I’m ready.
I’m not sure it’s right for me.
My GMAT/GRE score, GPA, or work experience isn’t good enough.
I have heard these, and many other reasons, candidates give for not pursuing an MBA. Many start to explore MBA programs and are overwhelmed by the options or quickly feel like they are not good enough for the schools they would like to be a part of.
Promoters of graduate business education are quick to highlight the most successful alumni and the most impactful current students. A quick Google search can yield an abundance of profiles of the best and brightest associated with MBA programs making many candidates wonder if they should even consider applying. My answer is…you absolutely should apply to an MBA program—even if your test scores aren’t great, come from a non-traditional background, or don’t know what you want to do with your career.
Why? Because there are no perfect MBA candidates. For every strength a candidate has, they also have a weakness. What makes a great candidate is someone who knows where they aren’t strong and addresses it head-on. Great candidates use all the opportunities available to sell themselves during the application process. They use essay questions to highlight their strengths and the interview to reinforce what they bring to the community and what kind of impact they hope to have during the MBA program and beyond. Great candidates are excited about the schools they apply to and look to build relationships to help them understand the culture and ensure a good fit.
Don’t believe me? Here are a few examples of real applicants:
I worked with a Full-time MBA candidate several years ago who was transitioning out of the military with only a vague idea of what he would like to do next. He had a below-average undergraduate GPA and GMAT score, and the initial review of his application indicated we should consider denying it. He used his admissions interview to directly address his low academic scores, and the admissions committee recommended we admit him but not consider him for a scholarship.
During our scholarship meetings, the admissions team member working with Military Mike advocated for him—pointing out his strong leadership skills, the core values he stood for which were a great fit for our community, and his success in solving quantitative problems in his military role. He was ultimately admitted with a significant scholarship.
On paper (low undergrad GPA, low GMAT, non-traditional background, no clear career goal), Military Mike would not have been admitted. But he used his essays and interview to highlight his areas of strength and the value he would bring to our community and ultimately, earned a scholarship offer.
Perfect on Paper Patty
I also worked with a woman who was applying to MBA programs and had a near-perfect GMAT, strong undergraduate GPA, and a good trajectory at a consumer product company. She arrived late to her interview and fumbled through several questions, especially related to her career plans. She was unable to provide examples of ways she had made an impact either professionally, in her undergraduate program, or in her community. She was unenthusiastic about being involved on campus if she were to be admitted to our MBA program but indicated she was confident she would be admitted because of her high scores. We knew she was academically prepared, but everything else indicated she wasn’t a good fit for our MBA program, and she ultimately was denied.
Candidates struggle when they can’t articulate why they want an MBA degree. Candidates struggle when they don’t understand the culture of the school they are applying to or when they choose a school based on where friends or colleagues go instead of the best school for their goals and interests. Candidates struggle when they don’t reflect on where they have come from and where they are going. Candidates struggle when they don’t take every advantage to present themselves well.
My admissions team for the Emory MBA is responsible for building classes that support the mission of the school, and there isn’t a perfect equation to build a class. Each candidate is evaluated against what a school considers an ideal candidate not against other applicants. The best advice I can give to MBA applicants is to be genuinely you, know your story, and know the mission and values of the school to which you are applying.
Melissa Rapp joined Goizueta in May 2019 as the Associate Dean of MBA Admissions. In this role, Melissa leads the team responsible for the recruitment, evaluation, and matriculation of students across the portfolio of MBA programs. A longtime high education professional, Melissa has worked at both small and large institutions helping to form and implement admissions strategies. Most recently, she was Director of Admissions for Full Time MBA and MSMS programs at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. She holds an undergraduate degree from The University of Kansas and a master’s from Baker University.