Recently Matt Symonds of Fortuna Admissions had the opportunity to meet up at CentreCourt for chats with admissions directors from six Top 10 US MBA programs. Here he shares their reassuring insights on the admissions process and advice on how applicants can make their case. All agreed that whatever the specific application requirements, the point is to share your unique story, so schools get to know you. Shaping your story takes some reflection, and an experienced guide like a Fortuna coach can be an invaluable guide to the process.
If your grade point average and GMAT scores fall outside the averages in statistical profiles of the admitted class at your dream school, don’t be deterred. Experienced admissions professionals agree that those numbers are just a snapshot, and admissions teams look much deeper and holistically at applicants.
“Everybody is much more than a data point,” says Wil Torres, director of outreach for MBA admissions at Stanford Graduate School of Business. “It’s so easy for applicants to anchor on those averages, but they aren’t actually that helpful in my mind. We don’t have any minimum test scores or GPAs.” If there’s a concern, “I’m actually going into your transcript to look for trends or additional information beneath the GPA. Were there any lived experiences that might have impacted your academic performance?” Torres adds.
Michael Robinson, assistant dean of engagement at Columbia Business School, agrees: “I think people over-focus on averages. Instead, they should focus on the range of people who get admitted.” He cites examples of admitted students who struggled academically yet were admitted because they had accomplished amazing things personally and professionally that showed clear potential.
The Chicago Booth and MIT Sloan school of business both publish 80th percentile ranges for GPA and GMAT scores that are more informative than a single average number. With ranges, prospective students “can see that we do have people at both ends of the spectrum. We want to make sure that people don’t select self-select out of applying or at least exploring what Booth has to offer,” says Donna Swinford, associate dean for student recruitment and admissions at Booth “You’re a full person who comes with a unique story; the averages don’t tell the full story of who everyone is.”
At MIT Sloan, “We really do take a very comprehensive look at all of our applicants, so it’s difficult to say that any one data point is going to knock you out of the opportunity,” noted Dawna Levenson, assistant dean for admissions. “Having said that, it’s important to know that we would never want to admit somebody into our MBA program who we did not believe would be successful in the classroom.”
But there are many ways beyond a GMAT score for students to provide evidence of their capabilities, she added. Graduate school grades or certificate course completion, strong work performance or rapid promotions are just a few examples.
“Certainly the academics play a role, because we want to know that you can achieve and learn in our space without being overly challenged, but there’s a really wide range of academic backgrounds and performance that are part of our community,” says Jake Kohler, former associate director of admissions for the Wharton School’s MBA program who is now the director of the Ken and Julie Moelis Advance Access Program there.
Admissions teams are looking beyond scores and numbers to assess the whole of a candidate’s achievements, experiences, and capabilities, because they want to select a class that’s diverse on all facets so students learn from one another. A good fit with the school’s culture and mission is also key.
“Our goal at MIT Sloan really is to improve the world and therefore we need students with relevant experiences from around the world,” says Levenson. “I think that’s what our students expect.” it really is “very much a matching process,” adds Bruce DelMonico, Yale School of Management’s assistant dean of admissions. “We are bringing in excellent people we feel are aligned with the SOM mission of educating leaders for business and society and trying to be sure we’re the right place for them. It’s very much a two-way street.”
Rather than fixating on average scores, Stanford GSB’s Torres says, “I’d actually invite folks to turn it back around and think, ‘Who am I and what are some of experiences and perspectives I bring? How do those things come together to tell the story of you? How does that inform what you want to do next?’”
Robinson adds: “To me the most important factor is, can this person achieve their goals at a high level? Has a person done some really thoughtful reflection so they have a real sense of the gaps that they have and how the ecosystem that exists at Columbia will help them close those gaps? Do they have a very clear sense of how our school can help them so they’re going to be pretty intentional about the approach that they take to optimize their opportunities at CBS?”
Bottom line: You’re more than your test scores and the basic facts and figures of your resume. Get creative and craft the true story of you—your skills, talents, lived experiences, and dreams. Find a trusted advisor to help you figure out how the various elements of your application can fit together to tell the whole story of who you are and what only you can bring to the classroom.
Matt Symonds is a director at MBA admissions coaching firm Fortuna Admissions. For a candid assessment of your chances of admission success at a top MBA program, sign up for a free consultation.
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