What are the MBA Admissions Criteria used by Admissions Committees in evaluating my candidacy? Understanding the MBA Admissions Criteria helps you in both preparing optimal MBA applications and selecting schools at which to apply. You should prepare each component of the MBA application (essays, resume, work history, etc.) to address (show strength) in one or more of the MBA evaluation criteria. Choosing MBA Schools at which to apply and determining stretch, target, and safety schools is dependent upon the strength of your candidacy based on this evaluation criteria and the degree to which those schools fits your needs. Almost all MBA schools look at the same set of factors when evaluating your candidacy, although some schools will weigh certain elements more than others. Also, Different MBA Program Types will factor the elements differently (a school’s EMBA program will weigh the Professional Dimension more and your Academic Profile less than the school’s full-time MBA program will). Schools want to admit candidates that have great intellectual capacity, demonstrated impact, leadership capabilities, interpersonal skills, and other qualities shown in differing areas of his or her life. These dimensions are Professional, Community, and Personal. However, a school must first ask can you academically compete in their program by assessing your Academic Profile prior to determining whether your level of achievement and potential within the Professional, Community, and Personal dimensions are sufficient to admit you.
MBA Admissions Criteria
From the INSEAD MBA Admissions Criteria page:
MBA schools evaluate your Academic Dimension by looking at your academic performance (especially in quantitative subjects), test scores, and other factors such as your intellectual curiosity and initiative for learning.
Your academic performance can be gleaned by examining your undergraduate and graduate transcripts along with post-graduate diplomas, certificates and additional coursework. What was your GPA (or % for certain foreign students) in your coursework and major(s)? How difficult is each school attended, degree attained and major completed? For instance, Military Service Academies have low average GPA’s as do engineering degrees when compared to liberal arts degrees. So, a student graduating with a low GPA in Electrical Engineering from West Point might have a stronger academic profile than another person graduating with a higher GPA in philosophy from a lower ranked school. Did you take rigorous classes and do well? Did you earn strong grades in univariate calculus and statistics? How difficult was your academic institution and the degree you chose (it is known that engineering degrees product the lowest GPAs)?
What was your score on the GMAT or GRE? How well did you perform on the quantitative portion? Most schools use the 80% as a rough threshold. If you score less than 80%, you will want to show quantitative aptitude in other areas of your application. I recommend for MBA applicants to take the GMAT because schools have more of a history with the exam. Applicants who take the GRE are usually those with another advanced degree (as the GRE is the entrance requirement) or from a developing country (the GRE is less expensive than the GMAT). How have you performed on the TOEFL if you are an international applicant who graduated from a school which was not taught in English? Schools evaluate your English proficiency by looking at your test score, essays, and interview. This proficiency is important because class contribution and study groups are a significant part of the MBA experience.
Certifications or Credentials
Have you achieved a designation that shows accomplishment, such as passing all three exams within the CFA (Certified Financial Analyst)?
Have you been published which would demonstrate thought leadership in specific field or way of thinking? Does this align with a school’s research centers and initiatives?
The Professional Dimension includes your career trajectory, achievements, demonstrated leadership and teamwork, global mindset, and other characteristics.
Have you progressed in your career with promotions? For instance, if you are a technology consultant you could have progressed from analyst to lead to project manager to client relationship manager. Promotions can also occur in matrix organizations (like Microsoft) in which you advance in title and role separately. Ideally promotions would have occurred with the same company, but could have occurred over multiple companies as you left for higher positions.
What has been your demonstrated impact versus your peer group (applicants with similar roles in similar industries and from similar regions)? Impact is best shown as affecting other entities and people besides yourself whether organizations, divisions, teams, individuals, etc.
What has been your demonstrated leadership versus your peer group (applicants with similar roles in similar industries and from similar regions)? Leadership can be by authority or influence. Leaders have different leadership styles (such as participative) and capabilities. Although impact and leadership are often correlated these are not necessarily the same. A salesperson would show impact, but not necessarily leadership, by exceeding his or her quota as an individual producer. The same person could show both impact and leadership by leading a team or establishing a training program to empower many people to exceed their quotas. Ideally, when choosing answers to essay questions (especially “leadership essay question types”) the applicant is both able to demonstrate impact and leadership.
How do you contribute in a group when you are not the leader or leadership is shared? How do you manage conflict (this is relevant both when you are a leader and teammate)? Have you developed specific teamwork skills that skills include facilitation, consensus building, morale building, mentoring, etc.? Teamwork is tied to interpersonal and group communication skills which MBA admissions committees evaluate in your essays and especially during your interview. Wharton’s team-based interview format is specifically designed to glean this information.
Have you worked in multiple countries and/or with people from different cultures? Have you led or managed differently to attain results in these environments? How has your perspective been broadened given these experiences?
Have you conducted yourself with integrity and/or positively handled ethical dilemmas? Have you demonstrated initiative? Have you shown resiliency (often addressed in answering “failure essay question types) and emotional intelligence?
Community encompasses extracurricular activities and community service (activities outside of school). When discussing the Community dimension you still want to show promotions, impact, leadership, teamwork, a global element and other characteristics but how you discuss each of these and what you highlight might be different. Community involvement is important because admissions committees want to admit good people who will positively impact the world and be engaged with the school through its clubs, conferences, programs, etc. Pre-MBA community involvement is a strong indicator of community engagement while at MBA school.
Promotions in community service could be position-based (selected for a board seat of a non-profit) or role-based (advancing from a member of a group to its leader for a fundraising team participating in a marathon)
How do you lead in non-professional settings when involvement is often voluntary?
How do you positively contribute to team dynamics when some members might be paid staff and other members volunteers?
Do any of your community service or extracurricular activities encompass a global scope or involve a global mission?
What is the underlying motivation (such as altruism, education, freedom, opportunity) that drives you to dedicate your non-work time to these non-professional activities? Where is the passion that defines you as a human being?
MBA Admissions Committees also look at your background, perspectives, and pursuits outside of your professional and community involvements to build a diverse class with unique and relevant viewpoints. Do you come from an underrepresented minority group or global region? Have your risen from especially difficult circumstances (and has this influenced your professional, community and personal goals)? Certain essay questions might ask about your family background, the different experiences that have shaped you, something that might surprise the Admissions Committee, etc. If not asked, you might include this information in your optional essay.
All MBA Admissions Committees seek candidates with a strong academic profile and an excellent history of promotions, impact, leadership, teamwork, a global mindset and other characteristics in professional, community, and personal dimensions. Schools, though have different evaluation criteria and guiding principles that influence their selection process which you can learn from thoroughly researching the school. MIT Sloan publishes “What We Look For” and Haas’ Guiding Principles are “Question the Status Quo”, “Confidence Without Attitude”, “Student Always” and “Beyond Yourself”. MIT Sloan does not feel that your short and long term goals dictate your future success as a business leader (and hence MIT Sloan does not have a goals question), while Columbia considers the alignment of your goals with their recruiters and academic programs as an important criterion (and hence why Columbia does have a goals question). So, in closing, prepare your applications based upon the generic and specific criteria that MBA Admissions Committees will use to evaluate your candidacy.
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