What do Top Business Schools look for in MBA Applicants?

The MBA application landscape is changing now more than ever. With the future generations becoming more socially and environmentally conscious, business schools are diverting their focus on training and educating a diverse group of individuals that can create change and lead masses in a wide range of industries and sectors.

But it doesn’t come easy. These admissions committee members do not receive or create an applicant profile that can be followed exactly to get into business schools. The MBA application system appreciates more authentic and unique profiles.

So how do you get into these top business schools?

How do you showcase your readiness to be the future leader that these business schools are searching for?

The following are a few traits in an applicant that can significantly improve their chances of receiving an admit.

  1. Self-awareness
  2. This is something that will help you during the applications to any business school and in life. Knowing yourself doesn’t mean you need to have a completely formulated 5-year plan or knowing exactly what meal you’d like to have in the morning when you wake up. Knowing yourself is more in the realm of self- awareness.

    It means being conscious of the state your mind and body are in. Knowing your strengths, weaknesses, limitations, shortcomings, opportunities, and everything in-between. This not only helps you overcome your limitations, and use your strengths but also makes sure you do not miss out on any opportunities presented to you.

    In any business course, a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis is taught as being one of the most important things to have a successful project. This helps predict any forthcoming issues.

    In simpler terms, having a SWOT analysis of yourself will help you predict and deal with any problems in your application before you are blindsided by a question about it whether in the Video Essays or the Interviews.

  3. Cultural fit
  4. Business schools today are big on cultural fit. It’s upon you to prove that you’re a good fit at your target school. One very effective way to do this is by

    To give you a clear picture of how important this aspect of your profile would be: admissions committee members would focus on finding this answer out through your essays, video essays, and interview.

    learning more about the school. Ditch the old Google search and network with current students and alumni of your target school. Take time out and attend admissions events if possible.

    Use such methods to research about the school and its programs. When you know the school inside out, you will be able to give better and more in-depth answers to questions like ‘Why this school?’ or ‘Why should you get the admit?’.

  5. Glowing Recommendations
  6. Most business schools require an applicant to submit Letters of recommendation or have separate forms for recommenders to make sure the applicant doesn't tamper with the letters in any way. However, some business schools let you decide.

    They provide applicants with the opportunity to decide to either be able to see the Letters of recommendation or be kept out of the process completely. When you choose the former, the credibility of your recommendation goes up.

    Also, if you choose your recommender carefully, you will not require the access that the school offers to your letters of recommendation.

    To choose your recommender, go for someone who has a good rapport with you, can speak about you in a professional capacity (like a supervisor, or a client), and has readily agreed to write your recommendation. In case someone is not interested in writing your letter of recommendation, move on to your next option as they will probably end up writing an average letter if you convince them to do it.

  7. Your Equation of Employability
  8. Two-Years in an MBA program might seem like a long-time during applications, but it isn’t. With the rigorous curriculum, you won’t even realize that the program is over when your graduation day arrives.

    If you approached a world-renowned sculpture and asked them to help you sculpt a lady, the result could be anything according to his interpretation. But, if you went to him with the description of a lady wearing a saree with a pot on her head, he will be able to provide you with the exact result that you had in mind.

    While an MBA program will help you recognize your strengths and chisel out your career path more, you will require a rough sculpture to start with. This is why your professional goals matter to the admissions committee.

    While a lot of students do not end up following the same career path they talked about during admissions, admissions committees say that it’s simply because an MBA exposes students to a new world of opportunities.

    Thus, having a clear equation of employability is more important to know whether the reason an applicant chose to do an MBA was authentic or not.

    The equation of employability is also important to the business school admissions committees because if they can’t see a future where they could place you in the workforce, the MBA would add no value to you and vice versa.

    The following is the equation of employability.

    Past (AHA moments) + MBA (Current handicaps) = Short-term and long-term goals

    Past: The AHA moments are moments from the past year or two that have made the applicant identify the need to do an MBA. These are moments that have motivated the applicant to work towards their short-term and long-term goals.

    MBA: The current handicaps are the gaps or the absence of the skills required for the applicant to function smoothly in their short-term or long-term goals. A good goal story would have the applicant detail how an MBA would help them overcome their current handicaps and acquire the said skills.

  9. Ability to handle the rigor of an MBA Program
  10. Needless to say, the admissions committee at business schools look at your GPA and GMAT scores to evaluate your academic prowess. After all, an MBA is an academic course with a rigorous curriculum. The GPA and GMAT scores are a good indicator of how a student might perform in a structured and demanding program.

    However, they are not the sole criteria for admission. Many business schools clearly state that they aren’t looking only for academically gifted students. An applicants’ creative abilities are also crucial. However, if an applicant isn’t able to show academic excellence, the committee digs deeper into their profiles to find out if the applicant balanced the lack out.

    Thus, if you have a low GPA or GMAT score, but have additional certifications that can show that you have the academic skill set to perform well during an MBA program, the admissions committee members will consider your profile rounded out.

  11. A well-rounded applicant
  12. Take this point literally. Pick up any activity you like and become the best at it.

    A good MBA profile will always have a few skills, leadership, team-work, problem-solving, quick thinking, ethical responsibility, and passion. While you can demonstrate most of these skills through your work experience, passion can be a difficult trait to put down on paper.

    Apart from a good student, and employee, who are you? The answer to this question is also a good way to make your profile more holistic.

    Are you a sportsman, a traveler, a social media influencer, a poet, or anything else that you wish to be when you have time away from work and other responsibilities? Having a passion outside of your career will portray you as a balanced candidate.

  13. Transferable skills
  14. While admissions committee members don’t directly ask you what your transferable skills to a business school are, they want to know the same.

    Interviews at some top schools have been known to linger around this topic. Interviewers have shown immense interest in what the applicant’s transferable skills from their previous education, work experience and life in general to a business school are, and how aware of those the applicant is.

    So, while you probably will be asked about the same during interviews, make sure to mention a few while writing your essays too. For example, if you are a literature major, communication would be a transferable skill you have honed over your undergraduate years, mention it in your essays if possible.

  15. Diversity
  16. Diversity isn’t just a word thrown out during MBA applications. It’s something that the admissions committees work day-in and day-out to incorporate into their MBA programs.

    The value of diversity is seen throughout an MBA program. Students that come from various backgrounds and have had contrasting experiences come together to; create unique solutions to problems in the business world, and create a global mindset amongst their peers.

    The admissions committee isn’t just looking for academic performance or diversity amongst applicants but also diversity within an applicant’s profile. They are looking for profiles that are well rounded rather than ones that perform highly on one criterion and fail miserably on another.

    Thus, if you have a high GPA, and a high GMAT score, but have no extracurricular, the admissions committee might be inclined to surpass you for an applicant that might have performed slightly lower on the academic scale but has a few extracurricular activities to round off their profile.

  17. Emotional intelligence
  18. We have been fed that Emotional Intelligence is only for our personal relationships and not the professional environment. Well, it’s no longer deemed true. The importance of Emotional Intelligence in a professional capacity has gained popularity in the past decade.

    Organizations were the first ones to crack the code of why a high Emotional Quotient was as important as a high Intelligence Quotient. However, business schools caught up pretty quick. Yale SOM recently integrated the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT) in their first-year curriculum.

    Business schools have also figured out the best way to integrate the same into MBA admissions for the school through Behavioral assessments. For schools that still don’t have a mechanism in place for these assessments, your essays will be critical to showcase the same.

  19. Your thought processes
  20. While almost all business schools have essays asking to explain your accomplishments, the answer to the essay is analyzed differently at most business schools. While one school would be looking to understand why you consider a particular task a huge accomplishment, another would assess how you deal when faced with difficult tasks. But the thing that the admissions committees are looking for is the same, your thought process.

    Soojin Kwon, the Admissions Director of Ross, explains that the school wants to learn about the applicant’s thought process through these essays. What you believe to be an accomplishment and chose to disclose through the essays tells a lot about what things matter to you in life, what your priorities are. Furthermore, your journey to that accomplishment reveals your thought process as you explain the decisions you took that finally helped you achieve your goal. All of these things reveal intricate details about an applicant’s personality.

    So, when writing your essays, or in other parts of your MBA application, remember to reveal your thought process. When you refer to an anecdote where you had to choose between various things, mention the reasons precisely for the factors that made you lean in a particular direction.

    I know this list can seem daunting. You might even not check most of the boxes on this list. But that’s because you haven’t sat on it and evaluated yourself well enough, yet.

    I would suggest reading this list one point at a time. For example, when you read the point about Emotional Intelligence think of an instance when you recently showed the same. Then take a few hours, do other chores and come back to this point. Look at it with a fresh perspective and think of a new, completely different answer for the same. The second answer you come up with would be much better though-out and can be something you can use in your MBA application essays.

    Just know that you don’t need to possess every quality on this list. What is important is creating an authentic profile. If you don’t have a certain quality, you would have another to make up for it. So, stop doubting yourself and start creating an exceptional MBA application.

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