In my last article we laid out the five elements that you must pay attention to when planning your MBA application. We will talk about the first of those five in this post: academic performance.
Your academic performance as an undergrad, from the first to the last year, is extremely important for any graduate program, and the MBA is no exception. Traditionally, admissions committees analyze three aspects of your academic record:
1. Your performance in each and every one of your classes, particularly in the most rigorous courses and/or the most relevant to the MBA. It’s important that you provide context for any dips in grades that deserve an explanation; many schools offer the opportunity to discuss gaps or any discrepancies in the optional essay. This is the place to clarify if your grades suffered because you were trying to balance a job with your studies, a personal or family situation, or any unusual event that could have had an effect on your grades.
2. The reputation and selectivity of the institution where you studied. If you have reason to believe that your university is not well known by the business school that you will be applying to, it’s important that you provide them with objective information regarding the reputation, rankings, and selectivity of your undergraduate institution. For example, there are universities that select their students through a very rigorous admission exam. If you were one of the few selected, make sure to include that information in your application.
3. The continuity of your performance. Adcoms look very carefully into the academic workload you carried every semester, and they pay particular attention to periods in which you might have lowered your workload. For example, that semester-long break you took to work full-time, or the year when you decided to take two classes instead of the usual five. Be prepared to justify and/or explain your decision in the appropriate part of the application.
If your grades in math and in other quantitative classes are low, I recommend that you take pre-MBA courses in subjects such as accounting, finance, calculus, and statistics. You can take them at any accredited university or community college, but make sure you earn solid A’s in all of them. This will diminish the effect that low grades might have in your MBA application, as you will be showing that you are now able to handle the academic rigor of the MBA.
Finally, make sure to demonstrate your academic capacity with a strong score in the GMAT or GRE, which is the topic of the next article of this series.
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Esmeralda Cardenal is a Former Associate Director of Admissions at Yale SOM, Director of MBA Admissions at MSU Broad, and consultant at Cardiff Business School in the UK. Since 2014, she has guided Accepted clients to acceptance in various graduate programs including MBA and master's in finance, business analytics, data science, sustainability, and public policy. Want Esmeralda to help you get Accepted? Click here to get in touch!
• MBA Action Plan: 6 Steps for the 6 Months Before You Apply
• 5 Tips for Your Low GPA, a podcast episode
• 3 Steps for Applying to Business School with a Low Undergraduate GPA