Ever wonder what happens to your application once you send it in? Does it enter a black hole in space and come out the other side with an admission or a deny? What transpires between the moment you click the “submit” button and when you receive that decision letter? Let’s go behind the scenes to find out.
The first step involves getting your application into the school’s system for processing. There is usually a quick review by the operations team to make sure all the required documents have been included. If anything is missing, they will contact the candidate. Next is a first read by a staff member, or sometimes a second-year student, to determine whether the candidate is qualified (with respect to their GMAT/GRE score, GPA, work experience, and so on).
If the candidate meets the basic criteria, they will be sent an invitation to interview; if not, their application either goes to the waitlist or is given a deny status. If a candidate is planning to retake the GMAT/GRE, about to receive a promotion, or on the verge of changing jobs, or if they have any other material change in their application, they must notify the admissions office. This could result in (1) a hold on the decision or (2) a waitlist instead of a deny until the additional information is received.
Who is on the admission committee? This varies by school and by the number of applications the school receives. Huge programs might have second-year students reading applications, interviewing, and making recommendations for admission as well as staff. Other programs might use recruiting staff, career office staff, and/or outside readers during the decision-making process. A few schools also have faculty members or deans on the committee.
The admissions committee, whatever the makeup, is looking for four main things:
- Academic ability as shown by undergraduate grades and courses, and by GMAT or GRE scores. There is a definite correlation between test scores and success in the first year of the MBA program. No school wants to admit someone who appears highly likely to fail or have significant difficulties with coursework.
- Relevant work experience and awareness of one’s abilities and flaws
- Clear focus on potential post-MBA career paths
- Understanding of what the MBA is, how the school will help in career progression, and fit with the program
Sometimes a candidate’s entire file is thoroughly evaluated before their interview, and then their application is given a quick second read after the interview. The interview serves a very specific purpose, so do not treat this step lightly!
The interview helps reveal more about the candidate’s personality and adds to the basic information provided by the paper application. It helps the adcom ascertain whether the applicant’s goals are feasible and the candidate is “coachable.” Some questions provide an indication of the applicant’s fit with and interest in the program. Behavioral questions generally give an idea of how the candidate might perform in front of a corporate interviewer or with high-ranking alumni. And finally, the interview can elicit information that is not in the application.
If the interview goes badly, and the interviewer does not recommend the candidate for admission, their application will go onto the waitlist or into the deny bucket. If the interview goes well, the candidate’s application goes to a second evaluator. Usually, this second read is “blind,” meaning that the second evaluator has no access to the first evaluator’s notes. The application is then either sent to the admissions director or presented to the entire admissions committee for a final review and decision. Admissions committee members present applications in either top-down GMAT score order or definite admits first, then move next to the neutral or questionable admits. Staff members present to the team, and decisions are usually voted on by the entire team. In some instances, the admissions director will simply pass the clear admits and clear denies on for processing, and the team will discuss only the “maybe” candidates.
Decisions can be released on a rolling basis or on a specified date (shown on the school’s website) for each round. If denied, the candidate may not reapply in the same year but must wait until the following year to do so. Some schools will offer feedback at the end of the year but not during the application period. Some do not offer feedback and will refuse to discuss a candidate’s decision.
If an applicant is waitlisted, some schools offer feedback to help them improve, though others do not. Be sure to check the policy of each school. It IS possible to get off the waitlist. That is actually a good place to be, because it means the school likes something about you and your application. You should be self-aware enough to figure out what your weakness is (or weaknesses are) and start working on it (them).
What are some of the reasons for a “deny” decision? The most obvious is a clear lack of academic ability, especially quantitative ability, or a willingness to improve on one’s weaknesses. Evidence of plagiarism or falsification of any information contained in the application is also a clear deny. Sometimes, an EQ (emotional quotient) deficit or a lack of interpersonal skills will result in a deny. Information relating to the applicant’s career goals can also be a danger zone. If the candidate seems totally clueless about their career path or what it takes to change careers – or even why they are pursuing an MBA – they are not ready for the program. Equally detrimental (and a reason to examine the school’s employment data) is having a career focus in an area that the school has no expertise in and for which it hosts no companies that recruit. Rudeness or any other inappropriate behavior toward staff members or students during an on-campus visit, interview, or class visit can quickly eliminate a candidate from consideration. And finally, believing that the MBA is a magic wand that will lead you to a CEO position after graduation indicates a lack of maturity and connection with reality.
All this to say that everything in the application serves a purpose. Schools don’t require applicants to complete applications because they have nothing better to do Their essay, interview, and recommendation questions are all carefully considered. The adcom wants to know who you are, what you want to do, why you want to do it, how you will add to your classmates’ learning and MBA experience, how you will be involved at the school, and what kind of graduate you might be.
Our team of MBA admissions experts includes former admissions directors, published authors, and highly experienced business school admissions consultants. And we are all ready to help you secure a seat at your dream school, just as we have done for thousands of clients for the past 25 years. Schedule your free consultation today.
Dr. Christie St-John has over 25 years of experience as MBA admissions director, career coach and Chief Military Recruiter at Vanderbilt University and Tuck School of Business, consultant at Université de Nice, and adjunct faculty at Vanderbilt. Christie has a deep knowledge of MBA and graduate admissions. Want Christie to help you get Accepted? Click here to get in touch!