An MBA application is like a mosaic. Each element contributes to create a full picture of who you are. Some pieces will be brighter or more colorful than others. For those less sparkly components (aka your weaknesses), you can either polish them to hide their dullness and to highlight the brilliance that surrounds them, or you can re-evaluate your school choices to be more competitive.
Here are five tips for assessing your profile – examining and weighing your strengths and weaknesses – so you can narrow down your list and apply to the best schools for you.
If your score is more than 30 points below the average listed at your target school, then you can either adjust your list of target schools and aim for MBA programs that have lower GMAT averages, or you can keep your list and retake the GMAT.
That being said, it’s only one factor in your application. If you scored low on the GMAT, you may be an outlier in another area, which could mitigate your score.
Your undergraduate GPA is another factor the adcom considers. Those with a 3.6 and above are generally fine at top schools. If you had a wobbly semester or two, use the optional essay to provide context and discuss what you’ve done to address those weak areas. Perhaps you retook a few classes, or later enrolled in a continuing ed course to brush up your skill set.
2. Work experience
Top business schools are generally looking for folks with between 3-7 years of work experience.
Certain professions are highly represented. For example, at Harvard, the top professions pre-MBA are consulting, financial services, VC/PE and “High Tech/Communications.” At Wharton, it’s consulting and military/government/non-profit. At Stanford it’s consulting, VC/PE and military/government/non-profit.
If you’re not a consultant, in finance, or a government wonk – that doesn’t mean you’re not competitive! MBA programs are also looking for diversity to bring differing viewpoints to class discussions. What you need to communicate is how your achievements are extraordinary and how your background will add to the school’s diversity. That’s what will make you stand out.
3. International considerations
International applicants need to show work experience + international exposure. Or work experience + extraordinary accomplishments. (For that matter, non-international applicants would also do well to show their international exposure!)
Take a look at the profiles of students who head up international clubs at top US and UK b-schools. More likely than not they have one of two boxes checked.
1. They have significant international experience working outside of their home country, often with a multinational company or recognized global organization.
2. They’ve done something truly extraordinary in the context of their profession.
If you have never traveled or worked outside your home country, then your accomplishments should stand out anywhere around the globe. And not just with high test scores, but by introducing significant innovation at work, developing a skill, creating a business, or founding a socially-oriented activity that’s unique and interesting.
Are you networking for international assignments at work? If not, start doing so now.
Would you consider what you’ve done, extraordinary? If not, stop dreaming and start doing it now.
Your goals need to make sense based on your past experience. They should draw a clear connection from your past to your future.
Thinking about switching careers? That’s fine – just show the admissions committee that you’ve already gained some exposure to the industry, and why your past experience will be an asset as you move forward.
Bear in mind that the adcom will likely assess your employ-ability. Will your background + an MBA make sense to recruiters? Are you an international student? You may have a harder time getting hired by a firm outside of countries where you are already permitted to work. It’s best to show in your application that you’re flexible – you’re willing to return to your home country, get some more experience, then branch out based on your own networking.
5. Fit and familiarity
Have you taken a summer session course on campus? Are you an alum of the undergraduate program? Have you worked in the city where the school is located? If so, then you can then make a better case for being familiar with a program’s curriculum and community.
Your post-MBA plans also play a role when assessing “fit.” Do you have experience in a school’s specialization? Do you have family in the area, or previous business connections that would lead you to happily settle in the school’s locale after graduation? Are you a big city kind of person, or do you enjoy the strong connections forged in smaller communities?
Be HONEST with yourself. If a school ticks your boxes on paper but you can’t get a feel for how it would be to study there, then you should definitely plan a campus visit if you can afford it. (Visiting is a great opportunity!) Rankings and name recognition are a place to start, but ultimately, an MBA is a HUGE investment. Don’t make it the worst two-year vacation you went into debt for and will spend a lifetime paying back. Make it a transformative experience. Find an environment where you will thrive.
Do you need help assessing your profile and determining which b-schools are best for you? We can help. Head to our MBA consulting info page now.
Michelle Stockman is a professional journalist, former Columbia Business School admissions insider, and experienced MBA admissions consultant.