NOTE: This is #5 in a series of blog posts on the topic, “How to Select the Right MBA Programs.” To see previous segments, link to the following:
We have also collated the entire series into the free Best MBA Programs: A Guide to Choosing the One for You. Click on the link to download the whole series.
It’s now time to determine what types and levels of MBA programs you’re competitive and qualified for, and what if any are out of reasonable reach. I use the following categories:
- Reasonable reach: acceptance is not likely but with a great application is within reach.
- On-par: with a great app you’ll have a solid chance of acceptance.
- Safety: you will likely be admitted if you present your case credibly.
There’s a fourth category, out-of-reaches. Conceding the wisdom and validity of “never say never” and “nothing’s impossible,” there are still much, much better ways to expend your energy and time than applying to such schools.
Several factors determine your qualification for various levels of programs. Keep in mind that they all work together holistically.
First the basics – GPA and GMAT. How do yours stack up versus the mid 75-80% of students in a given program? To be fundamentally qualified you’ll want to be in the higher two-thirds of that range at least. If you’re above or in the upper one-third of this range, you’re competitive in this area. If you’re in the middle third you’re qualified, and if you’re in the lower third or below, you’re reaching.
Work experience is the next factor to consider, specifically, quality of experience. The more competitive the MBA program, the more important it is to have strong and demonstrable advancement, impact, and leadership relative to accomplished peers, regardless of your function, industry, or organization. Quality of work experience is a key factor in the level of program you would be competitive in; top tier programs turn down many applicants with near perfect stats who lack the requisite professional accomplishment.
Being in an overrepresented or underrepresented industry, demographic group, or global region/country will affect your competitiveness. Perhaps the largest overrepresented group is Indians in technical fields, a group that also has relatively high average stats. Schools that might be reasonable reaches for others will be almost out of reach for many in this group. On the other hand, no matter how underrepresented you are, if the adcom doubts you can handle the program, you won’t be admitted. As you can see, this factor influences what programs would be reasonable reaches, on-pars, and safeties.
A myriad of other factors will also affect your qualification and competitiveness. Having fewer than three or more than eight years of work experience or already holding an MBA from another program makes you less competitive.
If you have an unconventional background, such as teaching or airline pilot, you face extra burdens in making your case. However once you successfully make the case for your qualifications and need for an MBA, your non-traditional background may become a plus in this competitive process.
Qualified means you meet the basic standards of a given program. You can be fully qualified but not competitive – this is exactly the problem that many excellent Indian IT applicants face. Competitive is more nuanced; it encompasses the preferences and character of the program, the commonality or distinctiveness of your background, and even sometimes political and/or economic trends and events. When you happily conclude that you are qualified for Columbia, don’t forget to ask yourself whether you are also competitive there.
As you research and visit MBA programs, determine how qualified and competitive you are for them.
By Cindy Tokumitsu, co-author of The Finance Professional’s Guide to MBA Success, The Consultants’ Guide to MBA Admission, The EMBA Edge, and author of several articles and the free, email mini-course, “Ace the EMBA.”