“Wish I had done that a few years ago ….” We hear that frequently from MBA applicants as they’re filling out their MBA applications. We don’t want you to have to say that. This is the first of a five-part blog series with advice on how you can prepare, years in advance, to be competitive for a top MBA program. From college to those first years of work, I’ll discuss steps you can take along the way that will appeal to adcoms.
The College Years:
Grades: Good grades are important, especially for the top ten MBA programs. 3.5 GPAs and higher are recommended to make you competitive. They want to know you can handle the rigor of the MBA curriculum. So study! If you aren’t doing well, seek out tutors to help you master difficult subjects. If you do poorly in a class, see if you have time to retake it and so that you can replace a bad grade before graduation.
However, if you do major in something very technical, adcoms are more forgiving. See below.
Major: No majors are truly favored above others. But combined with your grades, they can tell a story. If you major in engineering and your GPA falls around a 3.2, that’s ok. Adcoms perceive that as a difficult major and one where the quantitative rigor is great preparation for bschool. But if you major in English Literature or sociology and get a 3.2, they may wonder whether you spent more time partying, than studying and whether you can handle a quantitative curriculum.
When it comes to choosing a major, it’s great to show a balance between your quantitative and creative sides. If you do major in engineering, try also for a minor in a liberal art or language. If you major in a liberal art, like history or English, try for a minor in economics, computer science, business, or something else technical. In this digital economy, it would be foolhardy to enter the workforce without some sort of technical or analytical skill set.
It’s a given that working for a well-known brand can give a boost to your MBA application. Investment banks, consumer goods, logistics, consulting–you know the big names in these fields. I don’t need to name them here.
If you work for a blue-chip firm, many adcoms consider that a sort of initial screening for a quality applicant. The promotion trajectory is known, as well as the stamina, intelligence, and communication skills required to succeed.
HOWEVER, that is definitely not the only or best way to get an MBA down the road. Ultimately what you want to show is impact. You’re not going to make an impact unless you are passionate about what you do. As you begin your job hunt, make sure you find a good fit. Perhaps you’ll excel better at a start-up with a group of friends. Perhaps you want older mentors to consult with and challenge you. Perhaps you won’t feel good about your job unless you’re working to improve the world in some way. Perhaps you just want a job that will give you a foothold in a foreign country. Perhaps you’re facing financial burdens that don’t give you many options.
The key is to make opportunities for yourself on the job. Take ideas and make them into realities. Gain leadership roles. Learn how to solve problems. That’s what you’ll be writing and talking about when it comes to application time.
Adcoms at top MBA programs like to see candidates with international experience. If you can, during college go on a semester or year-abroad and learn a new language. If you’re already bi-lingual, become tri-lingual. This will prepare you to take advantage of international work opportunities in your professional life.
But don’t just hang around with your compatriots. Try to get an internship at a foreign company. Live with foreign students. Really immerse yourself so you can have a transformative experience.
Think quality, and not quantity. Adcoms like to see, again, that you can make a positive impact on organizations. It’s better to show one activity where you rose to a leadership position over a couple of years, than involvement in several one-off events.
So get involved in something you enjoy. Better yet, start something brand new. Recruit others to join you. Seek to raise funds to make the organization stronger or more sustainable. Work with the organization to have a positive impact on the greater community around you.
The Bottom Line: Study hard. Seek experiences where you have impact. Try to make something grow.
Michelle Stockman is a professional journalist, former Columbia Business School admissions insider, and experienced MBA admissions consultant.
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