Two key goals of every application reflect a tension if not an actual conflict: you must show the admissions committee that you fit in – that you’re a perfect fit with their program and the exact type of candidate they’re looking for – while simultaneously showing that you stand out in the pool of qualified applicants. Over the next few posts, we’ll give you 4 key tips to help you fit in and stand out as an applicant.
For today, the first step to fitting in: showing that you can do the work and excel in your target program.
Can You Get the Job Done?
Grad and professional school programs want to admit students who are ready to do the work the program requires. If you aren’t ready for the rigor of the program, you will be neither a happy student nor a successful alum. So the first step to “fitting in” an applicant pool is to demonstrate that you have the intellectual/academic ability to do the work. As NYU Stern Associate Dean of MBA Admissions Isser Gallogly said in an Admissions Straight Talk podcast, “We want academic excellence….We’re looking for students who can thrive.”
How Can You Show This Ability to Thrive?
Most straightforwardly, through your academic record and test scores. Ideally you want to be at or above your target programs’ averages for both GPA and test scores. Or at worst, only a little below that average.
Some programs have additional considerations or academic requirements – for example, certain courses (medical school pre-reqs) or skills (foreign languages, computer skills, work experience for MBA programs, clinical exposure for medical schools), and if you want to be taken seriously as an applicant, you will have those skills and pre-reqs on your record.
What if Your Stats Aren’t High Enough?
• If the issue is your test score (GRE, GMAT, MCAT, LSAT, etc.), consider retaking the exam. Most, but not all, graduate programs weigh most heavily or exclusively your highest score. For these programs, retaking the exam and raising your score is the best response to a score that doesn’t represent your abilities fairly.
• If it’s your undergrad GPA that’s concerning you, a high test score (and excellent research/work experience, brilliant recommendations, etc.) can mitigate it. Depending on your field, you can also consider taking additional courses (and getting great grades in them) to prepare for grad school.
Demonstrating your academic ability is just the first step to fitting in – it is necessary, but not sufficient. In our next post in this series, I’ll discuss how to show you’re a fit with the mission and culture of your target school.