Business school applicants and admissions directors generally seek the same thing. Applicants want to be desired by admissions directors, and admissions directors want their schools to be desired by applicants. Applicants want to optimize their ability to gain admission to the highest-ranking school that fits their educational and professional needs, and admissions directors want to optimize their school’s ability to climb in the rankings, so that applicants will continue to find the school desirable.
Logic has it that if an admissions director can change the input of the rankings by increasing their school’s average test scores and GPA (a metric that fails to take into account the school of origin and the rigor of the curriculum), then their school should climb in the rankings. Despite several schools having ditched the rankings during the Covid pandemic and deciding to make aptitude tests optional, the average GMAT and GRE scores remain similar to those of prior years. Moreover, we know that the top 20 schools will remain relatively in the same spots in the rankings as they have for the past 23 years. Schools in the top ten tend to change places within the top ten, and schools in the next ten spots typically change places within that 11-20 range, but not much more happens. In fact, the U.S. News & World Report ranking hasn’t changed dramatically over the years for this very reason: the schools move in a group.
It’s a vicious cycle that often leaves incredibly gifted and desirable applicants in the dust. It’s also a vicious cycle that leaves incredibly forward thinking and innovative schools in the dust. You need to be strategic about your actions and your application choices, but you can take several measures to improve your chances of acceptance.
1. Request an assessment.
Obtain a realistic assessment of your candidacy from an admissions officer or an admissions consultant. This assessment should give you an indication as to which schools would be a stretch for you, which schools match your qualifications, and which schools would be considered your “safety” programs. You would be surprised to learn the number of C-level executives and successful entrepreneurs who attended “safety” schools.
2. Cast your net widely.
Note that the larger a school’s class, the more easily that school’s admissions director can hide their lower-statistic candidates. Look at the Forbes wealthiest individuals, and aside from the overproportion of dropouts (note: I believe that education opens doors and do not condone dropping out of school, even if you are Bill Gates or Marc Zuckerberg), you will see a lot of billionaires that attended schools that many prospective students don’t have on their radar.
3. Be proactive.
If your grades tanked, take classes to mitigate any concerns before you apply. If your test scores tanked, obtain whatever tutoring you need to bring your score up (tutors have helped my clients increase their scores dramatically in just a few hours of intense study).
4. Show your interest.
Get to know students and alumni who can go to bat for you.
5. Stand out.
One-trick ponies don’t make for interesting reading. It’s up to you to get the admissions committee interested in sharing a five-course meal with you rather than speeding through a cup of coffee.
6. Make a compelling case for acceptance.
Show your fit with the school’s culture, strengths, and values. Reveal leadership, contribution, impact, innovation, and a track record that will cause the admissions readers to say, “Wow!”
As an admissions director, I was more likely to invite the applicant who submitted an interesting, well-written application for an interview – regardless of their stats – than a candidate with high stats and a ho-hum application. If a candidate could engage me in the interview, I would recommend that well-spoken, witty applicant for admission over someone who had high numbers and offered only one dimension.
Of these whom I accepted, many have become successful businesspeople – and some of our most prestigious alumni.
By Natalie Grinblatt, the former admissions dean/director at three top business schools. Natalie has reviewed more than 70,000 applications, interviewed more than 2,500 candidates, and trained nearly 700 admissions directors and alumni volunteers to select outstanding candidates for admission. Her clients gain admission to top programs, including those at Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, MIT, Cornell, Columbia, Berkeley, Chicago, Northwestern, and NYU. Natalie holds an MBA from Michigan Ross. Want Natalie to help you get Accepted? Click here to get in touch!