Inside the Admission Committee


Your business school application will be evaluated by a very particular audience — the Admissions Committee — and you should try to understand as much as you can about that audience in order to position yourself well.

We believe one of the best ways to understand the Admissions Committee audience is by understanding their:

Key objectives
Limiting constraints
Primary agenda (a helpful filter that explains the “why” behind what they don’t tell you)

Once you understand these key facts about the Admissions Committee, you’ll not only understand just how important a role your essays play in their decision-making process, but also quite a bit about what you will need to include in them.

What Admissions Committees Want to See from Applicants

As business schools are fundamentally looking for applicants with outstanding management and leadership potential, they take a more holistic approach to evaluating candidates than other types of graduate schools do.

At the beginning of every client engagement, AdmissionCritical explains exactly what marketing themes must come across in your essays to insure that all Admissions Committee objectives for applicants are met or exceeded.

Below we take a brief look at the key things business school Admissions Committees want candidates to prove and/or show their potential for — before, during and after their MBA:

Before MBA, applicants should:

1. Satisfy Admissions Committee criteria

Before business schools are interested in hearing about your accomplishments and management potential, you must satisfy their basic criteria concerning GMAT, amount and quality of work experience, quality of references, and professionalism in completing your application essays.

For information on why these criteria are actually more rigid than most applicants first think, please see the section on Admissions Committee constraints.

2. Show management and leadership potential

Next you must show enough quality experience to make the Admissions Committee believe not only that now is the right time for you to get an MBA, but also that you will take the degree and run with it.

Regardless of whether you think great business leaders are born or created — or maybe a bit of both — business schools need to see a minimum level of potential to be such a leader.

3. Be well-rounded

Admissions Committees tend to believe that candidates who are well-rounded have the greatest potential to become outstanding leaders and managers. While at first this may seem a huge assumption, the more well-rounded you truly are, the more likely it is that you will be able to persuade and motivate a team of widely varying personalities, all of which may be convinced to achieve a key objective.

The essays are the key vehicle by which you can show your well-roundedness.

4. Have clear, achievable goals

Business schools have a reputation to uphold, and post-MBA placement statistics factor heavily in increasingly popular published MBA rankings. For this reason, Admissions Committees expect applicants to have some idea of where they’re going and how to get there, especially in a recession.

Even if you’re not completely sure what you want to do after your MBA, you absolutely must express some concrete, realistic options in your application essays.

5. Accept their offer

Business schools closely monitor their “yield”, or ratio of offers accepted to offers extended. It’s not only a useful measure of how they’re doing against other business schools, but also a necessary data point for planning class size accurately.

In addition to their concern over yield, business schools need to believe there is a strong chance an offer they give will be accepted. Tepid or incomplete statements of interest in, and match with a school, can quickly poison even a highly qualified applicant’s chances.

During MBA, applicants should:

1. Contribute to class diversity

Business schools are serious about building a diverse class for two main reasons:

a. Diversity promotes lively and productive interplay between classmates in and out of the classroom, and
b. Diversity allows schools, through their graduates, to extend their brands and business networks into a variety of professional fields.

The result of this focus on diversity is often the presence of a larger than expected proportion of “atypical” profiles in your class – e.g., people from the non-profit sector or military, doctors, lawyers, even world-class athletes.

2. Be effective team members

As most useful business endeavors involve some degree of teamwork, and the most effective managers were once also effective team contributors, recruiters in general are very concerned with how job candidates perform in teams.

Business schools well recognize this and typically embed teamwork strongly into their curricula (the most common example being the “study group”).

You need to show at a minimum that you understand what it is to be an effective team member, and ideally also something about motivating teams and what makes a high-performing one.

3. Contribute to school community beyond academics

All business schools want their students to be active in the school community beyond simply attending and participating in class.

While involvement beyond the classroom can take many legitimate forms, you will need to demonstrate both a history of extracurricular activities as well as concrete knowledge of, interest in, match with, and ability to contribute to a school’s non-academic offerings.

After MBA, applicants should:

1. Succeed in career

While the ideal applicant is arguably one who goes on to be a CEO of a large corporation, there are frankly many different successful career outcomes from a business school’s perspective.

At a minimum though, you will need to detail achievements in your career to date demonstrating clear potential for even greater impact down the road.

Every alumnus carries a bit of their MBA brand with them in their post-MBA careers, and business schools want assurance that their brand’s association with you will be a positive one, regardless of the particular direction you take (better to avoid mentioning Enron at your Harvard interview ;) ).

2. Contribute as an alumnus to school ecosystem

The aim of every business school is to create an ecosystem of students, faculty and successful alumni that nurture and reinforce its brand. Considering all the faculty chairs endowed by one corporation or another, and the dependence of many business schools on Executive programs for most of their profit, it’s clear they want current students to contribute in some way after their MBA — e.g., by direct financial donation to their endowment, by encouraging younger colleagues to apply, by sending their young managers to Executive classes, or by sponsoring academic research into cutting edge business issues.

Given the above, you should not only show abiding interest and involvement in the institutions you’ve already been a part of, but also specific ways you can contribute in a lasting way to your schools of choice.