Tag Archives: GPA

Experience Diversity is ‘The New Black’ in MBA Admissions

B-schools with luxury of choice of whom to accept into their MBA classrooms have always valued diversity in the matriculating class. The news is this trend is strongly on the up.

Not only are schools admitting more minorities and foreigners and women – both HBS and Wharton hit record numbers of female enrollment with their current incoming classes of 2013 – but b-schools are also showing clear intent to accommodate “experience” diversity applicants, that is those with part or all of their work experience in non-traditional backgrounds such as social sciences, creative industries, non-profits, real estate, hospitality, urban planning, fashion, and so on.

The take-away is that male applicants wholly enclosed by cookie-cutter engineering or finance backgrounds are still getting in, but not nearly as easily as before, despite having good GMAT and GPA numbers, good recommendations, and generally having apparently made the “right” career moves. Reading the MBA admissions boards, there are many, many stories that tell of apparently perfect candidates with perfect GMATs getting dinged all over.

Why is this happening? First, schools have always seen and offered valued in diversity in the matriculating pool – which broadens the classroom perspective, fosters real-world peer-to-peer learning enrichment, and which brings MBAs face-to-face with other points of view and thus sharpens their listening and thinking skills. But now, as the business school industry itself gets more competitive, schools need to raise their game on diversity too.

Another force behind diversity in MBA admissions is the slow-burning image problem of business schools and the MBA degree itself in the last 10 years, starting with Enron, through Arthur Andersen, to banks and the Credit Crunch and debt-crisis…. rightly or wrongly it appears to outsiders that a lot of MBAs from top schools are involved in decision-making that is less than fully ethical (and some got bailed out by the taxpayer!) In short, schools are looking for MBAs who will be brand champions of better ethics, and they are not so convinced anymore they will find them in among standard finance, accounting, or consulting-based applicants.

Finally, the perceived value of innovation in industry is at an all-time-high. To build big new businesses, from facebook to Groupon to whatever will be next, you have to not just think big. You have to think different. With this in mind, it’s not surprising that Adcom will rate an architect or a journalist or similar as valuable in the class in terms of challenging mindsets and staid practices.

The best response? If you are relatively rich in diversity, make sure Adcom “gets it” – what it is and why it offers interest and value to the school. If you are not, that is if you are a standard finance or consulting or IT jock – you have a harder job. But not impossible. The quest is to find an angle (everyone has at least one) in your personal or professional experience that offers a distinctive point of view among the MBA cohort.

Last year I had a standard finance-banking background client. For a while I despaired, but in profiling I discovered he had spent six months in a rotation in Perth, working on deals and risk-mitigation in the booming (Australia-China) mining resources sector. This was enough to make him interesting, and combined with the rest of his solid profile, got him the admissions offers he was looking for.

See also this post.

Unpacking the Categories of MBA Admissions Dings

It’s July, and a new admissions cycle year starts at the MBA Admissions Studio. As it happens, during my off-season sabbatical time — which new clients have patiently waited out (thank you) I’ve had numerous emails of the “I-was-dinged-last-year, what-did-I do-wrong?” type. So this seems as good a place as any to start the discussion this year, in the spirit of helping those dinged last year apply better, and those who are applying for the first time understand the category of potential pitfalls.

There are three types of ding:

  1. You were dinged because there is something or things in your background that make you just not good enough or right enough for the program, in comparison with the average standard of admitted applicants. This could be because of lack of high-quality or brand-company work experience, a low GMAT or GPA, being too young or old at the time of application, and so on. In this category, in other words, your ding is caused by something or things that you are, or are not. You fail to meet minimum qualification standards.
  2. You are good enough and fit well — you are a competitive, qualified applicant — but applied badly in that you made a clear mistake or raised a red flag in your application. Your ding was caused by something specific you said or did not say.
  3. You are good enough and fit well — you are a competitive, qualified applicant – and you didn’t make any obvious application mistakes, but applied badly in that your admissions value was not clear or somehow you didn’t stand out. This is the category of applicant that Adcom refers to when it says “we had many qualified applicants and we couldn’t take them all.” Your ding was caused by other qualified competitors applying better than you did in a system where there are more applicants than places.

What are the fixes? Let me take them one by one.

In the first situation, the problem is choice of school, or career timing of application or both. Bear in mind that everyone has weaknesses — I’ve never seen an applicant without weaknesses (though they don’t always know it.) But here we are talking about aggregate weakness in an applicant such that, no matter how they apply, they are going to be dinged because they don’t meet the standard of generally accepted applicant. The dinged candidate “doesn’t have the goods” so, logically, the only way to solve the problem is to get the goods, or lower one’s school sights, or both. Getting the goods is realistic only if age is on your side and you can take a few years to drive up your MBA admissions value via new career experiences, greater responsibility or new leadership roles, promotions or awards, new extra-mural participation, and so on.

The second situation is the easiest of the three to deal with. Here the solution has to do recognition — recognizing in advance what creates or exacerbates problems in an application, so-called “red flags,” and staying well clear of these. These problems are, in theory at least, easily fixable once recognized (assuming none of them point to deeper category 1 problems.)

The third type of ding is all about the soupy stuff of competitive admissions. Here the applicant didn’t do anything wrong, just didn’t do as well as others in the application process. The solution has to do with applying all the hard and soft value-enhancement and value-communications techniques that make an application ‘pop’ from the pile. This is not easy, and varies on a case-by-case basis. But there are general principles that apply in optimizing any application.

I’ve written extensively on this site and in my book on the profile principles and communication strategies that can be applied, including creating the foundation of a solid yet differentiated application platform and driving up candidate value and uniqueness through use of memorable proof examples and stories. More to follow as the weeks roll by to R1 deadlines.

 

‘I scored 700, should I retake the GMAT or focus on the rest of my application?

Two years ago I wrote a GMAT article on the Business Week b-school forum called ‘The Myth of the 800 GMAT,’ arguing that a geek-level GMAT score could be counterproductive when applying to professional business-management MBA training. It’s probably still up there somewhere, along with a firestorm of comments — gratifyingly mostly ‘agrees.’

Last year I blogged about it, and here we are again, and nothing has changed. Well … nothing much has changed. There is admittedly, every year, a slight inflation in the average GMAT score of matriculated students at top business schools, and for the elite schools the published average is now invariably over 700. (Obviously,  half of matriculated applicants scored below the average mark.)

This causes students even with 700+ scores to retake the GMAT, in the bid for a further 20 or 30 points. Or even perfection.

Leaving the pros and cons of super-scores aside, yes 720 is better than 700, but is it the smart thing to aspire to — when the tradeoff is time lost to essays and other part of the application? Candidates think the higher they score, the better their chances of admission. It seems obvious but is it right?

Here’s how to think about it: The GMAT operates on a threshold principle. If you are applying to an elite school and you don’t have enough, then everything else you do and say will be in the shadow of that. What is enough? About 700, assuming Q/V balance, that is, 80th+ percentile in each. At this point (and maybe well below it, depending on GPA and other academic recognition,) Adcom will put a check mark next to your cognitive abilities and look for what else you offer.

So the GMAT is crucial — up to a point. It tells Adcom about your intellectual ability, and is particularly handy in that it facilitates easy comparison across institutions and undergraduate majors, and to some extent across cultures. If you are too far below the school’s average GMAT, yes, nothing else you are, do, or say will count. Every 10-point gain adds to your admissions prospects and move of 30 or so fundamentally changes which b-schools you can legitimately hope to get into.

But only up to a point: A higher GMAT won’t check any other box than “cognitively capable” that was already checked at around 700. There’s no benefit to keeping on hammering away at a nail that is already knocked in. Moreover, even a super-score is not going to save you if your recommendations are so-so, your essays are undeveloped, and you stumble in your interview.

It takes a mix of talents to get admitted to a competitive school, the same mix of talents it takes to be a good manager and leader. The operative term here is “mix.” Academic ability is just one of many items considered, along with leadership potential, team player profile, work experience, volunteer experience, profile diversity, and so on. Academic ability is definitely essential, but so are the other attributes. This reflects the multifaceted demands of a real business career.

So it makes sense to be very concerned with the GMAT until it is broadly within the guidelines of your target program. Then forget about it and spend time on other aspects of your application. People who obsess with improving their already 700+ score are short-changing the rest of their admissions profile.

As I tell my clients: ‘It’s like chopping the fingers off one hand while you paint the nails on your other. Don’t do it!’
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