A Behind-The-Scenes Peek Into An MBA Adcom’s Workings

The b-school portal Poets & Quants has changed the game of bringing high-quality information resources to b-school applicants, not least in researching and writing superior MBA admissions articles that go way beyond simple first-principles that you can find anywhere.

A recent piece by John Byrne observes Boston University’s Questrom School of Business seven-member admissions committee in action, led by Assistant Dean of Graduate Admissions Meredith Siegel. It describes how Questrom adcom mulls over the pros and cons of each application, and how it thinks about whether to admit, reject, or waitlist. The full text is well worth a read.

Here are quote highlights for prospective MBA applicants:

“Our goal is not to keep people out,” insists Siegel. “Our goal is to build a class that will be excited by the opportunities here.”

Questrom is looking for a mix [my ital] of the typical admission metrics: a strong undergraduate GPA, solid work experience, a track record of achievement, leadership ability, a good GMAT or GRE score, favorable recommenations, smart answers to both the written and video essay questions, and professional poise and presence in an in-person interview. “There is no formula,” insists Siegel. “The more factors a candidate brings that are above average, the more successful the candidate will be.”

“Unlike in life, we get to pick our family,” says J.P. Matychak, Dean of Student Experience, who sits in on admission committee meetings. “We are looking for non-arrogant, genuine, gritty people, ready and willing to take on the world.” [my ital] Those attributes are integral to the process because the school’s culture emphasizes community and high degrees of collaboration.

The day or two after an application deadline, the admissions team does a quick assessment of undergraduate transcripts, test scores and resumes and immediately says “yes” or “no” to an interview. Roughly half the pool is interviewed in a given year. Then, those who get an interview with an admissions official have their application files assessed by another adcom staffer at the same time. By the time applicant files come to the committee meeting, the candidates have already been interviewed. “It’s so more of us can know the candidate and also keep bias out of the process,” explains Siegel. “So all the candidates have the possibility of having two advocates in the room.”

Most of the decisions in the room are handled quickly, often in less than five minutes. Surprisingly, there is little discussion of GMAT scores, though a few of the applicants have taken the test as many as six times. Instead, all the key elements of an applicant’s file were presented in a way that seemingly gave each metric equal consideration and weight. [my ital]

It’s not uncommon for a committee member to say that he or she “loved” the interaction they had with an applicant or that a candidate is “a good fit with our culture.”

Frequently, there is a nagging question about a profile that fuels an extended conversation. A quant score could below an average, causing concern about the candidate’s ability to handle the core workload. Or their work experience could be light, meaning that there’s either not enough of it or the quality of the work appears less meaningful. And then there are some international candidates whose English language skills could be problematic.

“It’s never easy to turn away someone and say we don’t have a spot for you,” says Siegel. “But it’s not the hardest part of the job. [The hardest part is] making sure that everything we do is reflective of who we are as a community.”

In a typical year, Questrom receives about 1,100 applicants for just under 150 seats. By the end of two full days of meetings in mid-December, the group will admit 93 applicants, deny 22, put 51 more candidates on the waitlist, and defer eight would-be students to get more feedback from Career Management on their employability at graduation.

The entire committee meets 15 times in an admissions cycle, while subsets of the group will gather for other sessions to take a second look at candidates who were initially declined for an interview. All decisions of the committee must be unanimous.