What is most important in MBA applications?

Balanced MBA application strategy

When Sreesanth, who was out on bail in the IPL match fixing case, performed the Thulabharam ritual, it was easier to fix the divine offering (no pun intended), which was simply 100% of his weight in bananas. Ignoring the spiritual complexity in that story, the quantitative aspects were relatively easy. Instead of bananas, the offering could be in the form of coconuts, jaggery or sugar.

The MBA admission process has a similar approach where Admission committees find the applicant’s weight across various offerings (test scores, essays, recos etc) to decide whether their pearly gates will open for them. Admission officers want ‘balanced’ candidates. However, they don’t openly reveal the weights for each part.

This forces applicants to form their independent judgement on the optimal mix (assuming there is one).

As an MBA aspirant, you would have already thought about all the parameters that go into evaluating your application. If you haven’t, now is the time to.

If you have, you may still be struggling with what’s the relative importance of these parameters and more importantly, what do the MBA admission officers really look for when evaluating a certain parameter. The focus of this post is to demystify the process as much as we can, given the constraints of what bschools are willing to share.

 

MBA Application Parameters and their relative weights

Poets & Quants conducted a survey to find out how business schools break up the application and more importantly, what is the relative importance assigned to each section. Here’s what they found out.

Important parts of MBA Application
Source: Poets and Quants

We are essentially looking at 14 parameters in the table above. Of course, this is basis a certain analysis and not ‘the’ hard facts.

Things vary from school to school and we know that some schools use 20+ parameters. But the above is a good reference list that captures more the 80% for all schools out there.

Before we talk about how to use this data and design your application plan, here’s a quick primer on what the individual entries in the table mean.

 

GMAT

This is the biggest parameter which is in an applicant’s immediate control. Schools use this as a parameter to gauge both your language and analytical skills.

With focused GMAT preparation and the right skill-set, this can beturned into an advantage. The quant percentile/score is given special relevance as the MBA program can be very analytically rigorous.

 

Essays

The essays are a means for the admissions committee to know about your story. This is your chance to connect the dots and present a coherent plot as to where and how the MBA fits in.

A very important parameter, these are your only spokesperson before the interview and hence have to be singularly focused at.

Remember, this is not a test of your literary prowess, but more a means to understand you and judge whether you can get your point across.

 

Interviews

So you’ve put in your application and everything’s done. Why the interview you ask? There are two primary things adcoms look for in the interview. One is of course your communication skills.

The second is to also check whether you are the person who comes across as evinced in the application. Schools also frequently use alumni/second year students where part of the mandate is to judge whether they’d like to have you as their classmate.

 

GPA

Unlike the factors outlined so far, this is not something that you can do much about or change. There are ways to manage a low GPA though.

Apart from the absolute number, the committee is also interested to understand your relative position here. So if you are not from a top tier school, the onus of apprising the committee on this dimension is yours.

 

Recommendations

A bschool application is a blend of aspects where you get freedom to express and communicate (e.g. essays/CV) as well as hard facts. This falls in the second bucket. Recommendations are a way for the schools to assess the veracity of some of your claims in the applications.

This is also a way for them to check your potential for senior roles and needless to say, the recommendation has to come with someone senior to you.

 

Employer’s Brand

Performing the certain function at say a Google is essentially weighed differently than doing so at say a local IT Products firm.

Since schools don’t have the privilege of knowing you personally for a long time, this serves as a proxy for them to understand the quality of your work.

In general, it is understood that bigger brands have better processes and can serve as good training grounds. Of course this is debatable in current times where one can argue in favor of start-ups.

 

Undergraduate College

Akin to the previous point, this is about the brand of your undergraduate school. The explanation here is similar.

 

Extracurricular

This is a wide bucket and includes everything from a hobby to volunteer work. The reason schools value this is because they don’t want to have machines who are only good at work.

The bschool environment is enriched if the students have multi-dimensional personalities. This makes for great conversations as well as acts as a way to balance the stressful academic environment that one gets subjected to.

There should be at least one thing that you do which is meaningful outside of your work; something that makes you interesting as a person and not just as a professional.

 

Length of Work Experience

Is 5 years better than 4? We aren’t really answering that here. Suffice it to say that it is an important parameter which helps the schools understand your maturity level. There are several reasons why schools value work experience.

Like other parameters, on this one too, if you are too far from the average, think again if this is the right time for you to apply.

 

Industry of Employment

The reason this becomes important is because it can dictate your post-MBA employability. Schools evaluate on how your current industry/experience and the skills you’ve developed here, match up with your intended plans.

Some industries (IT/Consulting) become easier for international candidates to break into compared to some others (Marketing/Teaching).

 

International Experience

If you are going to an international school, chances are you will be thrown in an extremely diverse peer group. This can be really unnerving and create tremendous conflicts during the umpteen assignments and group work you are supposed to do.

If you’ve already worked in such settings, it is more likely that you can take this into your stride rather than get a huge shock. Having this experience certainly provides you an edge.

Working outside one’s home country is weighed FAR more than working with an international team over the phone.

 

Undergraduate Majors

There could be some importance attached to it in the context of your MBA curriculum. The intention is to check whether you will be able to manage the rigors of the program itself.

Familiarity with calculus/stats/economics/accounting is desirable and preferred.

 

Languages

One can consider this maybe as a subset of either international experience or extracurricular. This is both a way to project another dimension in your personality as well as a means to communicate more effectively in the diverse peer group.

Knowing several Indian languages however is far less important than for instance knowing a foreign language from this perspective.
 

How to interpret this data and plan your application strategy

For what it’s worth, let’s see what this data tells us first. While there are several parameters that are already done (e.g. GPA/Employer’s brand etc), a whopping 56% is still within your immediate controls (GMAT, Essays, Interview and Recommenders).

Of course, some of them are partly under your control – you cannot really change what you’ve done on essays for instance, but you can articulate and present them in the best possible way. Of these, less than half is GMAT which means there is huge merit in doing a lot of soul searching for the applications.

The academic aspects viz. GMAT, GPA, Majors etc form a major chunk of your profile at 40%. This is rightfully so since though an MBA from a top school is for experienced professionals, at the end of the day, you are going into an academic institute.

For the endless debate on the chasm between academia and industry, if you cannot do well on your academics, chances still are that you may not get good value out of your MBA experience. This is however only partly true as unlike several undergrad schools, MBA programs put a lot of focus on experiential learning, class discussions, case studies and the likes.

Several candidates who work with us are nervous that they don’t have anything on the extracurricular side. If you see, that that isn’t really a substantial point in the overall scheme of things. But it does start to get important when all the other parameters bunch up – which tends to happen more often for the top schools.

Take the percentages with a pinch of salt due to multiple factors. One, this is based on a survey and not actual data – schools rarely give that kind of information out. Two, the above is marred by the fallacy of averages. Some schools may focus on a particular parameter more than the other. But let’s now move to understand what these parameters really mean.
 

Apart from these, one can always think of additional parameters such as quality of experience, leadership exposure blah blah and blah. But the above constitutes a good set to begin with.

If you are applying this year, the only thing you can do is to understand what each parameter means rather than breaking your head over a parameter’s relative importance. The latter question is pertinent in case the MBA is a few years away in which case, look at it a bit more comprehensively in terms of building your profile.

Before we end this, here’s a little guesstimation problem (very popular in consulting interviews) for you. If you were in Sreesanth’s position on the balance, how many bananas would you be worth?

Read these related posts:

How to get into Harvard Business School

How to plan your MBA Application Timeline

What Admissions Officers of top business schools look for in MBA applicants


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MBA Crystal Ball provides professional Admissions Consulting services. Hire us to improve your chances of getting into the top international universities. Email: info [at] mbacrystalball [dot] com

MG (Manish Gupta) //
MG (Manish Gupta)
As a principal MBA admissions consultant & career counsellor with MBA Crystal Ball, MG has helped many get into the top B-schools from ISB to Wharton. He is an IIT topper, an ISB alumnus (Dean's list honors) and a former McKinsey strategy consultant. Email: mcb [at] mbacrystalball [dot] com

12 Comments

  1. Satyarth says:

    Hi Manish

    I have a GMAT 720 (48/40) with 4 years of work-ex in Aerospace Sector – TCS. Which colleges can I target for Scholarship?

    Regards
    Satyarth

  2. Vikas sharma says:

    Hi MG

    1.Class X – 84.6%

    2.Class XII – 70.89%

    3. B.E. – Government Engg college, jaipur (67.34%)

    Exp:

    1) 1.5 years with Balco resources plc as an Electrical engineer

    2) 3.5+ years (continuing) with UP state energy deptt. as Manager

    Good oratory and convincing prowess in technical and motivational field, Giving lectures ( free of cost) with several Educational institute for GATE exam across India, opened a Gate centre also between March 2010 and January 2012, but it failed..

    GMAT – not appeared yet..

    Sir, my biggest drawback is that i had 4 backlogs in my UG, I am too much skeptical before applying to anywhere..
    But after my Engg debacle i worked very hard in my technicals and cracked A govt job apart from teaching for GATE ..
    Please help as to how i should take my backlog and explain in application??
    Do backlogs have disastrous effect in selection process??

  3. Abhimanyu says:

    Candidate Profile

    Qualification

    Bachelor of Technology (Information Technology) – 72%(Full time Degree)
    PGDMHR (Part time Degree)

    4 years of Industry exp in Human Resources

    Ambition

    Want to pursue Full time MBA from a elite B-school which can give good ROI

    Want to know:-

    GMAT score required:-
    List of good B-schools pref in Human Resources:-
    General process for admissions in these b-schoold

  4. Sharan Parikh says:

    Profile:

    Qualification

    Chartered Accountant – average 65% across 3 levels
    Bachelor of Commerce – 71%
    XII – 82%
    X – 84%

    2 years post qualification experience with PwC in international tax – transfer pricing

    Ambition – Pursue full time MBA from a top 20 B school

    Guidance required on:

    1) Whether I’m ready to give my GMAT and apply for 2017 fall admission?
    2) If the answer to the above is negative, how should i build my profile so that I’m ready for 2018 fall admission

  5. NareahJ says:

    Hello MG.
    It would be nice if you could answer to my query given below.
    I’ve got 73.2% in 10th and 49.54 in 12th.In ug(B.com) I secured 60%.With a score of 650 in gmat should I apply to sp jain?
    Please provide your valuable view on my profile.Thank you.

    • Nareah,

      It will help you to understand what program at SPJ are you targeting. For some, that score ‘may’ work, for others, unlikely. If you don’t have any work experience, than its going to be tougher.

  6. Rahul says:

    Hi Manish,

    I want to apply this year for an MBA program. My details are as follows:

    10th- 81%
    12th- 74%
    UG- BBA Finance – 7 GPA
    MBA Finance (ICFAI HYD)- 6.3 GPA
    Have 4 years experience in IT industry in Finance domain as a Business Analyst in US based firm. Opportunities of travelling abroad.

    I have been preparing for GMAT for quite some time now and will mostly be appearing around March.
    Want to apply to top 20 B schools mostly in Finance/Prod Mgmt owing to work experience.

    Kindly let me know some good programs I can apply to if I can score well in GMAT and what score range would be ideal.

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