I was visiting a top-5 MBA program a few months ago and asked the admissions staff a very direct question about alumni influence. A somewhat incredulous admissions official responded: “We get ten letters each year from [globally famous alumnus whose name mbaMission is withholding], telling us that this or that MBA candidate is the greatest thing since sliced bread. He gets upset when we don’t admit ‘his’ applicants, but what makes him think that he deserves ten spots in our class?”
Many MBA applicants fret about a lack of alumni connections and the myth abounds that it is who you know, not who you are. Of course, the latter is most important and a standout applicant who knows no one at all is still a standout applicant and should get in — just as a weak applicant who knows everyone is still a weak applicant and won’t get in. Clearly, there are extreme exceptions where influence can be exerted, but the “standard” applicant need not worry that every seat at top-MBA programs is taken by some unseen elite, before he/she even applies.
Remember, the admissions committees want to ensure that there is a diversity of ideas and experiences in the classroom. In every top MBA classroom, there will be people from different socio-economic backgrounds, nationalities, religions, professional backgrounds, ages, etc. Harvard has 940 places in its class and the vast majority won’t know a CEO or the president of a country personally. Who knows? These days that could even be a liability.