Clients of mine often ask what the most important part of their business school application is. Is it their GMAT score, undergraduate transcript, essays, interview, letters of recommendations, or something else?
Ask most MBA program admissions committee members and they will tell you that it’s the sum of many pieces—there is no one “most important” part. I have heard it said that the most important part is your weakest part. In other words, every part of your application makes a difference. That one weakness could change how admissions members perceive your application.
Your numbers can help your application be considered. While a 550 GMAT or a 2.5 GPA may be warning signs at an MBA program like Stanford, a 700 and a 3.6 make you a solid candidate. Regardless, your GMAT score and GPA cannot solely get you accepted. Average or above average numbers will not push you over the edge at a top MBA program. Even an 800 GMAT score and a perfect GPA can be rejected.
Although it is difficult to assign “most important” status to any one part of your application, I will tell you that while strong essays, recommendations, and interviews can provide context for a low GMAT score or GPA, the reverse is not true. Strong numbers will never make up for weak essays or a disorganized, negative recommendation.
Therefore, which part is most important? I doubt that any business school admissions committee would formally support this statement, but I would have to cast my vote for essays being the most important part of your application. As a note, this does not include recommendations, which an applicant manages but does not write. The essays are where the admissions committee will truly be introduced to who you are. It’s where you write why you want to attend and differentiate yourself from all of the other individuals who scored 700’s on their GMAT. The essays are your opportunity to present your strengths, explain your weaknesses, and generally convince the admissions members that you belong in their class.
The essays are also consistent among all applicants, so in that way they are less difficult to evaluate and compare. Interviews are very different; some are conducted over the phone, some at the business school, by all different types of individuals with different approaches. Recommendations vary as well. While all applicants do their best to find great recommenders, some individuals work with MBA’s who understand the process. Others work with people who have no idea what to write. The essays are each individual’s opportunity to talk about their true self. All candidates are given the same set of questions, and are reviewed by the same group of admissions members, creating a level playing field, which can simplify the review.
For more robust guidance on your MBA application essays, check out the Stacy Blackman Consulting Essay Guide Series – school specific guides with essay tips, sample essays, information on what your target schools value and more. Visit http://www.stacyblackman.com/essay-guides/ to learn more.