Last week, we had a chat with Dr. Shel Watts, founder and CEO of MBAAdmit.com. She provided some great tips for gaining admittance into the top 10 business schools and shared profiles of real admits to Harvard, Stanford, INSEAD, and Wharton. Dr. Watts is a Harvard College (A.B.) and Oxford University (Masters/Ph.D) graduate with a background in banking and consulting. She was also a faculty member at Harvard for 4 years.
Review Dr. Shel Watts’ advice below (you can also read the entire event transcript here). I’ll feature first half of the chat here, but I strongly encourage you to check out the full discussion by going to the Event Transcript in MBA Watch!
Diversity of Profiles in our Success Stories
Importantly, in the success profiles today, I will look at a good diversity of candidates, in terms of their ethnic/national backgrounds and industries.
I tried to select successful candidates who many of you might be able to identify with, in terms of the challenges they faced in their records. That is, I won’t spend time discussing candidates like the former NFL player I worked with, who gained admission to Stanford Business School with a 2.7 GPA, or the member of a royal family who I worked with from the Middle East, who overrode a low GMAT score to get into Columbia!
The profiles of real candidates I will discuss today will include these:
- Harvard admit: East Asian male foreign national with 2.8 GPA (industry: Fortune 10 company, consumer goods)
- Wharton admit: Middle Eastern male foreign national entrepreneur with a bery low undergrad GPA, who used an “alternative transcript” strategy effectively (industry: entrepreneur, luxury goods)
- Stanford admit: American woman of East Asian descent who overrode a 2.8 GPA to gain entrance to Stanford (industry: technology)
- Columbia admit: White South African male foreign national with “negligible” GPA (industry: management consulting)
- INSEAD admit: Indian male foreign national engineer who overrode lower GMAT score to gain admission to INSEAD (industry: manufacturing, consumer goods)
- Wharton admit: American woman of East Asian descent who overrode both a low GPA and low GMAT score (scattered career)
What are Top-10 MBA admission committees looking for among applicants?
To increase your chances of success to top business schools like Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Columbia and INSEAD, you should demonstrate to the admissions committee, in both your present and past records, excellence in three key areas:
- Professional achievement
- Academic achievement
- Extracurricular leadership and activities
It is often advantageous to candidates, particularly if they are trying to override a low GPA or low GMAT score, to have a fourth area that stands out:
- Personal achievement/storyline
What are general strategies a candidate can take if they are trying to override a low GPA or low GMAT score.
Sure. In an early Beat the GMAT chat I led, I elaborated on broad elements for success for candidates who have a less-than-ideal GMAT score or GPA. Among the factors are these:
Let’s begin with the issue of “addressing” a weakness in your GMAT score or GPA.
If you feel very certain, based on solid research and input, that your GPA or GMAT score is going to be seen as a weakness in your MBA application, a key step in helping you to override that lower-than-ideal GMAT score or GPA involves addressing the matter directly through your essays (usually through the optional essay), and often times indirectly through the recommendations.
Let’s talk about addressing a lower-than-ideal GPA or GMAT score directly through your essays… In addressing a lower-than-ideal GPA directly through your essays, think about whether you have a notable reason why your GPA was lower.
There are some broad factors that many admissions committees will take into account as reasons that can justify a lower-than-ideal GPA (and hence, the admissions committees may be willing to accept you as a successful candidate in spite of the lower-than-ideal GPA).
What are some types of factors that an admissions committee might find as acceptable reasons for a lower-than-ideal GPA?
Well, there are factors that fall under my headings of “extreme extenuating circumstances” and “reasonably acceptable excuses.” If any of these apply, you might have higher-than-typical odds of overriding the low GPA. They include these sorts of things:
Major event that explains the lower-than-ideal GPA: Did you suffer a physical accident in college and have to take time off after your grades plummeted? Did you lose a very close relative and your grades suffered for a while? Major events like these can help explain a lower-than-ideal GPA to the satisfaction of the admissions committee.
Medical, physical or learning challenge. If you had to overcome some major medical, physical or learning challenge (dyslexia, ADHD, etc.), the admissions committee will also sometimes give you leeway on the GPA.
Where did you attend college? If your school was a top-ranked college in its country, your GPA likely can be lower than the GPA of a candidate who attended a much lower-ranked college.
What was your undergraduate major? Some majors are known to be very difficult, and so what might look like a low GPA in a much “softer” major may be perceived by the admissions committee as a relatively high GPA for your major.
Did you participate in a varsity-level sport in college? If so, most admissions committees will realize that you were diverting a lot of time to the sport, and they might cut you a little slack on your GPA. Representing a school in a varsity-level sport is generally seen as very admirable and an indication of multifaceted talent.
Did you have to work your way through school financially? That can matter, because the committee will realize you were juggling work with your academics and may be more understanding if your GPA is slightly lower.
Did you have a rough introductory college year but your grades got better? That can matter also and the admissions committee might be understanding.
If a candidate did have a lower GPA given one of the factors above, how do they use that information in the admissions process?
If any of the above factors above – such as a major event, your attendance at a highly competitive college, your participation in a varsity sport, your need to work long hours during college, etc. – apply to you, you should write about this explicitly in an essay. This can encourage the admissions committee to give you some leeway on the GPA.
For a less-than-ideal GMAT score, you should make sure in your essays to point out the many other factors or metrics that indicate you can excel and contribute excellently to the business school of your choice.
You can also use your recommendations to address indirectly your lower-than-ideal GMAT score and GPA. To do this, the recommendations should attest to your strong analytical skills and ability to do rigorous work. They should indicate you truly stand out from peers in your performance. This can help ease the concern of the committee both about your ability to do rigorous work in their program and about your future potential for business success.
What about the strategy of re-directing attention away from a low GPA or GMAT score?
Read the answer to this question, successful applicant profiles and the rest of the transcript on MBA Watch.