Excerpted from How to Apply for an MBA by Tyler Cormney and Christopher Aitken of MBA Prep School, August 24, 2011
Knowing what might stand in your way to being accepted to a top business school is an important first step to building an outstanding application. The real power of this top 10 list is to help you to start thinking like an admissions officer in order to identify the weak spots in your application and find ways to correct or at least counterbalance those weaknesses.
10. Low GPA, cumulative or in major
The top MBA programs stay on top by admitting academically gifted students who are intellectually curious and will fully engage in the learning process. Low marks on your university transcripts, particularly in your major, are a big red flag.
9. GMAT score below a school’s 80th percentile range
Most schools publish the range of GMAT scores earned by 80% of the incoming class. If your GMAT falls below this range then the rest of your application will have to be exceptional to overcome concerns about your verbal and/or quantitative abilities.
8. Degree from a school with a questionable academic reputation
Even if you have a high GPA, your chance of being accepted to one of the top MBA schools goes down significantly if you went to what is affectionately known in the United States as a “party school” or if your degree is from a program that very few people have heard of.
7. Limited career experience
Returning to school for an MBA isn’t about jumpstarting a flailing career. Top business schools admit candidates who are on the way up in their career. Everyone has to start somewhere but if you haven’t progressed beyond an entry-level job, then applying to business school is probably premature.
6. Weak references letters
The top 10 business schools accept less than 20% of those who apply. Your reference letters must build a case that you are in the top 10 - 20% of your peer group or your chances of acceptance fall significantly. If you don’t feel that you have superiors who will be willing to write you outstanding reference letters, then you need to postpone applying until you do.
5. Too technical with limited managerial potential
Candidates who have made outstanding progress in a technical field may not be accepted into a top MBA program unless their technical achievements are matched by concrete evidence of managerial potential, such as leading a team at work that achieved an important goal.
4. Career goals lacking a sense of purpose and meaning
MBA programs were founded on the belief that business leaders can contribute to the prosperity of society. Top MBA schools are looking for future leaders who want to make a positive difference in the world. Make sure that the career goals you share in your essays convey a larger sense of purpose and that your career goals are meaningful to you.
3. Inability to relate skills and experiences to post-MBA career goals
Many MBA applicants undermine their chances for acceptance by at top business school by proposing a set of lofty career goals that don’t appear realistic when viewed in the context of their past experiences and strengths. Admissions officers are concerned when a candidate’s career plans seem unrealistic.
2. Unclear reasons for choosing a particular school
Admissions officers are likely to ask you why you are applying to their school. If you cannot demonstrate an intimate knowledge of the program and build a great case for attending that particular school then you will undermine your chances of getting in.
1. Limited evidence of leadership
Admissions committees understand that you are early in your career and don’t expect you to be running a division of your company or leading large teams of people. Nevertheless, they will expect you to have influenced others and made a positive impact on a smaller scale as a leader both at work and outside of work. Top 10 business schools rarely accept candidates who can’t provide sufficient evidence of leadership abilities.
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