As you begin the arduous process of putting together your MBA applications, you might wonder which of the conventional wisdom you hear from your friends or read on the Internet is actually true. Many times different sources lead you in different directions causing additional angst. Here are a few of the most common perceptions of the MBA admissions process – and why they’re misguided!
1. You have to work in finance or consulting to be considered as an MBA applicant.
It’s true that graduating MBAs tend to end up in large part in the financial or consulting industries. A broad-based business education prepares graduates uniquely well for these industries. Many prospective MBA applicants take this notion a step further and assume that they must come from the finance or consulting industries to have a realistic chance of putting together a competitive application. The reality is although there are some applicants from these industries hoping to accelerate their career trajectory or land a position at a better firm, business school classes are filled with students from other industries either hoping to transition to finance or consulting, or looking at different career options altogether. Admissions committees are actively seeking to craft a diverse class along many metrics, include career backgrounds and goals. If you’re from the marketing, technology, or energy industries, or for that matter anything else, embrace the opportunity to stand out from the rest of your applicant pool and position yourself in a unique way.
2. You should not take the GMAT more than once if you want to get into Business School.
In other graduate school admissions processes aside from business school, it may be more common to either average the scores for different attempts of a standardized test or impose limits on the number of times a prospective applicant can take the test. The reality is, however, for business school admissions, admissions committees will only consider the highest GMAT score you’ve achieved across multiple attempts of the test. They are indifferent to whether you’ve taken the exam once, twice, or a dozen times. Admissions committees will only be considering your GMAT score as one metric among many they consider when evaluating your candidacy, and they’re not designed to intentionally or unintentionally penalize you for attempting the GMAT multiple times. Many committees will even consider it a sign of persistence to have taken the GMAT multiple times and finally achieving a high score.
3. Recommendation letters must come from a senior executive at your employer for them to be credible.
The reality is the most effective letters come from those who know you best and can articulate specific examples of you demonstrating leadership, creativity, analytical skills, and teamwork. Senior management at an organization might have a more impressive title and background, but often times their letters read as though they’ve been written in a very mechanical and generic way. If your letters are filled with superlatives, but lack specific anecdotes that back these up, admissions committees will assume that similar or identical letters have been sent by this recommender for other candidates, diminishing their value. Ask someone for letters who you’ve worked with closely, is in a senior role to you, and is willing to put the time and effort in, working collaboratively with you, to craft the most effective recommendation letter possible.
4. Leadership experiences have to come from work – academic and social leadership experiences won’t carry as much weight.
At the cornerstone of MBA admissions is leadership potential. Candidates with only a few years of work experience often haven’t had the opportunity to lead teams at work, manage direct reports, or take on P&L responsibility for a business unit. This is completely expected as taking on senior roles at an organization is what an MBA aims to prepare you for. Leadership, however, can be demonstrated in many different ways outside of the workplace. If you’ve led student organizations in college, taken on significant non-profit leadership opportunities, or even taken on leading the company softball team, feel free to emphasize these experiences in your application – just make sure you can articulate the results you’ve achieved and value you’ve added. Admissions committees believe that candidates who have a history of leading and taking initiative will continue to do so in business school and beyond, so demonstrating this quality in your applications is crucial.
5. All volunteering/non-profit work will be perceived as equivalent. Having these activities on your application is simply a matter of “checking the box.”
Every year, many prospective MBA applicants scramble to find volunteering roles in their community so that they have something to mention in the relevant areas of their application. It is naïve to assume that a cliché one-time volunteering experience alone is enough for you to be considered someone who is actively involved in your community, has compassion for society as a whole, and will continue to remain engaged throughout your lifetime. If you want your non-profit roles to be value-adds to your application, get started early and go beyond just being a participant – be a leader! If there are initiatives that you think your local non-profit could be taking on, but isn’t, take the bold step of proposing your idea to the appropriate people and carrying out the steps to make it happen. The nice thing is no non-profit will ever turn down the extra help so make the most of this opportunity to stand out in your applicant pool, while also contributing to society in a meaningful way.