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How the Admissions Committee Builds a MBA Class

Find out who you are really competing against

One of the most popular questions that I get from MBA applicants is how do admissions committees create a class? To answer this question, it is most easily explained with one of my favorite hobbies, cooking, and one of my favorite meals, jambalaya. For those of you who don’t know, jambalaya is a delicious Cajun spicy rice dish originating from New Orleans with influences from French and Spanish cooking.

To make a great jambalaya you need quality ingredients.  There isn’t only ONE recipe for making a great jambalaya but the ingredients for any jambalaya are generally the same: rice, andouille sausage, shrimp, chicken, green peppers, onions, celery, and a variety of creole spices.  Each ingredient’s flavors play off of each other to create a mouthwatering meal that takes you on a journey with each bite.  Leave out one of the spices and your jambalaya may be bland or off taste.  You get the point. An MBA class can’t be comprised of all of one type of candidate, such as ALL American males who went to Ivy League schools and work in investment banking or consulting. You need a mix of geographies, industries, business functions and life experiences to maximize peer learning.  Too much rice and the mixture just isn’t right.  Additionally, you can’t trade out a measure of under-represented candidates for more IT professionals; the mix won’t be right and the MBA experience for all students will be less compelling.  There is great potential for all when sitting in a class or working on a team with classmates who each bring a different perspective to the discussion – having a CPA on your team for Financial Statement Analysis is a HUGE win and the creative advertising person can help the finance guy understand the importance of positioning a brand.

Let’s pretend each Adcom is an incredibly picky chef going to the local market to purchase ingredients.  All ingredients need to be fresh – the MBA equivalent being that candidates need to be pretty close to the 80% range for GMAT, GPA and work experience for the program. So…what ARE the ingredients that make up a diverse MBA class?

Rice – Bear with me here. The chef is going to pick out EACH GRAIN OF RICE.  These are the mainstay of an MBA program – American males – but each is unique in his own way. There is incredible diversity within this group, but if you are an American male, these are the candidates you will be compared to as Adcom decides which will be best for their program. Some are engineers, others majored in humanities, some are doctors, others lawyers, even some military folks. Craft a compelling narrative to stand out.

Andouille Sausage – Possibly the MOST complex part of the jambalaya…the chef isn’t just going to buy pre-made sausage, she is going to hand pick the ingredients and mix the sausage herself.  These are your international students – an extremely complex collection who add multiplicity of ethnicity, geography, global experience.  Within the non-US student population, each program need a balance of students from different regions, industries and academic backgrounds.  These cannot ALL be sponsored applicants from Asian conglomerates or engineers from India.  You will be compared against the other candidates from your country or region.  Keep in mind some areas of the world are over-represented in the MBA applicant pools.  If you are from one of these regions then your stats will likely need to be above the class average and you will need to tell an especially compelling story of why you are the right applicant for this particular program.  If the overall admit rate for a program is 15%, there will be some countries for which the admit rate is only half of that.  Do the math. Differentiate.  Conversely, being the ONLY candidate from a country doesn’t make you a slam dunk.

Other Protein (Chicken and Shrimp) – the chef’s choice of protein beyond the sausage will really determine the overall substance of the jambalaya.  These are your American women.   Again, there is a lot of variety within this group – whether you are a poet or a quant, you need to distinguish yourself– what is your unique perspective?  What legacy will you leave?   Virtually ALL programs are looking to increase the percentage of women, so it is likely that qualified women are admitted at a higher rate than men with similar stats.

Veggies – aka The Holy Trinity (green peppers, onions, celery) – Under-represented minorities – African American, Hispanic, Native American and LGBTQ people. All of the chefs are clamoring over these ingredients because they are not readily available in local markets.  MBA programs will be competing to get these applicants. However, if you are in ‘the holy trinity’ it doesn’t mean you are an easy admit. Admissions committees care about yield so they prefer to admit the applicants who will actually enroll.  Do your research. Find your fit. Connect the dots between where you are now and how a specific program can get you to where you want to go post-MBA.

Spices – non-traditional candidates who stand-out in a very unique way and add incredible flavor to the class. In this group you will find professional athletes, astronauts, Nobel Prize winners, children of alumni who have made substantial contributions to the school and the person with a 510 GMAT who got into HBS. If you are one of the few in this category, you STILL must tell a powerful story about why you need an MBA from a particular program and share what contribution you will make.

As famous New Orleans chef Emeril Lagasse once said, “If you don’t follow your dream, who will?”  Our consulting team at Stratus Admissions can work with you to differentiate yourself and craft a compelling narrative as you pursue your dreams. Bon Appetit!

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