Do you have a 4.0 from Harvard, an 800 GMAT, international experience with McKinsey and your own charity, which you started in your garage while also building your social impact tech start-up? If so, you are the perfect MBA candidate!
Just kidding. Actually, MBA candidates who look stereotypically “perfect” on paper (and there is no singular definition of perfect, obviously) frequently don’t get in to their top choice schools. Although it is important to be qualified, these factors matter a whole lot more.
For real, business schools want students who can get along with people and who have interests outside of work. This creates a more dynamic and engaged MBA community, and interpersonal skills are highly correlated with future personal and professional success. B schools are therefore looking for interesting people who play well with others – these students are more likely to excel (reflecting well on the program throughout their careers) and to stay engaged with their peers and the institution.
- Goal clarity.
You need to tell a compelling story about what you want to do when graduate, short and long term. These goals need to be the sort of thing that your target schools can actually help you achieve. You also need to articulate how your prior experience has helped prepare you, and why you need an MBA to fill in the gaps. Your goals need to make sense, and you need to demonstrate that you can sell yourself to future employers – in part by selling these goals in your application. Goal clarity is non-negotiable, and usually the first thing I work on with my clients.
- School fit.
Such an amorphous concept. When business schools talk about fit, they mean a couple of things. Will your professional and academic goals be well-served by their program? Can you articulate why and how? (Do you understand the school?) Finally, and most important, what will you contribute? Will you sit silently in class and then go home, or will you organize the international lunch after leading class discussion? Similar to the personality point above, MBA programs want to admit students who will participate and be happy. It creates a better experience for everyone, fosters alumni loyalty and helps them in certain rankings, since student and alumni satisfaction are criteria.
Business schools ask a lot of questions about what you did in college. They also ask you (and your recommenders) about growth. The admissions committee is looking for clues about your character – can you handle setbacks? Do you have a history of taking risks and driving change? Do you improve organizations and are you able to innovate and pivot? Again, these traits are highly correlated with success in business school and beyond, so be sure to offer specific examples throughout your application.
So, are you a “perfect” MBA candidate? Whether or not you have sparkling credentials on paper, your grit, tenacity, goals and ability to contribute matter as much if not more.