What Really Happens During an MBA Admissions Committee File Review

You may agonize over your application for months, but an admissions committee member may spend less than 15 minutes reviewing your file. What happens during that critical quarter-hour can literally change your life. This is the first in a series of five blog posts that will help answer frequently asked questions, including:

What is an MBA Admissions Committee looking for?   
How exactly do they review my application?

At SBC, we have ex-admissions committee members from every top school on our team. Here, we share our collective expertise and give you a peek into what really happens during an adcomm review.

To illustrate our points, we’ll use two fictional MBA applicants to a Top 5 MBA program: Jackie and Bill. In this post we will focus on our fictional applicants’ “stats.”

Jackie’s Stats:

Yale BA Economics and Environmental Studies
Overall GPA: 3.7

GPA by year: Year 1 – 4.0, Year 2 – 3.8, Year 3 – 3.6, Year 4 – 3.4

Quant grades: Calc B-, Stats B, Econ B-

GMAT (took once): 690 Verbal 39/88%, Quant 45/66%, AWA 5, IR 5

GPA Assessment:

  • Excellent overall GPA, but trends down a bit throughout her tenure
  • Quant grades are not strong
  • Elite undergrad institution
  • Lots of Yalies apply
  • Interesting mix of majors
  • She challenged herself with double major and rigorous quant classes

GMAT Assessment:

Only took the GMAT once, even with the knowledge it was below the school’s average. Why didn’t she take it again?

Bill’s Stats:

University of Memphis, BS Computer Science (on scholarship)
Overall GPA: 3.35

GPA by year:  Year 1 – 2.8, Year 2 – 3.2, Year 3 – 3.6, Year 4 – 3.8

Quant grades: Calc 1 B, Calc 2 A, Stats A, Accounting A

GMAT: 750 Verbal 42/96%, Quant 50/87%, AWA 6, IR 8

GPA Assessment:

  • Below-average GPA, but trends up nicely
  • Underrepresented undergrad institution
  • Challenging major
  • On scholarship

GMAT Assessment:

He aced it!

Breaking it Down:  GPA & Undergrad along with the GMAT

The adcomm looks at several components of your GPA: your overall GPA, your year-by-year breakdown, the overall trend, and the rigor of your course load.  For example, a 3.7 in a sports management major is not necessarily stronger than a 3.3 in economics or engineering. And the fact that Jackie had low B’s in all her quant classes may hurt her.

Bill’s lower grades are offset by solid A’s in most of his quant classes, which is a huge plus for him. Also, Bill shows significant improvement. Although he clearly struggled early on, he eventually figured out how to juggle even more rigorous courses with other commitments.

Prestige of the undergrad school is also considered, but it’s weighed against how many applicants come from a particular school. In this case, while Jackie went to a terrific undergrad program, if there are a lot of applicants from Yale, a candidate from U of Memphis on a scholarship might be more appealing.

And then there’s the GMAT or GRE, very important adcomm assessment tools. While Jackie’s is just below the average for a top 5 program, she only took it once. This calls into question why? Even attempting the GMAT or trying the GRE just one more time would have demonstrated to the adcomm that she had the self-awareness that her score was below average and would have given her points.

Jackie’s quant score also is below the 75-80% threshold, which at some top programs might be an issue without other quant strength indicated throughout the rest of her application. For Bill, combined with his high quant grades, he achieved a very strong quant percentage on the GMAT, which helps to mitigate any issues with his lower GPA in his earlier undergrad years.

In all, your GPA and GMAT/GRE are important indicators of your ability to succeed in the classroom. With a lower GPA and/or lower quant grades in undergrad, it would be worth taking another quant class or two now to help better demonstrate your intellect.

With the GMAT, it’s important that the overall score be within the range of your target program AND that the individual components (especially quant) are each strong, with quant hitting your school’s desired — but often not publicly stated — threshold.

Up Next Week – Career Path, Resume, and Career Goals

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