Decoding MBA Admissions: The ACE Scale for Success

Gaining admission to your dream business school is challenging, given the fierce competition and the “black box” nature of the evaluation process. Did you know many MBA admissions committees use the “ACE” scale to assess applicants? It focuses on three primary factors: Academics, Contribution, and Employability. Today, we’ll break down this approach and guide you through what AdComs look for in each category.

Curious about your chances of getting into a top B-school? Contact us to talk strategy with a free 15-minute advising session with an SBC Principal Consultant.

First Up on the ACE Scale: Academics

Your academic background is the foundation of your MBA application. The AdCom places heavy emphasis on your undergraduate GPA, coursework rigor, and GMAT or GRE scores. They want to ensure you have the intellectual horsepower to thrive in a challenging MBA program.

ACE scale

Undergraduate GPA

Your GPA matters because it shows your ability to execute in an academic environment. While a stellar GPA can bolster your application, AdComs understand not all applicants follow a straight and narrow path. If your undergraduate grades weren’t perfect, don’t despair.

Know that you’ll need to address this shortcoming somewhere in your application. You don’t want to sound whiny or make excuses; confront the issue head-on. Explain any circumstances that may have affected your academic performance and how you’ve grown since then.

GMAT or GRE Scores

Competitive scores on standardized tests are essential but aren’t the be-all and end-all. These scores help admissions committees compare applicants on a level playing field, but they also look for consistency across your application.

“The scores provide important information to schools about whether you’re prepared to handle both the intellectual rigor and the significant coursework of business school,” Anthony, SBC’s Director of Test Prep, explains.

A robust profile, including exceptional work experience and contributions to your community, can offset a lower GMAT or GRE score.

Check out: The Round Two Clock is Ticking…Should You Retake the GMAT?

Coursework and Rigor

 The courses you’ve taken during your undergraduate years matter. Admissions committees favor applicants who have challenged themselves with rigorous coursework. If you had few to no quant classes in undergrad, a supplemental math class might strengthen your profile. This is especially true for applicants with a low GPA, GMAT, or GRE score or who have not had exposure to finance or accounting in their careers.

SBC consultants often recommend an online Math for Management class offered through UCLA and UC Berkeley’s online extension programs. “I really like these two specific classes because they not only give you give an overview of your quant skills, but they also help you prepare for the MBA curriculum ahead,” says SBC Principal Consultant Caryn.

Contribution: How You Make a Difference

Beyond your academic qualifications, MBA programs want to know what else you bring to the table. For this aspect of the ACE scale, they’re looking for candidates who will engage with the program and contribute positively to the school community.

As an MBA applicant, it’s essential to show how you can add value to the business school if accepted. Think of concrete ways beyond fulfilling course requirements and getting the degree. For example, what are your points of differentiation from other candidates? You may have a distinctive leadership style or knowledge you can share with the class. Share with the admissions committee how you will add to the existing organizations or mention your ideas for creating new ones.

During the admissions process, you can also show your dedication to giving back to the school and the broader community after graduation. Doing so can signal your long-term commitment to the MBA program, its mission, and your willingness to contribute to the school’s future success and impact.

Extracurricular Activities

AdComs like to take a cue from your time in undergrad. If you participated in clubs, student government, sports, etc., during that time, they view that as a predictor of what you might be like as a graduate student.

Your involvement in extracurricular activities demonstrates your leadership skills and your ability to work in a team. Highlight your achievements, whether it’s through student clubs, volunteer work, or sports. Explain how these experiences have shaped your character and prepared you for a rigorous MBA program.

Diversity and Perspective

At SBC, we work with an increasing number of applicants interested in advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion – either because they are passionate about these topics, see DEI as a possible post-MBA career path, or both.

Listen to B-Schooled Podcast #116: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and the MBA

MBA programs value diversity, not only in ethnicity but also in life experiences and perspectives. Your unique background can be a significant asset. Use your application to showcase how your individuality can enrich the classroom environment.

Letters of Recommendation

The rec. letter provides a fresh, third-person perspective on your skill set. Above all, your recommenders should enhance your application by offering new and valuable insights into you as a person.

Ask recommenders to provide concrete examples of how you’ve made a difference in their organizations. A persuasive letter will showcase your leadership, analytical ability, communication skills, and integrity. These are traits MBA admissions committees want to see in applicants.

Hear how SBC consultant Sherry, a former AdCom member at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, advises her clients about obtaining rec letters:

@stacyblackmanconsulting #MBArecommendations #SBCyourfuture ? original sound – Stacy Blackman Consulting

Employability: Your Pathway to Career Success

Admissions committees know that most applicants pursue an MBA to further their careers. Nowadays, career placement and starting salary heavily influence many well-known MBA rankings. So, it only makes sense that the admissions committee and career services staff often team up to make sure their admit offers go to candidates who will secure promising job opportunities.

The employability aspect of the ACE scale is critical. Certainly, no school wants to admit someone who will have little chance of landing their dream job after they’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the degree.

Work Experience

The quality and quantity of your work experience is a pivotal part of your application. Apart from deferred MBA admissions programs, business schools prefer candidates with three to five years working in roles that show leadership, teamwork, and decision-making skills.

MBA career goals

Career Goals

You must be clear about your post-MBA career goals. Admissions committees want to understand how the program aligns with your aspirations and how they can help you achieve them. A well-articulated career plan indicates that you’ve examined your goals and are a serious applicant.

Networking and Alumni Connections

MBA programs often boast strong alumni networks. Highlight your enthusiasm for tapping into these connections, which can be instrumental in securing post-MBA employment. The admissions committee wants to see that you are proactive and keen to leverage the program’s resources.

“We look for candidates who ACE the application process by showing they are prepared to hit the ground running here and make the most of the MBA experience,” this UCLA Anderson admissions blog post explains. “The best applicants come and prove how much potential they have to boost themselves up, add to our community and ultimately benefit the world.”

In summary, it’s not only about having a stellar GPA or test score. Your application must showcase how your unique experiences, contributions, and career aspirations align with the values and goals of the MBA program you’re targeting.

To increase your admit chances, prove your academic aptitude, your impact on your community, and your potential for career success. By mastering these three components of the ACE scale, you’ll be well on your way to embarking on a transformative journey toward your professional goals.


Stacy Blackman Consulting offers multiple services to meet your MBA application needs, from our All-In Partnership to hourly help reviewing your MBA resume. Contact us today for a free 15-minute advising session to talk strategy with a Principal SBC consultant. 

Here’s a snapshot of the caliber of expertise on our SBC team.

SBC’s star-studded consultant team is unparalleled. Our clients benefit from current intelligence that we receive from the former MBA Admissions Officers from LBS, Columbia CBS and every elite business program in the US and Europe.  These MBA Admissions Officers have chosen to work exclusively with SBC.

Meet Susan, just one of the many superstars on the SBC team. Susan was the Director of Recruitment and Admissions at London Business School LBS and also the Director of the Executive MBA program at Columbia Business School CBS.

Tap into this inside knowledge for your MBA applications by requesting a consultation.


(323) 934-3936

Latest Blog Post

10 Common MBA Application Mistakes of Finance Professionals-Part 1

Are you surprised to hear that MBA applicants from financial services, private equity, and VC make up the largest percentage of the incoming classes at many of the top business schools? We didn’t think ...