Evaluating Your MBA Candidacy from the AdCom’s Perspective

MBA application checklist

Every year, we hear of MBA admissions offers going to Olympic athletes, NASA scientists, and former White House aides. While these profiles grab the headlines, they can discourage candidates without a flashy personal or professional story. Business school applicants can’t help but fret over what their target MBA programs want to see in a candidate. In truth, the admissions committee focuses on four specific areas when evaluating your MBA candidacy.

The welcome news for applicants of all stripes is that standing out in these aspects can happen no matter where you’ve worked or your background.

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

Four Considerations When Evaluating Your MBA Candidacy

One: Work Experience and Professional Goals

The admissions committee generally likes applicants to have three or more years of work experience before applying. But the quality of the overall experience matters much more length of time.

Have you worked within flat organizational structures where you’ve had the same title for years? You can still differentiate yourself by highlighting substantial professional growth and quantifiable achievements. Or by showing examples when you embraced new challenges and took advantage of learning opportunities.

Whether your pre-MBA experience is at Goldman Sachs or your family’s business, the admissions team will look for steady progression.

Business school is the ideal place to refine your career goals by studying new disciplines, having discussions with students and professors, and pursuing entrepreneurial projects. That said, you do have to make some choices and explain your areas of interest to get admitted.

Make sure to include a definite role you envision for yourself in the future. Explain the impact you want to have in the business world and society. Successful essays won’t include the statement, “I look forward to figuring out my future career path in business school.”

Finally, remember to convey realistic post-MBA career goals. Consider the application process from the school’s perspective. MBA programs want to launch graduates who will become successful in their careers. Grads also serve as vibrant members of the alumni community. Don’t forget to sell them on your employability. The admissions team should feel confident you’ll find a great job quickly upon graduating.

For more inspo, listen to B-Schooled Podcast #166: Career Goals

Two: Leadership

Business schools strive to create the leaders of tomorrow. The admissions committee wants to see that you already have a framework in this all-important area. Many applicants worry about how the admissions team will perceive their leadership skills if they’ve never actually held a management position.

However, your leadership examples don’t need to be your most extraordinary life or professional achievements. Applicants can call upon times when they’ve led sports teams, student groups, etc.

Successful leadership examples should show how you motivated other people. Did you bring out their passions? Or did you educate and help them see organizational priorities in new ways? The work of a leader energizes or improves the work of others. Find anecdotes from your professional and extracurricular background that illustrate this behavior.

Define the leadership challenges you faced, not the management ones. Collecting impressive titles does not make someone a great leader. However, helping a team overcome significant challenges does.

When evaluating your MBA candidacy, remember that in the adcomm’s view, your past is a strong predictor of how involved you’ll be on campus if admitted. Ultimately, leadership examples from college, on the job, and your time at business school signal future employers how you would perform in their organization.

Three: Creativity and Intellectual Aptitude

When some Type-A personalities see the word creativity in this context, they freak out and assume we’re talking about something artistic. But we’re referring to expressing creativity by showing when you have solved problems at work or in your volunteer activities by thinking outside of the proverbial box.

evaluating your mba candidacy

Some business schools use creative MBA essay prompts. Think Duke Fuqua’s 25 Random Things About Yourself. Or the cover letter and video statement at MIT Sloan School of Management. When evaluating your MBA candidacy, admissions teams will look for evidence in responses that show you have a unique perspective that will add something new to the classroom. So, think beyond your apparent achievements. You can differentiate yourself by highlighting the most compelling, memorable stories and experiences.

Intellectual aptitude, meanwhile, will be judged based on your submitted GMAT or GRE scores as well as your undergraduate GPA and major. A solid 3.2 overall GPA from an Economics or Chemistry major will weigh more heavily than a 3.8 GPA in the Arts or Humanities.

However, admissions committees actively seek a diverse class that includes those so-called “poets of B-school.” That’s where a strong GMAT score or taking additional college-level math courses that prove you can handle the academic rigors of the program comes in.

Four: Interpersonal Skills and Fit

The admissions process at many business schools now includes video essays, team-based discussions, and group interviews. These additions ensure the applicant has the appropriate interpersonal skills for success and will fit well with the program’s culture.

evaluating your MBA candidacy

Business schools want students who will play nice with others. Watching how someone interacts with peers before anyone gets admitted can be very telling. Your application and interview should support those individual attributes that make you a great candidate and person overall. They should reveal your understanding of the school’s culture. Finally, they must convey that you will be a terrific fit if admitted.

Listen to B-Schooled Podcast #30: Conveying Program Knowledge and Fit

At some schools, fit and knowledge of the program matter as much as concrete qualifications when evaluating your MBA candidacy. Of course, you still need to have those qualifications. But without a complete understanding of the many terrific facets of the school, you could find yourself on the rejected applicant pile.

Round one application deadlines are now upon us. By evaluating your MBA candidacy in these four areas, you’ll boost your chances of making it to the interview stage and beyond.


Stacy Blackman Consulting offers multiple services to meet your needs, from our All-In Partnership to test prep to hourly help with targeted tasks. Contact us today for a free 15-minute advising session to talk strategy with a Principal SBC consultant. Meanwhile, 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 Harvard HBS, Wharton and every elite business program in the US and Europe.  These MBA Admissions Officers have chosen to work exclusively with SBC.

Just two of the many superstars on the SBC team:
Meet Anthony, who served as the Associate Director of MBA Admissions at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, where he dedicated over 10 years of expertise.

Meet Andrea, who served as the Associate Director of MBA Admissions Marketing at Harvard Business School (HBS) for over five years.

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

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