Applying for an MBA: Reading Between the Lines

Posted on December 11, 2012 | Filed in Admissions, Career, MBA

Applying for a business school is quite daunting and it is hard to know what the admissions committee of a prospective business program wants from you as an applicant. This is an obvious statement but one that has been tackled by Melissa Korn of The Wall Street Journal. Last year, she interviewed Derrick Bolton, Assistant Dean and MBA Admissions Director at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business and asked a lot of questions about what he and his colleagues look for in an applicant. We included parts of the interview below as well as highlight some important points to keep in mind. (The original WSJ interview can be found here.) WSJ: Do you check out the GMAT score and if it’s below a certain number, put that application aside? Mr. Bolton: That would rob us of a lot of talent. The GMAT is helpful in terms of understanding how someone can perform in the first year, but that’s one small piece of the overall MBA We [look at candidates] holistically [academic, professional, personal]. That depends on the candidate being authentic with us, which I recognize is hard because it takes a degree of self-confidence to be able to tell your story to total strangers.
  • Notice while the GMAT is important, it is not the end-all, be-all; admissions looks at all the things you have demonstrated and see if you are fit for the program.
WSJ: What do applicants worry about too much? Mr. Bolton: They worry most about scores, they worry about essays. I think they should spend more time thinking about references. They often think about it from the perspective of, ‘I need to pick three references who show different aspects of my personality,’ not from the perspective of, ‘I need to pick three people who are going to be my strongest advocates.’
  • Mr. Bolton stresses the importance of your references and what they say. They can support you 110% and are able articulate that well on paper, but if they all say the same thing then it will not count for much. Each reference should be able to tell the admissions committee different reasons why they are rooting for you.
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