Importance of different elements in the admissions process
So, what matters MORE in the admissions game- your GMAT, GPA, Recommendations, Work experience, Essays, Interviews or some other factor?

The short answer is that EVERYTHING matters. But, we know this is not the answer you are looking for. You are hoping to get more clarity (and even get some quantitative estimates on the weight of different elements); let us try our best to demystify the admissions process.

OBJECTIVE OF DIFFERENT ELEMENTS:

  • GMAT/GPA: Gives info about your intellectual rigour and points to your ability to handle the MBA curriculum. The adcoms are not looking for Rocket Scientists- they don’t expect you to have a 99th percentile on GMAT and a perfect GPA. They are looking for WELL ROUNDED candidates (therefore, they ask for several other elements, we will elaborate more on this point shortly)
  • Essays: This is the meatiest part of your application. It gives you solid 500-2000 words (depending on the school) to make your case. The essays also give you an opportunity to prove that you are UNIQUE!

(The VIDEO essays have a slightly different objective. Depending on the format, they try to ascertain things such as communication skills, poise, spontaneity etc. Read more about video essays here.)

  • Interviews: This could be in-person/skype or video essays. Again, in addition to many things, these try to see if you are the person behind your application. Read more about the interview here.
  • Work experience: It acts as a measure of (1) whether an MBA makes sense for you (2) Work experience + MBA —> can you achieve your career goals?

WEIGHT OF DIFFERENT ELEMENTS IN YOUR APPLICATION:

Before, we try to give a quantitative estimate, there are a couple of things you should know (1) the weight of every element would differ depending on the school. (2) there is a MINIMUM THRESHOLD for every element. For eg. if your GMAT is more than 50 points below the average (and if you are from a competitive demography), then you are missing the GMAT threshold!

Weight of different elements:

  • GMAT/GPA (20-40%): Let’s look at two cases.

(1) A school such as INSEAD has a much more flexible threshold for GMAT/GPA. Not because, INSEAD doesn’t care about your GMAT/GPA, but because they don’t need to. What do we mean by this? well, see it this way: INSEAD caters to a very specific crowd every year. Given its geographical location – #1 in Asia, one of the top ranked schools in Europe etc- it is not competing head on with American Business Schools. Therefore, it has no substantial incentive to take candidates with very high GMAT just to move up the rankings (read: how do business school rankings work).

(2) On the other hand schools such as Yale/Wharton (fantastic schools!) unfortunately do have to compete with other *CLUSTER* schools in the US. For eg. Yale competes with Tuck; Wharton competes for same candidates from Chicago Booth and Columbia. These schools, unfortunately, do need to maintain a certain GMAT class average (in fact, they do have the incentive to show that their GMAT is rising each year. This indicates that the competition is growing, resultantly appealing to candidates). Again, like INSEAD, Stanford and Harvard are DIFFERENTLY (please don’t get riled up, we are not saying that one school is better than the other- we are simply talking about the competitive landscape) placed in this competitive spectrum and have limited incentive to let their GMAT rise.

  • Essays (40-60%): Irrespective of which school you are applying to, the essays generally are the most important element. Think about this: if these were not, schools would not (a) hire people to read through your essays and incur substantial cost in servicing your application (b) not advertise things like “Culture” “Fit” etc (these elements can only be explained either on your essays or in an interview.)

Why do schools make your write these essays? There are many practical reasons: (a) To see if you can get value out of their program. For eg. if you apply to NUS by saying that you want to do Strategy Consulting, it is very unlikely that this will happen for you. Essay is a place to discuss these things about yourself. (b) Resume cannot cover everything, you need to explain what you have done (the same way that you will do on a cover letter for a job) (c) It is the most effective tool for selecting someone to interview. For eg. if the ad-com reads through your first essay and find glaring flaws, they can ditch your application in 5 mins and move onto the next candidate. However, they are unlikely to execute the same option if they decide to JUST INTERVIEW YOU and not make you write the applications.

  • Resume (10-15%): This works in conjunction with your MBA application. Having certain brands on your resume will command attention- but, you have to back everything up in the Essays!
  • Recommendation (0-5%): The golden rule with the recommendation is: “that a good recommendation WILL NOT get you in but a bad recommendation will DEFINITELY KEEP YOU OUT”

The above statement is true 99% of the time. However, if the Finance Minister of India CALLS up the adcom and recommends you, then it is likely that THAT recommendation will get you in!

Similarly, if the CEO/CXO of your company WRITES a generic recommendation the

  • Interviews (100%): Interview is a DIFFERENT data point. If the school decides to interview you, they already like you a lot- they are not debating whether you are a good candidate or fit with their culture. At this stage, the school is looking for an excuse to reject you (as opposed to the application state, where they are looking for reasons to select you). You must realise that at this stage, you must consider the process afresh and try not to make mistakes.