Their Constraints

Introduction to Admissions Committee Constraints

The constraints that Admissions Committees are severe, especially at top business schools. Taken together, these constraints generate a decidedly risk-averse stance toward applicants. 

In light of this risk-aversion, it is critical for applicants to understand, and comprehensively address, the default skepticism and concerns that Admissions Committees will have about them. If fact, while it is imperative for applicants "stand out" and humanise themselves in the eyes of the Admissions Committee, it is even more imperative for applicants to handle these concerns. If those concerns are well-addressed, Admissions Committees will be much more receptive to applicant claims; if they are not, the claims will fall on deaf ears.

Luckily, Admissions Committees' concerns about applicants can largely be derived from an analysis of the constraints they face:

More qualified applicants than available places 

This is the ratio of qualified applicants to possible offers. The implication is that no matter how impressive your background, there are many others with a similarly impressive profile (on paper at least) against whom applicants must distinguish themselves. Consider the following:

  • Worldwide, the number of MBA-age workers in consultancies, investment banks and blue chip industries applying to business schools each year greatly exceeds the available places in top business schools.
  • Over 25,000 GMAT test-takers score 680+ every year*, yet the aggregate yearly class size of the top 20 business schools worldwide is less than 7,000**.

Maintain/Improve "yield" 

This refers to the ratio of offers accepted to offers extended, by which business schools measure their relative reputation maintain and try to predict class size from year to year. 

Qualified applicants who offer convincing assurance they will accept an offer, e.g. through their essays and interview and by visiting their target schools, are more likely to win the prize. Interestingly, this insight applies as much to the most qualified applicants as to the more mainstream ones, as the most qualified applicants are more likely to have multiple offers from which to choose. 

Consider the following typical yield ratios by school segment:

    • Top 5 MBA yield: all 70%+, with Harvard typically above 80%
      • Rest of top 20 MBA yield: typically between 50%-70% 
      • Below top 20 MBA yield: less than 50%

      Maintain/Improve place in popular business school rankings 

      Like it or not, rankings are here to stay and, if anything, are becoming more popular among both candidates and recruiters, who rely at least partly on them in forming their impression of a school. Rank stability over time is key, but of course it's even better if a school's rank has clearly been in the ascendant (e.g., Cambridge and Oxford).

      Maintain/Improve post-MBA success metrics

      It's key to understand that business schools are evaluating applicants with a recruitment filter. Applicants therefore must present themselves professionally in both their essays and interviews, ideally with the same care they exercise during a job search. 

      As a result, a clear and realistic statement of post-MBA goals (including contingency plans where appropriate, e.g. if career-shifting, and especially during a tough economic climate) is mandatory. A few key metrics receive the most attention, likely because they are common inputs to public rankings:

      • % of graduates employed three months post-MBA 
      • Average number of job offers received per graduate  
      • 5-year pre-/post-MBA salary improvement statistics (note that, somewhat perversely, this key metric may limit the number of very high-earning applicants a business school can accept)

      Maintain/Improve GMAT average

      As virtually all top 20 business schools boast averages around 700, you need to be as close as possible to this score to ensure Admissions Committees are receptive to the other aspects of your application. While strong examples of intellectual capacity should always be included in any applicant's essays, such examples become crucial if you are compensating for a lower-than-average score. 

      High ratio of applicants to admissions staff readers

      Admissions departments, even at top business schools, are notoriously under-staffed relative to the number of applications they receive. As a result, applications that clearly don't meet one or more key criteria may not even be considered (e.g., GMAT 50+ points below average, poorly presented essays, weak recommendations, lukewarm interview feedback, etc.). It may only be slightly harsh to say that Admissions Committees are looking in the first instance for reasons to reject applicants, rather than accept them. There are simply too many applications to get through, especially at the top schools.

      Applicants therefore must not only avoid committing any of the cardinal application sins, but also get and retain the attention of a jaded and overworked admissions readership with polished, original, engaging and easy-to-read essays.

      Limited resource to fact-check applicant claims

      While Wharton has been known to use Kroll to background-check incoming students, not all business schools indulge in such investigative extravagance. As a result, applicants must use the most effective written persuasion methods possible in their essays (e.g., multi-theme vignettes full of rich, telling detail). Knowing whether you have been persuasive is where Aspire comes in to help :)

      *Calculation: [250,000 GMAT test administrations per year] X [10% of test-takers scoring 680+, from published percentile scoring scale] 

      **Based on total of the published class sizes of the FT's top 20 ranked full-time business schools.
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