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When you think of an “ideal MBA candidate” what comes to mind? Probably a perfect GMAT score, stellar GPA, and an impressive career at a prestigious company. While grades, work experience, and test scores are essential factors for a successful application, there are many other less obvious qualities that make an applicant stand out.

We asked Admissions Directors from top Business Schools to tell us what makes up an ideal MBA candidate. 

Our Question: 

“How do you assess candidates for admission? What does an ideal candidate look like/what are the most important criteria?”

Their Answers: 

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1) Know why you want your MBA 

  • “An ideal candidate knows why they want an MBA and posses strong leadership and career progression.”- Queen’s University, Smith School of Business

  • “Test scores and essays are important; one does not trump the other. Explain “Why MBA” and where you want to go with it!” -Syracuse University, Whitman School of Management

You might be thinking “duh!” Yet, it’s surprising how many candidates are unable to answer the question when they are flat out asked in an interview “Why do you want to get your MBA?”. Having a thought out, well-developed response will show admissions officers that you have a clear sense of direction, and that you have made an informed decision in pursuing your MBA. This doesn’t mean you need a specific 5 year plan, but you should reflect on both the macro and micro levels the reasons an MBA would help you achieve your goals. 

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2) Have strong communication skills

  • “Holistic review of applications – we want to know your story! Strong quantitative skills, clear communication of ideas.”- Syracuse University, Whitman School of Management 

  • “Communication skills are key. Showcase your skills during the admissions process through essay, interview, and follow-up.”- UC Irvine, Merage School of Business

Just as important as being able to answer why you want your MBA, communication skills—both written and verbal—are crucial to a successful application. Remember, admissions officers are people too! Communicate with them like you would with a well-respected boss or professor. Ask informed questions, write unique essays, send thank you notes, and have a genuine dialogue during your interview

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3) Be balanced and well-rounded

  • “Quantitative and qualitative components are reviewed holistically: work experience, test scores, academics, leadership and career goals.”- Georgia Tech, Scheller College of Business

  • “We assess candidates holistically–we love diverse backgrounds, demonstrated leadership and unique experience.”- Ivey Business School 

What can take an impressive GPA or GMAT score and suddenly make it look not-so-stellar? A lack of demonstrated leadership and passion outside of school, tests, and work.  Whether it’s chairing a volunteer organization, consulting for small local businesses, or penning a blog that blends your love of fashion and business, admissions officers want to see what kinds of contributions you could bring to the MBA class community

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4) Embrace diversity and your unique experiences 

  • “The diversity of your personal and professional background, passions and experiences.”-Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Business School 

  • “But remember, schools want a diverse class so make sure you point out your strengths and unique qualities in the application.”-UCLA, Anderson School of management 

Every person has a story, and admissions officers want to hear your personal narrative. Did you spend the past 4 years working for an NGO abroad? Is your undergraduate degree in philosophy? Are you a concert pianist? Many candidates refrain from including information that they think isn’t related to “business.” Yet, these can be essential “story shapers” that speak to who you are. 

Want more admissions tips? Make sure to attend The MBA Tour’s Boston MBA Conference on Thursday, January 28th at Hynes Convention Center. Register free by clicking here!