The Fabric of a Top B-School Candidate: How to Think About Your Candidacy
This post first appeared on Sia Admissions' Access blog.
Historically, higher education has been a resource for professional growth, frequently a means of opening doors to otherwise closed opportunities; in other words, academic institutions have been the gatekeepers for professional success.
While times are changing, top institutions still carry weight in opening doors for coveted jobs in industries like consulting, finance, and tech. There are thousands of applicants each year targeting top business schools where admission rates, for most, are in single digits.
Business school applicants considering the likes of the M7s (Columbia, HBS, MIT Sloan, Kellogg, Stanford, Chicago Booth, and Wharton) or any other top 20 programs consistently ask, “what makes a competitive candidate?”
While one may compare an applicant’s profile with a target b-school’s class profile, a precise numeric value on one’s chances of admission is often difficult to predict, as there are external factors at play as well. Who is in and who is out, even among competitive candidates, is also determined by the incumbent’s potential contribution to the cohort’s diversity. The final decision usually depends on the qualitative component of the application, and the experiences and goals driving the candidate to apply to a business program.
That said, while the stitching may differ, there are patterns that make up the fabric of a successful candidate.
Top b-schools have rigorous programs, and admission committees curate the classroom to include students who can handle said rigor. It is, therefore, table stakes for competitive candidates to have strong GPAs and GMAT/GRE scores. Some successful candidates may have struggled during their college days, sometimes having experienced personal hardships or struggling to adjust to college life. While their undergraduate academic record may not be stellar, those successful candidates have taken measurable actions to rectify a less than ideal record and, in turn, have showcased to the admission committee a maturity, a desire to do better, and an ability to overcome adversity and handle the rigorous curriculum.
For those dreaming of a degree from a top-tier business school with a less than ideal academic record, remember that, while past experience and shortcoming cannot be changed, what you do with them and how they are presented will make a significant difference in the outcome of your application.
Aspiring business leaders are engaged citizens. They are involved in their community throughout their academic and professional careers, lending a hand and helping make a difference. They are individuals who see gaps or shortcoming in their communities and strive to make it better. Their involvement could include volunteer work, spearheading initiatives, founding non-profits, and several other various ways that demonstrate a human level of compassion and care. What stands out in a competitive candidate’s community engagement is not the number of initiatives involved in, but the passion with which they support their community.
While it would be helpful, admission committees cannot foresee the future success of an applicant. Instead, they determine professional promise through a candidate’s historic contributions and achievements that have been presented in the application. It does not mean that successful candidates have similar jobs and work in related industries; on the contrary, applicants from a variety of sectors holding a variety of job titles, apply to and are successful in business school. The common element of a successful applicant’s professional career is their leadership contributions, often not reflected in titles. These are candidates that have demonstrated leadership in their group, their department, or even the organization they serve and have effected meaningful change. These individuals are also trusted by their superiors to be responsible for more than what is in their job description, have often received multiple promotions, and are individuals that others look up to for guidance and direction. Echoing Robin Sharma’s book title – they are leaders without titles.
A vision for the Future:
Perhaps the most crucial element of a competitive candidate is not only that they are doers, but that they are also visionaries. They examine the many communities they belong to or want to be a part of. Competitive candidates evaluate the evidence at hand not as a means of judgment, but as a means of finding ways to improve the future. They focus their passion and speak to the impact they want to make in their community. Most importantly, they understand that nothing is accomplished in a vacuum, and their future success is dependent on the community and the relations they build. It is not the business school that makes them leaders; instead, they are leaders who choose a top-business school to provide them with the best tools for them to deliver on their visions.
Want your profile evaluated by an expert for competitiveness to top b-schools? Reach out: here.