An Insider’s Look at B-School Admissions

As University Administrators and Admissions personnel, we understand not only the pressure and stress prospective students go through when narrowing down and applying to business schools, but the nervousness and anticipation of the acceptance process. As a prospective student, questions such as “Will I get in to my top choice? Will they offer me enough fellowship or funding? What if I don’t get in?” cross your mind. Here are some tips from the inside of the Admissions Office that may help you.

1) Admissions Advisors Want to Help You

First thing is to not be afraid to call and ask staff and admissions advisors details about the acceptance process. We want to help you. We will not give you an answer if you will be admitted or not.  However, we can tell you if we think you stand a competitive chance of admission. You are not the only student asking us if your GPA is high enough or if you have enough work experience or if your GMAT score is too low. Some solid questions you may want to ask are: “What was the average GMAT score of a student whom was accepted last year? Between now and the last application deadline should I improve my resume and if so how? Should I take a couple of classes at community college to beef up my skill set between now and the last deadline? What do faculty look for in a student? I scored a 550 on my GMAT. Should I take this over?” Admissions Advisors want to enroll the most qualified students but ultimately, we want to make sure that the student is a right fit for the University and that we are a right fit for them. Graduate school is a big financial and time investment. Is it all worth it? Yes. However, the last thing we want is have a student start school only to drop out and be left with debt and no degree. This would be a disservice to the student, their cohort, and the University as a whole.

2) It’s Not Always About the GMAT/GRE

“We want to know what you are passionate about.”

A big source of concern for a student is preparing, taking, and receiving their GMAT/GRE score. Is the GMAT and GRE a determining factor for acceptance? Yes. Is it the only factor colleges consider? No. We look at applications holistically and, let me tell you, we have seen it all! We have seen students that score within the 90 percentile of the GMAT but whose GPA is 2.0, the student that has graduated from their undergrad years ago with a high GPA with loads of work experience but scored low on the GMAT, and the student who is perfect on paper but is rude to the staff during the interview. There is no recipe or formula to create the perfect application.  It is a mixture of everything you submit, from transcripts to interview, GMAT score to essays. What we look for are well rounded students. We also have realistic expectations of the candidates that apply. For example, internships and industry-related job experience is great! However, we do not expect a recent college graduate to have professional job experience. We then ask ourselves, “What does this student have to bring to the table?” As a prospective student, this is something you should also ask yourself. It could be your drive, innovation, creativity or passion, which are all attributes that encompass a strong candidate. This ties in to the last tip and something that we also look for…

3) Show Us You Are Human

As a whole our applicants are smart, driven and have a strong academic quantitative background. We see on paper (literally) that they possess these attributes. After looking through hundreds or thousands of applications during the admissions cycle, the majority of transcripts and essays tend to look and sound the same. For example, the majority of students will list on admissions essays that they want to attend graduate school to develop new skills, for career growth and/or to obtain a higher salary.  These are logical, practical and fine reasons to go to graduate school. However, what we want to know is what you are passionate about and how it ties into your goals of being accepted and why you want to attend grad school.  For example, a student wants a MBA to learn how to own and run a non-profit company in order to give back to the community which assisted him and his family when they were in need. Or a student wants a Master of Accountancy degree because not only is she good at crunching numbers but because she likes to help people with their taxes.  Or a student wants a graduate degree to make more money to secure a future for his family. Examples such as these tell us more about YOU. It helps us understand your drive, your intentions, and it helps us determine how well you will mesh with your cohort.

When we interview a candidate, we know what you have on your resume and your transcripts. What we are looking for is that passion and drive and your communication and soft skills. A student may look great on paper but if they cannot communicate what their weaknesses are, this shows a lack of self-awareness, which is important when working within a cohort and when interviewing for jobs. If the student cannot verbally communicate what is on their resume, we may be concerned with the student being able to do this with an employer during the program or upon graduation. Lastly, during an admissions interview SMILE! Ask questions. Again, these elements will show us your personality, give us an insight into how well you will work with faculty and your peers and may set you apart from other applicants. We don’t expect nor do we want perfection, we just want you to be you.

Sarah Primozich is an Assistant Director of Graduate Admissions at the Rady School of Management at UC San Diego.