5 requirements for admission to a top business school

First, the bad news. There is no secret formula, algorithm or code for cracking business schools such as Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, etc. The inherent subjectivity of the admissions process ensures that applicants with even identical qualifications can have very different outcomes when pursuing the same school at the same time.

Now, the good news. That same subjectivity can work for you if you have the determination to succeed. You can leverage strengths, mitigate vulnerabilities, and craft an authentic story that is so compelling that a b-school can’t turn you away.

Achieving admission to leading MBA programs requires that you have and demonstrate these 5 attributes:

1. Self-awareness
If you don’t know who you are, what you value, and how you think, then you can’t expect an admissions committee to understand and assess your candidacy accurately and fairly. Primarily through your essays and interview responses, you must paint a clear picture of the person behind the application.

2. Passion
Being energized and excited about something, almost anything, is essential. It could be your job, your family, your hobbies, you name it. B-schools expect their students to be driven to learn, grown and achieve. They look for signs of this in your descriptions of what you do and how you feel about it. Express joy! Introverts beware.

3. Competence
Of course, the higher your GPA and GMAT, the better. But the fact is that top b-schools could fill their classrooms with geniuses if they wanted to do so. Rather, they strive to build a well-rounded class that includes some scholars but also plenty of folks who excel in other endeavors. That said, you still need to convince the adcom that you can and will learn and succeed in the MBA classroom. So, if your GMAT and GPA are below the "middle 80%" for admits at a particular school, improve that by re-testing and/or earning A’s in extension courses. Or expand your target list to include a less selective school that you’d still be thrilled to attend.

4. Contribution
Business school is not just about you. Sure, you’re enrolling to gain valuable knowledge, acquire new skills, and expand your network. But unless you can demonstrate ways in which you’ve benefitted those around you — your team, your company, your customers, your community, your college — then why should the adcom believe that you will give back to classmates or their school? So start to pay it forward or don’t be surprised if the admissions committee doesn’t welcome you with open arms.

5. Potential
B-schools want to give seats to those who will lead companies and organizations to greatness. Individuals who will make the world a better place. This is the X factor because there’s no sure way to prove what you can and will do in the future. The best way to convey your potential is to describe a positive trajectory in your past and present that enables the adcom to infer greatness to come. Show them, through your application and interview, that you have the vision and momentum to make a meaningful difference that will make them proud of you as a graduate.

Does your current candidacy reflect all five of these attributes? If so, congratulations. But how do you know if your evidence is adequate or convincing? Rather than wait for the admissions committee to tell you by accepting or denying your application, you can test your MBA candidacy in advance with a free, expert evaluation. Best case, you’ll confirm your probability of success so you can submit your apps with high confidence. Worst case, you’ll discover the areas that need immediate attention so you can add or fix essential components and thus improve your chances for admission.