MBA Adcoms: What Are They Really Thinking?

It’s nearly midnight on a foggy autumn night. It might be Cambridge, Palo Alto, Philadelphia or London. Around the world, as admissions officers from top business schools review the well-crafted applications of eager MBA candidates, what are the key questions racing through their heads? What are these professionals pondering as they decide the fate of applicants like you?

Based on the collective experiences of former admissions professionals on the consulting team at The MBA Exchange, here are 6 key questions that race through the minds of decision makers:

Will this MBA applicant…

1. Succeed and contribute in the classroom?
Adcoms need to feel confident that the applicant can truly handle the curriculum, excelling in some classes and at least treading water in others. Candidates with the greatest chance for admission are those who also show the potential to help classmates learn. Key aspects of the candidacy scrutinized include undergrad GPA, major and alma mater; GMAT or GRE scores; and professional duties and accomplishments.

2. Respect and enhance the core values of this MBA community?
Admissions officers are gatekeepers who help protect the integrity of their school. So, in reviewing applications, they’re looking for evidence of the candidate’s awareness of and sensitivity to ethical behavior, both inside and outside the workplace. The adcoms assess resumes, recommendations and essays for insights on how the applicant thinks, feels and acts when faced with ethical issues.

3. Benefit from and add to the diversity the incoming class?

Each year, business schools strive to produce a class profile that is even more inclusive than that of the previous year. Variables they consider include applicants’ industry, nationality, race, gender, sexual orientation, undergraduate credentials, and work experience. But it’s not enough to just be “diverse” yourself. Adcoms also look for examples where a candidate has recognized, celebrated, grown from and advocated interaction with others from different backgrounds.

4. Achieve success in his or her post-MBA career?
Whether presented in essays or interviews, adcoms are on the lookout for applicants whose career goals are relevant to their past/present experience and will be attainable after completing an MBA education at their school. In allocating a limited number of seats, bschools consider which individuals are most likely to make a visible difference in industry and in society, representing their brand in the most positive way.

5. Build lasting, reciprocal relationships with classmates?

Given the collaborative learning environment at most bschools, admissions committees are leery of applicants who haven’t shown effectiveness in and passion for working in teams. Furthermore, adcoms want to build an incoming class in which students forge life-long friendships and feel an obligation to help each other succeed over the next 40 or 50 years. This is demonstrated through organizational involvement – in business or in the community — that fosters cooperation.

6. Become an active alumnus or alumna who gives back?
Most MBA applicants can make a strong case for the benefits they will gain and the contributions they will make while attending business school. But the admissions committee is also seeking the value added of active engagement after graduation. A candidate who fails to mention the lifetime resource that comes from the alumni network is unlikely to impress. And even those who say they appreciate this opportunity must show evidence of service to past alma maters in order to be credible.

As an MBA applicant striving to succeed, you now have a choice. You can either hope that your application answers these and similar questions completely and convincingly. Or you can verify this in advance by having an admissions expert provide a critical review or a simulated assessment before you submit it to the school.