Credential vs. Potential: Which is more important for MBA applicants?

Many business school candidates have above-average GMATs, lofty GPAs, and impressive jobs at blue-chip companies. Other candidates have less stellar academic and professional profiles but can make a more convincing case for how their leadership and vision will make the world a better place.

MBA admissions officers value – in fact, expect – applicants to be fully qualified to compete and contribute in the classroom. Test scores, transcripts and resumes are thoroughly scrutinized so adcoms can check that important box before investing more time in considering an applicant. However, having stellar stats alone doesn’t ensure admission.

Business schools also look for evidence of potential that distinguishes and elevates a candidacy. Adcoms analyze essays, short answers, recommendations, and interview responses for insights into an applicant’s post-MBA impact and influence. They want to be convinced that an applicant will make the highest possible use of the valuable education that he or she is pursuing.

So, which of those two components – credential or potential – is more likely to result in admission to a highly selective business school? Based on our three decades of advising over 5,000 MBA applicants, The MBA Exchange can confidently say that acceptance requires a strong balance of both factors. Adcoms want to see both the substance and the trajectory of a candidacy before deciding whether to grant a coveted spot in the incoming class.

However, this does not mean that if a candidacy is short on either accomplishment or promise the individual should not even apply. Business schools understand applicants are human beings with both strengths and vulnerabilities. However, if there is no credible explanation or meaningful mitigation of vulnerabilities provided to the adcom for consideration, then it’s far less likely these notoriously risk-averse gatekeepers will take a leap of faith on such an applicant.

Most important of all, the process for optimizing an MBA candidacy must begin well before starting to draft an application. It takes time and thought to objectively and productively delve into one’s past, present and future and come up with an action plan. If this path sounds too daunting, then engaging an experienced admissions consultant is probably the right move for you. And the first step in doing so is quick, easy and free – getting a preliminary evaluation of the candidacy that identifies and prioritizes the necessary tactics.

Capturing and presenting the factual and aspirational evidence that your MBA candidacy merits serious consideration is essential to admission success. The sooner you get started, the more likely that success will become. How about today?