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MBA, MBA Programs

Ultimate Guide For What Makes a Strong MBA Candidate in 2023

June 11 2023 By The MBA Exchange
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What qualities define a strong candidate for MBA admissions and success in obtaining the degree? What attributes are necessary to unlock the numerous advantages offered by a prestigious MBA program? There is no definitive answer to this intricate question, as each MBA candidate brings their own unique set of strengths and weaknesses to the forefront.

Understanding the multitude of reasons for pursuing an MBA (Master in Business Administration) degree is not a difficult task. The potential for increased earnings, valuable networking opportunities, and the opportunity to establish oneself in the business world are just a few of the proven benefits that MBA graduates enjoy worldwide.

When evaluating applicants to business schools, a range of factors come into play in the admissions process. Essential quantitative and verbal skills required to tackle a demanding curriculum serve as a baseline. However, this is merely the starting point. Admissions officers delve much deeper when scrutinizing MBA applications, carefully considering third-party recommendations and conducting interviews to uncover other characteristics that distinguish a promising candidate from others who possess similar foundational qualifications.

What is an MBA Candidate?

Becoming an MBA candidate is a possibility open to anyone who can gather the required materials and complete an MBA application. However, becoming an MBA candidate is just the initial step towards the ultimate goal. Merely meeting the basic criteria does not guarantee admission into a coveted b-school program. To secure a seat in an upcoming class, you must find ways to differentiate yourself from the vast pool of MBA candidates and capture the positive attention of admissions committee members. This endeavor demands more than simply submitting your application after filling out the necessary forms.

Standing out in the competitive landscape of MBA admissions requires strategic efforts and a comprehensive approach. It entails showcasing your unique qualities, accomplishments, and aspirations in a compelling manner. A strong application goes beyond the mere submission of documents; it reflects a deep understanding of the program’s values, aligning your goals with what the business school represents. It is essential to convey how your experiences, skills, and perspectives contribute to the diverse and dynamic learning environment of the MBA program. 

9 Strengths That Elevate MBA Candidacy

With over thousands of client engagements and 30+ years of experience, The MBA Exchange team has identified some common characteristics of successful candidates.

The descriptive jargon differs by school, but when building a new MBA class, most adcoms look for these strengths for MBA students:

  • Intellectual curiosity that is, the quality of often asking yourself “why,” and then finding out the answer. Do you often ask yourself “why” until you discover the answer?
  • Diverse sense of perspective that is always seeking, respecting, and considering other viewpoints. Do you seek, respect, consider and leverage others’ viewpoints?
  • Unwavering self-awareness that causes you to observe and remember why you act as you do. Are you a sharp observer of your own behavior, reactions and motivations – and can you change your approach if required?
  • Resilience after failure, turning each defeat into an opportunity for success. Can you turn defeat into an opportunity to grow?
  • Decisiveness under pressure, making tough calls despite risk and uncertainty. Do you have specific examples of when you’ve had to make these tough decisions?
  • Continuous learning, always absorbing and organizing key lessons for future use.
  • A managed sense of humor, as well as the skill of knowing the right time and place for a shared laugh.
  • Empathy for others and consideration of how your actions impact various stakeholders.
  • “Spidey Sense” or anticipatory radar that allows you to sense and quickly validate threats and opportunities before others are able to do so.

MBA candidates need to be more than just test scores or numbers on a resume in order to make it through the initial screening stages. Your story, character, personality, and experiences need to shine through your application packages, as well.

Before you submit your MBA application, make sure you’ve fully identified how to be a good MBA candidate, as well as your unique MBA strengths and weaknesses.

MBA Candidacy Killers: 5 Traits to Avoid

Here are some key attributes that the former MBA admissions officers, interviewers, and grads at The MBA Exchange believe can undermine a candidacy and thus should be shunned without exception:


If you have personal, academic, and/or professional successes, then presenting them in a clear, factual manner will make the point without showing you to be a braggart. Adcoms are looking for natural leaders who also know what it means to be players. Convey that you are such an applicant by avoiding self-praise.


Top business schools plow through thousands of applications each year. If you want to know how to put MBA candidates on your resume, help them understand various scenarios and situations while avoiding heavy jargon or assuming understanding. Make it easy for the reader to understand who you are and what you’ve done.


Adcoms want to know about what part of being an MBA candidate has meaning for you. Dig deep and be able to convey your vision and motivation in ways that will not just support your candidacy, but also help the school understand your mission and want to help you achieve it.


Do you make things happen? Or do things happen to you? Do you initiate? Or do you respond? It could be as simple as how you phrase the content of your essays, but business schools quickly get a sense of who moves & shakes versus who sits & waits. What does MBA candidate status mean without initiative? Adcoms are assessing this attribute as they review your application materials. So, step up and convey that you have a clear bias towards action.


Applicants need to send the message that they are ready to hit the deck running if admitted. If you clearly need to improve GMAT scores or pursue a leadership role but don’t do so, you are conveying a negative message. Showing a sense of urgency sends a powerful message that you will add value to classmates, faculty, and the MBA program itself from day one.

Do You Make a Good MBA Candidate?

So, how do you think you stack up? If you think you’ve got the star qualities above that it takes to make it through to the MBA admissions interview, you’ll also need to show these strengths for your MBA application:

Strong academic record

A key strength of MBA students is academic excellence, with a solid or stellar GPA, challenging past coursework under your belt, and a track record of being able to bring the smarts to bear when it counts.

Actual work experience

Your MBA strengths may include your actual work experience, especially if you’ve held supervisory roles. Or can document significant financial contributions to your employer’s bottom line. Your MBA resume tells what makes you a suitable candidate for an MBA in-depth, with facts and figures to prove the point.

Real career goals

Knowing what you want to do after your MBA is another part of how to be a good MBA candidate. How will the skills and experience you gain during your studies change your future and that of the world? Don’t understate your potential impact! What makes you a good candidate for MBA success is your ability to make bold claims, and then back them up.

Good test scores

MBA application requirements typically include a Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT™) or Graduate Record Examination (GRE ®) test score. Your GMAT or GRE score documents your skills and shows how you stack up against the competition with your percentile scores.


While the specific term “Emotional Quotient” or emotional intelligence is not stated in the application instructions at most business schools, this aspect of an MBA candidacy remains an important consideration for admissions committees as they evaluate candidates. What is an MBA candidate? Someone who needs emotional intelligence. Many MBA applicants find it difficult to capture and convey EQ-related topics in their applications. It’s easier and more comfortable to rely on resumes and transcripts to position a candidacy. However, disregarding the softer side of one’s past and present will leave it to the adcoms to decide if the applicant is either unaware of the importance of EQ, lacks the expected level of self-awareness and social acuity, or is simply trying to avoid the topic.

Best Time for MBA Candidates to Apply

The options for when to submit your business school applications can be overwhelming. This year or next year? MBA Round 1 vs Round 2? Rolling admissions, early decision, early action? The process is stressful enough without having to commit to the timing of your applications. We suggest that you start by pondering and answering these questions:

How Selective Are Your Targeted Schools?

Are you aiming for an elite school with a single-digit acceptance rate like Stanford GSB? If so, then take their guidance literally – apply in Round 1 or Round 2. Such MBA programs deny enough highly qualified applicants each year to fill the incoming class at less selective schools. Make it harder for them to turn you away by being one of the first applicants to be considered! You want to be ready for Stanford, Wharton, Harvard, or Rice MBA application deadlines and not wait around for later rounds.

When Will Your Candidacy Be Most Competitive?

The primary goal is admission, not the application. If your GPA and GMAT are below average for the school you’re targeting, you have 2 or more years less than the average work experience or you have no non-work leadership roles, then what’s the big hurry? You can still achieve an MBA with 3.0 GPA, but you might need to consider approaching your admissions campaign as a marathon instead of a sprint. 


Perfect MBA candidates are made, not born. It’s not your innate brilliance or effortless victory that’s going to get you through the MBA degree door. It’s your willingness to work on your application that makes you a good candidate. If you lack any of the above strengths for MBA students, you should know that it’s not too late to start working on your strategy to compensate. You may also be able to build up aspects of your profile that currently seem weak.To learn more about your unique MBA strengths, as well as your weaknesses as an MBA candidate, get in touch with the experts at The MBA Exchange today. Our team of former adcoms and MBA admissions professionals can help you assess the strength of your MBA student positioning, and maximize your strengths for MBA applications to top programs of your choice.