Each spring we are inundated with calls from eager high school students about to graduate and their parents, asking “Which school will look best on a future MBA application and offer the greatest chance of being admitted one day?” Much to the chagrin of the students and their parents, there is no definitive answer to this question. Aside from the impolitic nature of comparing various institutions of higher education, there are some practical considerations that extend beyond college reputation or ranking.
In a learning environment which values diversity of experience and perspective, the MBA colleges attract students from hundreds of colleges and universities, as well as hundreds of professions worldwide. Contrary to popular urban myth, admission is not restricted to certain “feeder” industries or academic disciplines. Students represent a healthy variety of professional backgrounds, including not only careers in traditional industries such as consulting and investment banking, but less traditional careers in government, non-profits, and international agencies. In any given class, one may find former medical doctors, individuals who have served on nuclear submarines, lawyers, health care advocates, media & entertainment specialists, journalists, entrepreneurs, and others.
Academically, students have earned baccalaureate or advanced degrees in such diverse disciplines as business and engineering to archaeology, music, architecture, literature, and others. The defining element among these students is that they have demonstrated an ability to handle the academic rigor of our program. Academic ability is measured by a combination of past academic performance, the GMAT, professional certifications such as the CPA or CFA, post-graduate work, and professional experience (calculus and statistics, while not required, are good foundation courses for the MBA.)
The primary interest of B-Schools is to assure that each entering class of MBA students is comprised of individuals who are well-rounded, give back to community, possess leadership and/or management skills or potential, work well on teams, and have a strong sense of what the MBA degree is and how it can help them grow personally and professionally.
Consider the following hypothetical scenarios:
- Student 1: attends small, little known private college in home town for family and financial reasons. Student does well academically, thrives socially, engages in extra-curricular activities, possesses solid professional experience, and performs well on the GMAT. It would be unfair to assume student 1 would not perform equally well at a better known, nationally ranked institution known for its academic rigor. This individual may well be a fine MBA candidate.
- Student 2: attends top name, Ivy League colleague, one which is known for a bit of grade inflation. Student performs poorly academically, does not engage in many activities (formal or otherwise) outside of the classroom, shows little initiative, and has made modest progress at work. Despite having had an academic advantage, student 2 would not be a compelling MBA candidate.
What these scenarios illustrate is that the admissions process of MBA programs, is very much an art as opposed to a science. The best advice we can offer high school students who are deciding where to attend college is to follow their own interests at the institution they feel is most suited to their needs. It is in this environment they are most likely to succeed and prepare for the MBA or whatever path they ultimately choose.