GPA Matters Less Than You Think. Here’s Why
At Stanford Graduate School of Business, the average undergraduate GPA for the Class of 2022 MBA class is 3.8. The GSB, which places first in our “Top Business Schools” ranking, states that it does not require a minimum GPA for admission to its MBA program – a common practice among many B-schools.
GPA, experts say, often isn’t the defining factor of whether an applicant gets accepted to a business school or not. Ilana Kowarski, a reporter at US News, recently spoke to experts on what role undergraduate GPA plays in admissions and how other aspects of the MBA application matter.
A COMPREHENSIVE APPLICATION
While many B-schools do not require a minimum GPA for admission, they still do look at an applicant’s undergraduate GPA—just in relation to the other aspects of their application.
“Unlike law school and med school admissions, which are really, really based very much on numbers – your scores, your grades – the business school admissions process is really much more comprehensive,” Deena Maerowitz, a partner and principal at The Bertram Group, an educational consulting firm, and a former associate director of admissions at Columbia Business School, tells US News.
Experts say that when it comes to MBA admissions, each factor of the application plays a role.
“Ask most admissions committee members and they will tell you that it’s the sum of many pieces—there is no one ‘most important’ part of the MBA application,” Stacy Blackman, founder of Stacy Blackman Consulting, writes. “It’s the essays, interviews, and recommendations that ultimately reveal the person beyond the paper. Compelling essays, recommendations, and interviews can provide context for a low GMAT score or GPA. But the reverse is not true. Strong numbers will never make up for weak essays or a disorganized, negative recommendation.”
WORK EXPERIENCE A PLUS
Rather than focusing purely on a high GPA, applicants should look to get some work experience under their belt prior to applying to B-school.
“Work experience definitely matters, as it should,” Michal Strahilevitz, a marketing professor at St. Mary’s College of California, tells US News. “If someone had experience in a high growth area or (is) doing something game-changing and innovative, that is and should be a plus.”
Your work experience, paid or unpaid, should convey to admissions officers what type of impact you strive to make.
“Volunteer work counts,” Strahilevitz tells US News. “Someone who has had an impact on a cause can make an impression with that.”
Next Page: Letters of Recommendation Advice
MBA Recommendation Letters: What To Avoid
Recommendation letters play a strong role in an MBA application. Thus, choosing the right recommender is critical. Selecting the right MBA recommender, however, is only the first step.
Stacy Blackman, founder of Stacy Blackman Consulting, recently discussed the importance of effectively managing MBA recommenders and highlighted common mistakes that applicants make in the process.
WHO YOU SHOULD SELECT
The first step of the recommendation process is identifying who would be a good candidate to write your recommendation.
“Unlike most other programs, MBA recommendation letters require your writers to answer a set of questions that helps schools determine whether you’re a strong applicant who can bring the necessary skills to succeed on campus and in the field long-term,” Padya Paramita, of InGenius Prep, writes. “Alongside understanding your goals and skills from your essays and resumé, institutions want other perspectives so that they can evaluate where you stand as an applicant.”
Most B-schools require two references. And, Paramita says, it’s important who those two references come from.
“Since most students take a few years off between undergrad and applying to these programs, your employers and supervisors (and not professors) are the best people to speak to your leadership, teamwork, and communication skills,” Paramita writes.
Once you’ve selected your recommender, you’ll want to set time aside to walk them through characteristics or traits you want them to highlight.
One common mistake that applicants make after selecting a recommender, Blackman says, is assuming that the recommender remembers all of their achievements and traits.
“Show your recommender your essays and decide on four or five characteristics you would like them to emphasize throughout the letter,” Blackman writes. “For example, think of leadership, teamwork, creative thinking, determination, focus, intelligence, charisma, and integrity. Next, come up with at least one concrete example that you feel illustrates each characteristic.”
DON’T WRITE YOUR OWN
While it’s important to discuss with your recommender what you’d like them to highlight, actually writing the recommendation yourself is a big no-no.
“For one, the admissions committee will probably recognize your writing style from your essays,” Blackman writes. “So, that will immediately raise a red flag. And secondly, if the individual doesn’t have enough time to write a proper recommendation, you would be better off seeking someone more enthusiastic about championing your business school dreams.”
Next Page: Applying as an Early Applicant.
How To Apply as an Early Applicant
Business schools typically like to see three to five years of work experience in MBA applicants.
“In general, I say that because I think that if they have worked for three to five years, they have a better sense of what a graduate degree is going to do for them, so they would be better prepared,” Nikhil Varaiya, a finance professor at San Diego State University’s Fowler College of Business and the school’s former director of graduate programs, tells US News.
While most applicants will aim to apply mid-career, those who are early in their career may be eager to earn their MBA degree sooner. Fortune recently spoke to experts and discussed how early career applicants should go about navigating full-time MBA admissions.
HIGH RISK, HIGH REWARD
One of the biggest advantages for early career MBA holders is getting the degree out of the way early on.
“I didn’t want to possibly get down the rabbit hole of, ‘I’m already in my career, I’m already making money. It’s very hard for me to walk away from that and go back into my MBA,’” says Michael Morse, 25, who earned his MBA in 2020 from the Darla Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina, tells Fortune.
Additionally, earning an MBA early on can help speed up career progression.
“You may have an advantage over someone else, your peers, by being able to pivot and take on more responsibilities earlier than others,” Donna Swinford, associate dean for MBA student recruitment and admissions at Chicago Booth, tells Fortune.
While earning an MBA early may give you a boost in your career, it isn’t an easy feat to accomplish. MBA admissions officers like to see applicants who have strong work experience or can demonstrate leadership in other aspects.
“Work experience is important because of what it reveals about you in terms of your character, maturity, and abilities,” Linda Abraham, founder of Accepted, writes. “Even if your GPA and GMAT/GRE scores are spectacular, your work experience still needs to impress the admissions readers.”
If you don’t have the years of work experience, you’ll need to highlight other ways you’ve demonstrated strong leadership and impact.
“Many people cite their extracurriculars for leadership qualities and potential, as well,” Meredith Shields, Co-Founder of Vantage Point MBA Admissions Consulting, writes for P&Q. “Maybe you’ve been tutoring for an organization for several years and realized that the student drop-out rate was pretty high. Perhaps you were then proactive in considering what the issues may be and submitted a proposal to the executive director (even though this was far outside of your volunteer scope within the organization). Being a reliable contributor who goes above and beyond when the situation arises is a great quality to demonstrate on your applications.”