Search for Schools
MBA Programs » MBA Admission » The 7 MBA Admissions Criteria Explained

The 7 MBA Admissions Criteria Explained

Your GMAT Score

It's sad, but it's true: your GMAT score is probably the most important factor in determining whether you will be admitted to a top business school. I want to clarify that statement, though, so you won't misunderstand me.

Most applicants believe there is a significant difference between a 680 and a 720 on the GMAT. There isn't. The extra 40 points won't help your chances of being admitted. That's why I'm frustrated when I hear from people who score 680 and insist on retaking the exam. They would be better served by burning their GMAT-prep books and turning their attention to the application essays (the next step in the process).

If you hope to have a reasonable chance of being admitted to a top program, though, your GMAT score will need to be "in the ballpark."

If it isn't, you'll have a hard time winning a spot at a Top Ranked MBAP School no matter how good your work experience and undergraduate GPA might be. That's why I believe GMAT score is the most important factor in being admitted to a top program. If your score isn't in the ballpark, you won't be in the game.

So What's Considered "In the Ballpark?"

At virtually all of the top programs, the ballpark starts in the mid 600s. That doesn't mean there is a strict cut-off -- there isn't. But if you look closely at a school's numbers you'll see that below about 620, your chances of being admitted fall pretty dramatically.

Average GMAT score for Men and Women test takers in 2012, 2012 Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC).

It should be obvious from the graph that many of all accepted applicants score below the school's median, but for some reason many of my GMAT students feel they need to beat a school's median to have a reasonable shot at getting in. I've had to talk quite a few of them into applying to MBA programs they are now attending (or have already finished) because they were initially discouraged when their GMAT scores fell slightly below their target schools' medians.

What Score Will I Need If I Hope to Attend a Top Program?

If your GMAT score is within a school's median 80 percent range, even if it's 60 points below the school's median, you have a reasonable chance of being admitted. If it's below that 80 percent range you still have a shot, but it's a long shot. (I'll discuss how applicants with GMAT scores below the median 80 percent range get admitted to top programs in the next section on application essays.)

Most MBA programs now print their median 80 percent ranges in their brochures. For those that don't, you can make a rough estimate by assuming the range starts about 60 points below the median and ends about 60 points above it. As long as you are within that range, you have a reasonable chance of being admitted.


Explore more full-time MBA programs from these sponsored listings:
University of Phoenix | Walden University
UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School


Are the Separate Scores for Math and Verbal Important?

Yes, especially the math score. The admissions people put a lot of emphasis on math skills when making their decisions. (See the discussion on GPA for more on this.) So it's important that you do well on the math portion of the GMAT.

The math and verbal scores range from 0 to about 52. (I know that ETS claims the scale can go as high as 60, but it has never actually gone over 52). My strongest students are those in the "40-40 Club." That means they score in the 40's in both math and verbal.

It's great to have that kind of balance, but if you are going to be stronger on one portion of the test than on the other, it's clearly better to be stronger in math.

What if I Hope to Apply to Top Schools But My GMAT Score is Below 600?

You need to take the test again. I'm not saying that you can't get into a top program -- you can. But your chances are slim. So if you have time to take the test again, you'd be foolish not to.

And that brings up a good point about multiple test scores. I'm not aware of a single top school (or even an average school for that matter) that still averages GMAT scores. I'm sure that someone out there will find a program that does so, but until I hear from that person, let's stick to the general rule: Schools consider only your highest GMAT score.

Can I Take the Test 15 Times and Just Report My Highest Score?

Sort of. Before the GMAT exam begins, the computer will ask you which schools you would like your scores forwarded to. You get five schools included in the cost of the test, and any others will cost you $25 each.

You can elect not to have your scores forwarded to any schools. After you have seen your scores (you get them immediately after finishing the test), you can then pay $25 each to have them sent to the schools you choose.

Your "GMAT transcript" will report only your three most recent scores. So if you took the test four times and scored 450 each time, but didn't have your scores forwarded, you could still pull off that miraculous 700 the fifth time and then send your scores. The admissions office would see only two 450's and a 700.

It doesn't really matter, though, whether you send your transcript after each test or wait until you score the number you want. In the end, the school's application will ask you to specify the score you want the admissions committee to consider. (And, no, you can't mix and match your best verbal score and your best math score from different tests).

What About the Essay Score on the GMAT?

You will have to write two essays on the GMAT (the "Analytical Writing Section"). They will be scored on a scale of 1 to 6, and those points will not be added to your other GMAT score.

The essays are extremely simple. I teach my students a basic template to follow and they seem to do very well with it. They regularly score perfect 6's (the 99th percentile) just by following the template.

It's been my experience, though, that your essay score is pretty much worthless, so I spend very little time on it in class. A few years ago I asked the admissions director of a Top-5 school what she was doing with the essay scores. She laughed at me and said she wasn't really using them (though that isn't what her brochures say).

I have to agree with her. The GMAT essays are ridiculous. Given how well some students have done by just following a formula, the scores seem pretty meaningless. And now the essays are being graded by computer, making them even more worthless. So don't spend a lot of time studying for the AWA essays, and don't put too much emphasis on your essay score. I can assure you the admissions committee won't.

Having the list tempts some people to try to write their essays ahead of time. The pool of essay topics is so large, though, that it would be impossible to write an essay for each (and remember them all) before test day. Your time would be better spent studying the other sections of the GMAT.


Explore more part-time MBA programs from these sponsored listings:
Walden University | DeVry University
UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School


What About Taking the Exam Under "Non-Standard Accommodations?"

Most people don't know that they can take the GMAT under what ETS, the test administrator, calls "non-standard accommodations." That means you can get twice as much time as everyone else, if that's what you need to compensate for a medical condition. ETS doesn't promote this accommodation very aggressively, but I've had many of my students take the test "non-standard" and all of them who have gotten a truly significant accommodation (such as double time) have gone up at least 100 points from what they were scoring with me on practice tests given under standard conditions.

I had one student who consistently scored in the mid 500s with me. He took the test under non-standard conditions (he got double time), went up more than 100 points, and was accepted at Harvard. I don't think Harvard would have taken him in the mid-500s, so the special accommodations worked out particularly well for him.

Should I Take a GMAT-Prep Course?

If you hope to go to a top school, you'd be crazy not to prepare for the GMAT. Being admitted to Kellogg or Columbia or a similar school is well worth the time and money invested in a good prep course.

I don't want to steer you toward one company over another, but I would suggest that you take the longest, most comprehensive course available in your area. And look for a good instructor. A good teacher can reveal subtleties about the test that aren't written into any book, and just having the structure of a class will force you to work harder than you would if you chose to study on your own.

Back to: MBA admissions

MBA Application Essays

Once you've gotten your GMAT score into the proper range, the most important thing you can do is write good essays, not try to push your score up a few more points by retaking the exam. An extra 30 points will not be worth nearly as much as a well thought out set of essays that convince an admissions officer that you have something valuable to contribute to his school.

Your work background will determine who you compete against for admission spots. But what you say about your background and how well you say it will determine whether you beat those competitors. That's why the essays are so important.

The Admissions Process

To understand the admissions process, you have to look at it from an admissions officer's point of view. Each year the staff tries to assemble a well-rounded class consisting of people from a broad range of work backgrounds. It's important that they assemble a diverse group because many assignments in B-school are collaborative and interdisciplinary. Consequently, projects will be more successful and students will learn more if their teammates can contribute their own unique perspectives.

The admissions staff faces a tough challenge, though, in assembling a diverse class because the vast majority of applicants to top programs come from only two broad work categories: finance and consulting. Many of these people have worked at the most prestigious firms. They got good grades as undergraduates (or they wouldn't have been hired by top firms), and almost all of them take GMAT prep courses because that's part of the culture at their firms. In other words, they have a lot going for themselves.

If admissions officers were to select candidates strictly on the basis of GMAT scores and undergraduate GPAs, their student bodies would be comprised almost entirely of people from finance and consulting backgrounds, which would make for pretty bad class dynamics.
The admissions people know about this disparity, of course, and they compensate for it by starting with a general idea of the class profile they hope to end up with.

A Typical Class Profile

Given all the differences among the top schools, I'm always surprised at the consistency they show when selecting their classes.
At most of them, approximately 60 to 65 percent of admitted students will come from finance and consulting backgrounds. Below is a typical admit profile.
The finance and consulting are the best backgrounds from which to apply (they offer the most spots), but as I've already mentioned, a disproportionate number of people apply from those backgrounds, making them very competitive categories.
The consistency in class composition should tell you something about how admissions officers choose their classes. Namely, if you come from a finance background, you will, for the most part, compete only with other finance people for the limited number of finance spots available.
If you are a consultant, you will compete with other consultants. It's more a practice dictated by circumstances than an explicit policy acknowledged by admissions officers (though some acknowledge it).

Although there are no strict quotas for each category, the final numbers are amazingly consistent from year to year regardless of the number of finance or consulting people who actually apply.
So the overwhelming number of applicants from a few categories, coupled with the need to assemble a diverse group, in effect, forces admissions people to pit consultant against consultant and investment banker against investment banker, even without a policy to do so.
And it makes sense to me to compare apples to apples. After all, what criteria would you use if you had to choose between an asset manager and a software engineer?


Explore more part-time MBA programs from these sponsored listings:
Walden University | University of Phoenix
UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School


What Categories are the Most Competitive?

Investment banking and management consulting are probably the most competitive categories.
Virtually everyone who works in those fields needs to go to B-school in order to move up in the industry.

To my knowledge, no school has ever released the median GMAT scores of its students grouped by occupation, so I have to rely on my personal experience. But it's clear to me that, ON AVERAGE, accepted candidates from the very competitive finance and consulting backgrounds have higher GMAT scores than do accepted candidates from less competitive categories.

What are the Less Competitive Categories?

I'm sure you're wondering about this one. After, "What do you score on the GMAT?" it's the question I hear most frequently: "What's the easiest work background from which to apply?".
Think about it from the admissions officer's point of view. Say you have 300 seats to fill. About 100 will go to applicants from finance backgrounds, and about another 100 will go to people from consulting backgrounds. You will use the final 100 spots to broaden your class and add some depth of experience to the group.

You will need some marketing people and some people from technical backgrounds. And every class has a few disenchanted lawyers and doctors along with some real odd balls -- people with tremendously unique experience that will be valuable to their classmates. But none of these is the easiest category.

In my experience, the easiest background from which to apply is nonprofit, in part because very few people from nonprofit firms apply to top business schools.
B-school has the reputation of being a very competitive place, and competition isn't part of the culture of your average nonprofit corporation. So I regularly see people with very modest GMAT scores get accepted at top B-schools because those schools are trying to broaden the perspective of their classes and, at the same time, promote what is becoming an increasingly important business sector. A number of schools have even developed substantial nonprofit curricula to address the needs of managers in that sector.

So, for what it's worth, that's what I've seen with nonprofit applicants. But I've also seen a fair number of people from government and military backgrounds who get into top programs even though their GMAT scores are pretty modest (below their schools' median 80 percent range). Again, I think these people add depth to a class, and admitting them allows business schools to reach into important public sector organizations to influence the ways in which they are run.

Back to: MBA admissions

Your Essay Strategy

All of this plays into your strategy.
In writing the application essays, your strategy should be to highlight the unique experiences you've had -- both on the job and in your personal life -- that you believe will be valuable to your classmates.
If you were assigned to an economic development project in Vietnam, for instance, that's unique. So is working in a refugee camp in Afghanistan. Very few people can bring that kind of experience to the table, and schools are looking for applicants who can share that background in the classroom.
They will gladly discount GPA and GMAT scores to get those people into their programs.


Explore more full-time MBA programs from these sponsored listings:
University of Phoenix | Walden University
UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School


Be Unique

When I work with applicants who are consultants, I ask them not to write about the mundane tasks that everyone does at the analyst level but instead to focus on one or two of their assignments that were unique and interesting. I ask them to go into detail about that work. Tell me exactly what you did and why you think it was important work. Convince me, as an admissions officer, that your experience will be valuable to my students and I'll let you in.
That's the key to getting into Top Business Schools. Convince me in your essays that you have something unique to share with your potential classmates, and I'll ignore your not-so-hot GMAT score and undergraduate GPA. I see it all the time. People with modest GMAT scores but valuable experiences are regularly admitted to top programs.

Back to: MBA admissions

The Importance of MBA Application Timing

How Many People Apply in the First Round?

A typical top program might have 600 to 800 applicants in the first round. Stanford has only about 230 spots to fill while Anderson has about 320, Kellogg has about 500 (fall admission only), and Harvard has a massive 850 (also fall admission).

Although Stanford has 230 spots, it will typically make about 290 offers. That's because not everyone offered a spot accepts it (even at Stanford!).

You may already know about "yield," the percentage of applicants who actually accept offers made by their schools. Harvard has the highest yield at about 87 percent. After that comes Stanford at about 80 percent. Then the numbers drop pretty significantly. Kellogg, for instance, has a yield of only about 60 percent, which means it must make 830 offers to fill a class of 500 students.

So if I know that Kellogg will make 830 offers for the fall term and that only about 600 people will apply in the first round, I might be willing to swim with the sharks and try my chances early. The second round at top schools may have more than 2,000 applicants, all competing for the leftovers. I don't like those odds. It's too easy to get lost in the shuffle. If I apply early, I know I'm going to face some stiff competition, but at least I know there are a reasonable number of spots still available.

So apply whenever you like, but try to get your application in before the January deadlines. And remember that it will take two months to collect your undergraduate transcripts, complete all the application forms, write your application essays, and get your boss to finish your letters of recommendation. I know that sounds surprising, but I encourage all the people I work with to apply to at least six schools; and even with my hounding, it usually takes them two months to get through that many applications.

Exceptions to the First Deadline Rule

There are a number of exceptions to the first deadline rule. I'll list just a few of them here:

Columbia: CBS has an early application period (usually mid-August to mid-October) that you should take advantage of if possible. If you apply during this period, you will be notified of the school's decision in about eight weeks, which means you could know that you've been accepted at Columbia before having to apply to any other school. (Just over half of the applicants I encouraged to apply during the early round last year were admitted.)
The Bad News: Accepted applicants have to put down a non-refundable deposit of $2,500 to hold their spots.

Wharton and any Other School that Operates on a Pure Rolling Schedule: If your school processes applications on a pure "rolling" basis (no cut-off dates), it's probably best not to apply immediately after the school begins accepting applications. I guarantee you the sharks will have their applications in on the first day. If you wait about four weeks, the admissions people should have read through the sharks' applications. You'll be able to avoid the toughest competitors but still be early.

Anderson: Because the Anderson School has four application rounds -- not three as most schools have -- I think it's best to apply in the second round, which is typically in December. You will still be early, but you will manage to avoid the first-round sharks. (Also, over the last few years Anderson has accepted a higher percentage of applicants from the second round than from the first!).


Explore full-time MBA programs from these sponsored listings:
DeVry University | Walden University
UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School


What if I Want to Retake the GMAT But My Deadline is Coming Up?

I run into this problem all the time. "If I apply now I won't be able to retake the GMAT, but if I wait until I can take the test again I'll miss the upcoming application deadline."

It's a judgment call that depends on both your GMAT score and the deadline you're considering skipping. If your GMAT score is already in the mid 600s, apply at the upcoming deadline. A few more points won't help as much as making an early deadline.

If, on the other hand, you scored 600 or below and you are fairly certain that you will go up on the next test (and you will accept only a top school), you might want to skip the deadline. But waiting until February or later to apply is usually a bad idea. There are few spots available after the January deadlines, so think hard before blowing them off.

A Possible Strategy for Handling This Situation

A few of my students have come up with a good way to handle this situation. (I learn all my tricks from my students.) They wanted to retake the test, but didn't want to skip a deadline to do so. They solved the problem by submitting their application on time and then retaking the test before the application could be processed (which typically takes eight weeks).

If their scores went up on the new test, they would call the school and ask that the application be held until the new scores arrived (which takes only two weeks). If, on the other hand, their scores went down, they simply didn't send the new scores and tried their luck with their original scores (which had been sent with the application).

This worked incredibly well two years ago, when the computerized GMAT was first introduced. The schools made accommodations for everything having to do with the new version of the test because they anticipated problems. Last year, however, a couple schools weren't quite as accommodating and wanted people to stick with the score they reported when they submitted their application or slip to the next deadline if they wanted to use their new score.

So call your schools first if you are thinking about employing this "straddle strategy." Make sure they will accept a later score while honoring an earlier deadline. (Harvard won't.)


Explore more online MBA programs from these sponsored schools:
Walden University | University of Phoenix
UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School


Back to: MBA admissions

Understanding Your Undergrad GPA

A Caveat to Your Undergraduate GPA

While you might be able to explain away your less-than-stellar GPA by informing the admissions people of the Twinkies-and-beer lifestyle of your college years, you won't be able to slide bad math grades by them quite so easily. Admissions people will look very closely at your undergraduate math performance.Admissions officers are very concerned about math skills. If you believe that your math grades are not up to par and that your performance on the math portion of the GMAT isn't good enough to make up for those grades, do everything possible to take a math course through a local university before applying to B-school. You have to allay the admissions committee's fears about your ability to cut it in math-intensive classes. While you can be accepted into a great MBA program with only better-than-average verbal skills, you won't be accepted if you are suspected of having anything but strong math skills. So fix your math profile. (See how in the section on improving your chances.)

The Bottom Line On GPA

You can't really change your GPA, so there isn't much sense in worrying about it. People with bad GPAs get into great schools all the time, though, because they have strong GMAT scores and good work experience.Don't let your GPA keep you from applying to top business schools. The median GPAs reported by some top programs can be intimidating, but the GPAs of accepted students vary a great deal—even more than do their GMAT scores. (The middle 80 percent range at Columbia, for instance, is 3.0 to 3.8.)One thing you can do, however, to address your GPA is take some classes through a local university extension program. School is a lot easier the second time around, and you might be surprised to find that you can now get good grades in classes you used to hate. Performing well in school now should convince admissions officers that you can do well in their program regardless of your undergraduate GPA.

Displaying Your Work Experience

I've already talked about the type of experience applicants have. Here I want to talk about the amount of work experience you bring to the table.

Most of you know that the average number of years of full-time work experience has risen dramatically at the top B-schools. Schools that only recently averaged two or three years now average five. And that number keeps rising.

You don't want to apply too early. I have many ambitious students in my GMAT classes who insist on taking their shot at the brass ring with only two years of full-time work experience. (And that's by the time they would enter school, not when they plan to apply.) Although some of them are exceptionally bright and do well on the GMAT, very few of them make it into top-tier programs. Most end up "trading down" to a backup school or getting rejected altogether.

I have to admit that I agree with admissions officers who reject inexperienced applicants. The whole objective in assembling a business school class is to put together people who can share unique experiences from their industries. If you have two years in your industry and another applicant has five years in the same business, I'm going to take the more experienced candidate over you, even if his GMAT score is a little lower than yours.

But That Won't Happen to Me!

I know, you're different. You think your 720 GMAT and 3.6 GPA will get you into Wharton. After all, you have almost two years at Salomon. But look at the numbers. Only two percent of last year's class at Wharton had less than two years of full-time work experience. That means 15 people out of 8,300 applicants (one of the highest acceptance rates out there). That gives you a 1-in-553 chance.

Be serious. Wait until you have at least three years (by the time you would enter). I have had a few students who have gotten into top programs (including Wharton) with only two years of experience, but they were the exceptions to the rule. The vast majority of inexperienced applicants get the ax and have to reapply the following year with a lame story about why they were rejected previously.

And, by the way, you don't get to apply from ground zero the year after you have been rejected. At many schools all you are allowed to submit is an updated information form and a single essay explaining what has changed in your life since you last applied.

What if I Changed Jobs?

I hear this question a lot and I've heard a number of admissions officers address it enough that I'm finally starting to discern a pattern among their answers. The general opinion seems to be that changing jobs isn't a problem, especially if the change involves some kind of promotion. But "job churning" is frowned upon because the admissions people want you to have more than just a surface understanding of your industry. You need to bring a certain amount of expertise to the classroom, and changing jobs every six months will make it difficult to develop an in-depth understanding of a specific industry.

So try to stick with one job (or, at least, one industry) for a year or two. Otherwise you won't have much to offer a school.


Explore more part-time MBA programs from these sponsored schools:
University of Phoenix | Walden University
UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School


Back to: MBA admissions

Write Your Own Recommendations

I'll let you in on a little secret that even most admissions officers don't know (or won't admit to knowing): A significant percentage of applicants to top B-schools write their own letters of recommendation. I know this because I'm on the "sell side" of the admissions transaction. (I sound like an investment banker, don't I?) My students regularly ask me what they should write in their recommendations.

It isn't that applicants are trying to cheat the game; the problem is that most recommenders don't want to take the time to write a long letter or fill in the "grid boxes" found in some recommendation forms. So they ask the applicant to do the dirty work and agree to sign the finished product.

What if I Don't Want My Employer to Know That I'm Leaving?

This is a tough situation, and schools hear this same question from hundreds of applicants every year. They always answer something like, "Well, just do the best you can."

I've never heard a good answer to this question. My suggestion is that you get a recommendation from one of your customers, but that isn't always possible. The top schools want two recommendations (except Harvard, which asks for three). If you can't get the full quota, then send what you can get. That causes a lot of worry, but in the end I don't think it makes much difference. Just include a note stating why you can't get more recommendations. The schools will understand.

A Few Pointers on the Letters of Recommendation

There's an entire section on writing the recommendations at this Web site, so I won't address it here. Be sure to check that section out, though, after finishing the Seven Application Elements.

A Final Comment on the Letter of Recommendation

You may hear from some admissions people that they put a great deal of emphasis on letters of recommendation. I hope, for the sake of applicants, that they are bluffing to justify putting your recommender through an arduous process. The quality of your recommendation is so closely tied to your recommender's ability to write that it wouldn't be fair to place much emphasis on it. Some recommenders are very good writers, and some have even gone to top MBA schools and know what to write about. Others are terrible writers and don't know what the admissions people are looking for.

If you don't believe that the recommendation is more reflective of the writer than of the applicant, then have your boss write a letter for you. I'll make up a recommendation for your officemate (against whom you are competing for a spot at Wharton). You can judge for yourself which candidate looks better on paper.

Back to: MBA admissions

How Important is the MBA Interview?

Before you get all bent out of shape, let me explain. I agree that the interview can be a critical part of the admissions decision and should not always rank dead last in order of importance. But its importance varies dramatically from school to school. At some schools, your interview can make the difference between being accepted and spending another year riding your desk 60 hours a week. At others, though, it's meaningless and deserves to be listed last.

You may know that some schools are very aggressive about interviewing candidates. Kellogg, for instance, is terrific about it. The school has long set the standard for interviewing. And not only does UNC - Chapel Hill (Kenan-Flagler) require an interview of U.S. applicants, but it requires that the interview be conducted on campus. (Crazy, huh?) So the interview can be important at some schools and, at those schools, I certainly would not list it last.

Stanford, on the other hand, would just as soon give you the finger as interview you. (Okay, I know that Stanford started interviewing some applicants this year, but it was a funny line and I had to use it.) So interviewing can be meaningless at some school or it can be significant. It all depends on the school and your personal situation.

Who Should and Who Shouldn't Interview?

If you think you're a bad interviewer, stay home. Let your application do the talking for you. I've had a lot of people who I thought were bad interviewers in my GMAT classes. They come in with good work experience and great undergraduate GPAs. I can see from their practice tests that they will end up with a strong GMAT score, but I'm afraid they will do more harm than good if they meet with their schools. I've never found a subtle way to break that news to them: "Al, you're a bright guy, but you're also a dork. Don't interview."

So it's up to you. If you feel you're not a good interviewer, stay home. But if you feel comfortable meeting new people, then go for it. A lot of applicants have to meet new people daily as part of their jobs, so they get very good at interacting with strangers. Those people should always interview.

Should I Interview with an Admissions Officer or an Alumnus?

It's best to interview with someone on the admissions committee, but that isn't always possible. You shouldn't worry too much, though, if you end up having to interview with an alumnus or even a current student. That person will write up a report that will go into your file. Just try to get along with your interviewer.

A Few Pointers on the Interview:

  1. Whenever possible, interview with someone of the opposite sex. (Don't make me explain why.)
  2. Dress formally unless your interview is with an alumnus and the situation calls for casual clothes. I live in L.A., and a lot of my students have met their interviewers at beachfront cafes on Saturday mornings. Situations like that call for casual clothes.
  3. Relax! Don't come off as stiff and overly formal. You want your interviewer to like you, so treat him or her like a friend.
  4. Prepare your answers ahead of time. (See section below for common questions.)


Explore more full-time MBA programs from these sponsored schools:
DeVry University
UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School


Typical MBA Interview Questions

The questions asked by admissions people at different schools are often surprisingly similar. My students interview all over the country, but they all come back with the same basic list of questions. Virtually all of the interviewers cover the same topics. (Which makes sense, if you think about it.)

There is a little variation, but the basic interview process goes as follows.

Phase 1 - Your Upbringing and Undergraduate Experience.

Be sure to prepare a brief outline of your upbringing before going to your interview. (Don't bring it with you.) It's easy to get lost and ramble into a long pointless diatribe when talking about your upbringing, so make your replies short and to the point.

They will generally ask a number of questions about your undergraduate experience.

  • What was your major?
  • Did you like it?
  • Do you think your grades are an accurate reflection of your ability?
  • Did you work as an undergrad? (This is important because it may help to explain why your GPA isn't 4.0)

Phase 2 - Work Experience Since Leaving College

You need to know your whole work history before walking into the interview. Look up the approximate dates of promotions or job transfers. The questions go something like the following:

  • What was your first job out of undergrad?
  • Have you been promoted?
  • Have you ever supervised employees?
  • Have you switched firms? If so, why?

Phase 3 - Career Goals & MBA Plans

This is the part of your story that has to hold together. If they ask about career goals and you tell them something that is completely inconsistent with your experience, you're going to be in trouble.

  • Be sure to mention a career goal that actually requires (or benefits from) an MBA.
  • Be able to answer the question, "Why do you need an MBA?"
  • Be able to answer the question, "Why do you need an MBA from this school?"

Phase 4 - Your Turn to Ask Questions

Be sure to study the school before interviewing so you can ask informed questions about it. Knowing specific details about the program should convince the interviewer that you are serious about attending his school.


Explore more part-time MBA programs from these sponsored schools:
Walden University | University of Phoenix
DeVry University


A Final Note of Encouragement on The MBA Interviews

I know it's tough going through all the interviews. After two or three you begin to feel like a piece of meat. Just remember that everyone has to go through the same process. Below I'll post one of my favorite e-mail messages. I got it from one of my students just hours after he had a particularly bad interview at a top-10 school. Pardon the language, but I think it will help to put things into perspective.

John,
"F---ed up the interview. Felt like I was being lectured by my mother.

"I can't tell if she was assisting me on the application by giving me pointers or subtly rejecting me and preparing me for it. One thing was clear, my 2.5 GPA did nothing positive for me.

"Apparently, applications are up 25% on top of 30% last year, and she seems to have an attitude about it. Talked about how they want the 'worldly class' of some f---ing pyramid she kept demonstrating in the air.

"Felt like Tom Cruise in Risky Business when he blew it with the Princeton guy. Walked out thinking, 'Indiana's not so bad....'"

- Thomas

(He was rejected.)

Back to: MBA admissions