going back to school for an MBA

Guest Post by Caroline Diarte Edwards, Fortuna Admissions

Presenting yourself as a strong contender for a top business school means proving can you handle the quant-heavy coursework. You’ll need to be astute with critical reasoning, language and, of course, math. Your academic track record, as demonstrated by your undergraduate GPA and GMAT score, are critical elements of your MBA application.

It’s easy to see why these vexing data points have taken on obsessive importance for so many applicants. As noted by my Fortuna colleague Joanna Graham in her recent blog on GMAT prep, they’re comparable numbers that schools use both to measure you against other candidates and predict your academic success for the MBA. But they also need to be put into context, as they’re one piece of a broader application.

Were you a humanities major with precious little quant exposure? Or does your undergrad GPA fall below your target school’s standards? You can offset perceived academic shortcomings by taking a quant-based course such as finance, statistics or accounting. There are many options for where to take these classes (such as Berkeley online extension courses, or even your local community college), but you’ll need a B+ or higher to be taken seriously by the admissions committee. Think of this an opportunity to enhance your skills while demonstrating your ability to handle the academic rigor.

Most schools publish the GPAs achieved by the mid 80% range of their incoming class, which gives you an idea of where they’re setting the bar. The average GMAT for top MBA programs including Wharton, Kellogg and Columbia is 3.6, with an average GMAT score of 732. Two of the most competitive and prestigious b-schools, Stanford GSB and Harvard, have an average GPA of 3.72 and 3.71, respectively.

A credible way to compensate for a less than stellar GPA is to showcase a strong GMAT score, particularly in the quant portion of the exam. Some top schools are weighting this section with greater emphasis, as well as welcoming the GRE exam instead.

That said, competition for a competitive score on the GMAT continues to increase. Not only are candidates investing more time and effort to prepare, but there’s an abundant array of practice material and test information online. As you might expect, business schools have reported a significant rise in GMAT averages over the last 15 years. As my Fortuna Admissions colleague, Matt Symonds, puts it: “Higher GMAT scores are perceived to create a virtuous circle of school selectivity and positive impact in some business school rankings.”

What does it all mean for your application strategy? While your undergrad studies are cemented in your transcripts, you can still influence your performance on entrance exams with committed study or boost your standing with extracurricular quant courses. For one thing, you should plan to take the GMAT more than once (and if you are among the fortunate few to ace it the first time, it will be a pleasant surprise). If you think you can do better, or you’re not confident that your GMAT is good enough, I recommend taking the exam again.

Ultimately, you won’t be rejected or accepted because you hit some magic numbers for your program’s stats. In our days as directors of admissions at INSEAD, Wharton and other top schools, my Fortuna colleagues and I saw plenty of candidates with eyepopping stats (4.0 GPAs or 800 GMAT scores) receive dings for having little else to offer. Your commitment to extracurriculars, a coherent and compelling career statement, glowing letters of recommendation, and ability to weave a powerful narrative in your essays and across your application – each of these are vital for positioning a successful application to the business school of your dreams.

Fortuna Admissions is College Coach’s partner in MBA admissions advising. Fortuna’s expert team formerly worked at Wharton, Harvard Business School, Stanford GSB, and more. They offer personalized assistance whether your student is ready to apply to business schools today or is planning for the future. Learn more about Fortuna Admissions.

Written by Caroline Diarte Edwards
Caroline Diarte Edwards is a director at MBA admissions coaching firm Fortuna Admissions and former INSEAD Director of MBA Admissions. Fortuna Admissions is composed of former admissions directors and business school insiders from 12 of the top 15 business schools.