So with round 1 mba admissions cycle starting to get into full gear, a lot of applicants are very anxious. I recently had a chance to catch up with an old friend of mine who just graduated from a top 5 business school and was a student member of the adcom. After talking about a lot of random stuff, I asked him about mba admissions and for his thoughts on the process. Since he graduated, he was able to give more details than usual. I'm gonna paraphrase what he said in quotes regarding a few issues that I brought up.
1. Importance of the GMAT
"I actually think people underestimate how important the gmat is. At our school, applicants who scored 730+ were put in a separate pile from the rest, and those who scored 760+ got special attention. Of course in no way does a high score guarantee admissions, but what I found was that adcom members were much more willing to give applicants a benefit of the doubt when they had high stats. So for instance, if someone had a 3.8/770 but had mediocre extracurriculars or even less than amazing essays, they were given a lot of leeway. I was surprised by this since adcom always say in public that the process is holistic and that we look at multiple factors. But I think the top programs are trying to be more serious academically and get really bright people; gmat will become even more important in the near future, in my view."
2. Importance of the essays
"Essays are certainly important but overrated. It's actually really tough to write essays that are so good that they can switch you over from ding/waitlist to admit. Basically the essays would need to be not just superbly well-written but contain stories/experiences that are quite compelling and unique. Not too many applicants have those stories. So a lot of the essays we read sound all the same. And it's obvious that many of them use consultants to craft their stories. I know this goes against conventional wisdom, but i think a high gmat score can do a lot more for one's chances than essays."
3. Why do traders struggle with top MBA admissions?
"You have to realize that most adcom officers are women who got liberal arts degrees and don't know much about trading. They know the big names in finance and consulting obviously, but that's about it. A very successful trader from a prop shop for instance will have high hurdle. First they wonder if this person is so good at trading, why does he need an MBA? More importantly though, they feel that traders don't bring the type of skillsets from their work that can add much value to an MBA class discussion. They LOVE MBB consultants and PE folks precisely for this reason, along with of course strong connections with these firms. So a trader really has to go outside of the box and do something interesting outside of work to get in."
4. What do you think of admissions consultants?
"To be honest I think they're a joke. And I know quite a few adcom members who feel the same way. If you're a non-native english speaker and can't write essays, then yeah you might need some serious guidance. But by and large, I don't see what value they're adding. They will help brainstorm some topics you can discuss. After you write the essays, they will recommend ways to improve them, but none of that really has an impact on admissions. If your professional and personal experience have been boring, even the world's best consultant can't help you out on that front. If I were to spend money, I would much rather hire a good GMAT tutor than waste it on admissions consultants who bring very little value. The whole industry is a semi-scam."