Make the Most of Your Time: Evaluating Your Academics

Jan 13, 2012
Tags: Applications, Business School, Choosing the Right School, MBA, School Selection

Planning for an MBA often begins early in one’s career.  Because business schools typically prefer that Master’s applicants have several years of full-time work experience before they enroll, even those who know after their first undergraduate economics class they want an MBA may want to work for several years before applying immediately out of college.  For the early career professional intent on an MBA, the question becomes: how to make the most of the intervening years?  Over the next few weeks, we’ll be offering a series of tips about steps you can take now to enhance your business school candidacy, even if your applications are years down the road.

While most of our advice will focus on looking forward, this first installment involves looking back.  If you’ve already graduated from an undergraduate program, it may seem like there’s little you can do to improve this element of your candidacy, but this is actually far from the case.  By examining your academic history and considering your educational profile as it compares to students at the schools you might want to attend, you can identify and address potential weaknesses before they become problems for your application.

As a first step, if you have any specific schools in mind, check their class profiles to determine how your grades compare to the average GPA of that program’s enrolled students.  If your undergraduate average is equal to or higher than the number posted by a given school, you can rest assured that you’re on the right track with your school selection.  Meanwhile, if your GPA falls below a program’s average, this does not by any means condemn your application, though it does let you know that your other academic markers may need to be higher than average to compensate for this potential shortcoming.  You can accomplish this with a higher-than-average GMAT score, or with an alternative transcript of additional coursework at the college level. You can put forth this transcript as a better indication of your current academic abilities.

Next, look at the composition of coursework on your undergraduate transcript from an admissions officer’s point of view.  While admissions committees value diversity of backgrounds and interests, they also need to ensure that the students they admit will be equipped to handle the heavily quantitative assignments they will encounter during an MBA program.  They’ll therefore be looking for evidence of this in each candidate’s academic background.  If a review of your transcript doesn’t suggest much experience with the numerical—as is often the case for students who majored in the humanities and in certain social sciences—or if your grades in quantitative courses equate to Cs or lower, then you might want to add some additional for-credit coursework to your application.  Even a few college-level courses in areas like accounting, calculus, economics, or statistics can help to boost the admissions committee’s confidence in your preparation—provided that you earn high grades. The other side of this evaluation is to consider how you will make yourself stand out from the many other qualified applicants with similar backgrounds in the applicant pool.  We’ll have more on this in a later installment of this series.

Finally, it’s generally beneficial to prepare for and take the GMAT® exam early.  College students and recent graduates typically have an easier time with the study process and with the test itself than do individuals who have been working for years and gotten out of the academic mentality.  Further, taking the GMAT exam well before you’re planning on applying to school affords the luxury of extended study time and the ability to wait to take the test until you feel truly prepared, as opposed to scheduling a test date based on a looming application deadline.  Again, consulting the average scores of students at the schools you’re considering will provide a good benchmark to meet or exceed during test prep.  While it’s obviously ideal to hit one’s target score on the first time out, taking the test well in advance of your application also allows you to continue studying and to retake the test if you fall short on your initial outing.

For applicants who need to take the TOEFL or PTE test, the same advice applies.  While MBA programs generally do not set minimum GMAT scores that applicants must meet in order to be considered, it’s fairly common for schools to set cutoffs for the Test of English as a Foreign Language or the Pearson Test of English.  Giving yourself adequate time to prepare for the exam, and to retake it if necessary, could make a difference in your ability to attend a certain program.