From time to time, we at mbaMission visit admissions officers at top schools, which gives us the opportunity to ask rather frank questions. On a visit to a top-five program, we pushed an admissions officer on the extent of alumni influence in the admissions process and ultimately received a surprising response: “We get ten letters each year from [globally famous alumnus whose name mbaMission is withholding], telling us that this or that MBA candidate is the greatest thing since sliced bread. He gets upset when we don’t admit ‘his’ applicants, but what makes him think that he deserves ten spots in our class?”
Many MBA applicants fret about their lack of alumni connection with their target schools, and the myth abounds that admission to business school is about who you know, not who you are or what you can offer. Of course, these latter qualities are more important, and a standout applicant who knows no graduates at all from the school he/she is targeting is still a standout applicant and should get in—just as a weak applicant who knows a large number of alumni or a particularly well-known graduate is still a weak applicant and should not get in. Clearly, some extreme exceptions exist where influence can be exerted, but the “standard” applicant need not worry that every seat at the top MBA programs has been claimed by someone with good connections, before he/she even applies.
Remember, the admissions committees want to ensure that a diversity of ideas and experiences is represented in the classroom. Every top MBA class includes people from different socioeconomic backgrounds, nationalities, religions, professional backgrounds, ages, etc. Harvard has 900 students in each incoming class, and the vast majority of these students do not personally know a CEO or the president of a country. And who knows? These days, such connections could even be a liability.