Candidates who have an obvious weakness—such as a low GPA or GMAT score or a prolonged gap in work experience—often worry that they are destined to attend a virtually anonymous business school. Whenever such applicants ask admissions officers how their weakness might affect their candidacy, they hear the straightforward and common refrain “We look at applications holistically.”
Although this may sound like a cliché, it is certainly the truth; at mbaMission, we have seen dozens of candidates with sub-600 GMAT scores and GPAs under 3.0 find their respective ways into top-ten programs. The key to overcoming an academic weakness—or indeed any weakness in your candidacy—is to address it in the optional essay, not with excuses, but by taking responsibility:
“In my first year of college, I had the flu the day before my midterms and did quite badly on my first batch. You will notice that my grades dip in my first term. Then, in the second term, I was quite engaged in extracurricular activities with my fraternity and again, my grades suffered. However, if you look at my grades in my major, from my second year forward, I would have a GPA of…”
Some who read this sample paragraph may laugh at the absurdity of the excuses; others may not even notice. While solid explanations for a dip in a candidate’s grades certainly exist, a temporary flu and overinvolvement in extracurriculars are not among them.
“As a freshman at XYZ University, I was unable to appreciate the rather awesome educational opportunities before me, and my grades were, quite simply, lower than they should have been. However, by my second year, when I discovered my passion for English literature and chose this subject as my major, I pursued my studies with vigor and completely turned my academic performance around, earning a consistent stream of As in…”
In this second example, the excuses are cast aside and replaced with a contrite discussion of the candidate’s experience. As a result, the candidate establishes credibility, explains the change and infers that he/she will continue to perform as an MBA student.
Admissions committees, like corporate America, don’t like excuses. Don’t make them.