Business school candidates who have an obvious weakness in their profile—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 unknown business school. Whenever such applicants ask MBA admissions officers how their weakness might affect their candidacy, they hear this straightforward and common refrain: “We look at applications holistically.”
Although this may sound like a cliché, it is actually 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 freshman year, I had the flu the day before my midterms and did quite badly on my first batch. As a result, my grades noticably dip in my first term. Then, in my second term, I was quite engaged in extracurricular activities with my fraternity, and again, my grades suffered. However, looking at just 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, while others may not even notice. Although valid explanations for a candidate’s low grades certainly exist, a temporary bout of the flu and involvement in extracurricular activities 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 A grades in…”
In this second example, any excuses are cast aside and replaced with a candid discussion of the candidate’s experience. As a result, the candidate establishes credibility, explains the change and infers that he/she will likewise perform well as an MBA student.
Admissions committees, like corporate America, do not like excuses. Avoid making them.