MBA Admissions Myths Destroyed: Alumni Get You In!

From time to time, we at mbaMission visit admissions officers at the leading business schools, which gives us the opportunity to ask rather frank questions. On one such visit, 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 program 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 or successful graduate is still a weak applicant and should not be admitted. 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 already been claimed by someone with good connections.

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 with different socioeconomic backgrounds, nationalities, religions, professional backgrounds, and ages.  Harvard Business School has more than 900 students in each incoming class, and the vast majority of these students do not have a personal connection with a CEO or the president of a country. And who knows? These days, such connections could even be a liability.

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