From time to time, we at mbaMission visit admissions officers at the top-ranked business schools, which gives us the opportunity to ask rather frank questions. On one such visit, we urged an admissions officer to give us the truth about the extent of alumni influence in the admissions process, and the response we got was rather surprising: “We get ten letters each year from [a globally famous alumnus], 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 to decide ten spots in our class?”
Many applicants fret about their lack of personal alumni connection with their target schools, and the myth persists that admission to business school is about who you know rather than who you are or what you can offer. Of course, these latter qualities are much more important, and a standout applicant who knows no graduates at all from the MBA 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 graduate is still a weak applicant and should not get in. Clearly, some extreme exceptions exist where influence can be exerted, but “standard” applicants do not need to worry that every seat at the top programs has already been claimed by someone with good connections.
Keep in mind that 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 various socioeconomic backgrounds, nationalities, religions, professional backgrounds, ages, and so on. Harvard Business School, for example, has approximately 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.