MBA Admissions Committee Evaluation Area #1: Academic or Intellectual Ability

In the first post in this series, we gave you an overview of the seven areas of your application an MBA admissions committee is likely to focus on. This post will go into more detail about one of these areas: academic/intellectual ability.

As mentioned in that introductory post, this is a fairly straightforward area of your application for a committee to evaluate. It really comes down to two factors: undergraduate performance and GMAT scores.

When it comes to undergraduate performance, committees look at a range of factors, not just your overall GPA. They will evaluate the academic institution you attended, your major, and may examine your transcripts if they want to see how you performed in more quantitative subjects. Generally, a GPA above 3.0 does not raise as many questions; your goal should be to land within 0.2 of your target school’s published GPA average for admitted students. However, schools do realize that not all GPAs are created equal: majoring in a traditionally challenging, more quantitative subject area (e.g. engineering) will give you a leg up in the eyes of the committee. The GPA is a good indicator of how you will perform over the course of a full academic program, since maintaining a high one takes many years of determined focus.

Your GMAT, on the other hand, is a one-time exam, providing a snapshot of your ability to take a standardized test explicitly designed to evaluate the skills needed in a business school program. It is currently the only tool for business schools to evaluate and calibrate your business ability vs. that of other candidates applying to that program. While the GMAT is certainly not perfect, it has been proven to give schools a good indication of how you will perform in your first year at business school, so it should be taken seriously. Ultimately, a combined score above 680 is generally within range of most top programs. Your goal should also be to score in the 80th percentile in both the verbal and quantitative sections of the test. If you fall below the 80th percentile, especially in the quantitative section, committees may question your ability to handle the rigor of their curriculum, and will examine your college transcripts more critically. Luckily, the GMAT is a test you can take multiple times, and admissions committees will only consider your top score, so it serves you well to try as many times as you need to get into the range you need for your target schools. 

The final point I will reinforce, especially if you find yourself a little low in this part of your profile, is that academic/intellectual ability is just one area of your application that admissions committees will evaluate. If you show strength in the six other areas that admissions committees evaluate, you can still position yourself for acceptance into your top choice school!