I love the Olympics. It’s not so much about the medals or the amazing shows and pageantry, rather it’s about the personal stories….the stories of triumph, resilience, hard work, humility, faith, and teamwork. We hear the stories of our country’s athletes and we laugh, cheer, and even cry, with them.
As I sat watching the US women’s gymnastics team dominate this week (Simone, Aly, Gabby, Laurie and Madison rock!), I started thinking about how the Olympics are very much like the MBA application process (these are the kind of thoughts an admissions coach has – I’ve been doing this too long).
When you get to the level of the Olympics, everyone is great in their own respect. It’s all about performing on the biggest stage and seeing who can differentiate to make it to the top. The same concept applies if you want to be successful during the MBA application process.
Are you going for gold or do you just want to be known as an Olympic qualifier with a good GMAT? If you’re going for gold, read on. If not, might I suggest studying for your GMAT.
The GMAT: It won’t get you in, but it could keep you out
I’m one of those Olympic nerds that watch qualifications, in fact, I was a poorly timed Admit.me deadline away from flying to Omaha to see the U.S. swim Olympic trials (I have kids who swim, don’t judge me). These talented young athletes have been training for years to get one of the coveted Olympic slots and only have one chance to do it. I saw several athletes crumble under the pressure and not live up to their expected times; I saw others who far exceeded their expectations.
Olympic trials are like the GMAT. People work so hard to get through this test and many just never get the score they need to “qualify” for the business schools they want to go to. Subsequent to this test, people are forced to make significant decisions about their future.
Some MBA applicants may decide that they never want to apply to business school again and just move on with their lives. Others will keep trying until they make it. Either way, this is just a filter to the top and nothing more. The Olympic trials won’t win you the Olympics just like the GMAT won’t get you into business school, yet so many people focus most of their time on this. Don’t fall into that trap.
My advice for you:
The MBA application process is holistic, but you want to be in the median GMAT “ballpark” of the schools you are targeting. Sure, we have helped candidates get into top schools with significantly lower GMATs, but that is the exception, not the rule. Prepare early for the GMAT and do the best you can. If you can’t achieve the score you’re looking for, maybe you need to adjust your expectations about school fit.
As an admissions officer at Wharton, I turned down my fair share of 750+ scores because they had “empty” applications with not much to contribute. At top schools, the differentiator is going to be the application – the GMAT is just your ticket to the dance.\
The Application: You’re competing against the best – you need to stand out
Some of the athletes may have put so much into actually qualifying for the Olympics, they don’t have enough left to make it through qualifications. They are so content with being an Olympian and get so caught up in the spectacle of the Olympics that they forget that it’s a business trip. I saw athletes who won multiple metals in the last Olympics, but are barely competing in this Olympics.
This is the majority of the application process. At this point, the low hanging fruit is pre-screened with really low GMATs, incomplete applications, unqualified applicants and abysmal essays. This is where it gets fun. Smart – check. Good GPA – check. Strong GMAT? – check. Excellent recommenders – check!
You now need to qualify for the finals and it’s win-or-go-home. No one cares what your seed time (read: The GMAT above) is, or how popular you are in your own world, it’s time to perform and show that you have what it takes to compete against the best! You need to perform with a compelling MBA application and clear school fit to make it through to the finals.
My advice for you:
The biggest error I see here is that so many people have exhausted themselves on the GMAT process that they don’t spend enough time on the actual application. Make sure you allocate enough time to research (and visit) schools, clearly craft and articulate your story in the essays and prepare a strong application. Remember, the GMAT is just one (necessary) piece of the puzzle. No time to celebrate a strong GMAT – this is where the rubber meets the road.
The (final) interview: Shutting the door on the competition
You have the talent, you’ve worked hard and now it’s time to perform when the lights shine the brightest. At this point, you are the favorite and you are supposed to metal, but it doesn’t mean you will. You need to be in the right mindset to be able to stick the landing as you have done so many times before. Once you make it to the finals, you’re competing against the best and it’s about who wants it most. The final interview is the last chance the MBA admissions committee has to see what you’re made of and it’s your job to perform.
My advice for you:
It’s all about preparation. If you prepare adequately, you will likely perform. If you don’t, your outcome is likely going to be more variable. There is no point in leaving this part to chance. Use your mirror, Siri, your dogs, or leverage Admit Advantage’s mock interview to help you deliver at the culmination of your admissions process!
If you are reading this, you are in your own process of reaching for that acceptance to your dream school. Don’t let your gold slip away by being content with getting to the Olympics. A GMAT only ensures that you have a ticket to the dance. Don’t stop there. Whether you’re on your own or working with Admit Advantage’s admissions coaches to help you get there – make sure to not only show up, but strive to excel on the biggest stage of your life!