Harvard Business School (HBS), which publicly discloses the range of GMAT scores by enrolled students every year, got folks in the MBA admissions world talking when it revealed that a student with a score of 570 will be part of next year’s class. How could someone who scored 160 points below the class median on a test considered by many to forecast business school success possibly still get in? To HBS, of all places, where only 13 percent of the close to 9,000 eager applicants this year secured a spot?
PoetsandQuants (P&Q) posed the question to the HBS admissions staff, which declined to shed any light on the successful candidate. So P&Q then turned to MBA admissions consultants, Clear Admit’s Graham Richmond among them, to guess about just what might be going on in the offices of HBS MBA Dean of Admissions Dee Leopold.
For one thing, it seems like some schools must really mean it when they state that GMAT scores are but one of many factors they take into consideration when carefully considering each candidate to build the strongest possible overall MBA class. Clear Admit’s Richmond noted that it’s hard for him to speculate without seeing the candidate’s file for that very reason.
“MBA admissions at the very best schools is truly a multi-variable equation, comprised of so many different factors that it can be hard to pull out a single data point and build the rest of the profile around it,” he told P&Q. His fascination with the fact that there are so many different moving parts and that each candidate is given a fair chance is part of what compelled him to take a job in admission at Wharton and ultimately to co-found Clear Admit, he added.
But if speculate he must, Richmond suggested that in order to be accepted in spite of the unusually low (by HBS standards) GMAT score, the candidate would almost definitely have to have excelled consistently in every other part of the application – undergraduate profile, work experience, outside activities, letters of recommendation, leadership skills, personal background. And even that would not have been enough, he continued. “As such, I would venture that the candidate also had something fairly incredible in their background – likely leadership oriented – that truly made an impact,” he told P&Q.
Knowing Leopold and the admissions team she leads at HBS – which would only be looking to admit a candidate who could fit right into the rigorous, case method-driven HBS classroom – Richmond further points out that they probably looked extremely closely at the academic portion of the candidate’s file, considering not only the GPA but also the caliber of the undergraduate institution, the rigor of specific courses completed and other evidence of academic aptitude to offset the GMAT score (such as outside coursework, comments in letters or recommendation letters, etc.). “They might also consider any extenuating circumstances around the GMAT result itself – e.g. if the candidate lives in a remote market and was only able to fly to a test site to sit the exam once amidst a busy work schedule,” Richmond pointed out to P&Q.
In addition to all of this, Richmond still puts his money on the candidate having had some sort of unprecedented leadership experience. “For example, I recently learned that the head of the NFL players union was admitted to HBS – and although I have no idea how that candidate’s academic profile measured up, it’s clear that having that sort of incredible leadership background made him highly competitive for a spot in the HBS class,” he told P&Q.
Of course, all of these things together wouldn’t be enough to overcome the GMAT score unless they were presented as part of a compelling overall application complete with cogent, thought-provoking essays, powerful letters of recommendations from people who really know the candidate, and an out-of-the-park interview. “Finally, I’d add that it wouldn’t hurt if the candidate also happened to come from an under-represented portion of the applicant pool – be it socioeconomically, ethnically, industry-wise or geographically,” Richmond concluded.