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Admissions Tip: Addressing Academic Weaknesses

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To follow up on last month’s advice about GMAT preparation and timing, we wanted to offer some general comments about the role of academics in the admissions process.  Many candidates considering business school focus on the credentials they will hold and the network that they will join upon graduation, but it is important to keep in mind the academic experience at the heart of any MBA program.  Because a business school is, after all, a school, it makes sense to begin your consideration of your profile by thinking about your academic aptitude and track record to date.  Your performance in your educational endeavors up to this point will be treated as a predictor of your success in business school.

While this is all well and good for applicants whose undergraduate GPAs and GMAT scores are close to the average of students at their target schools—about 3.5 and 710 for the top programs—things become a bit trickier for candidates who fall below the pack in either or both of these categories.  Retaking the GMAT is always an option, but this can become counterproductive after the first two or three attempts, and there is obviously nothing to be done to alter one’s college marks.  If the other aspects of your candidacy are strong and you’re only lacking in one of these two academic areas, an effective strategy is often to use an optional essay to acknowledge that one of these numbers is below the school’s average and assure the adcom that the other is the more accurate indication of your academic ability.

Meanwhile, applicants who fall short in both of these measures—as well as anyone who simply wants to strengthen his or her academic profile or falls well below the average in GMAT or GPA—should consider putting together an alternative transcript that demonstrates a track record of As in quantitative coursework, e.g., in basic classes in accounting, statistics, calculus or economics.  These classes can be taken at any community college or even through an accredited online program.  This is a particularly sound strategy for candidates who focused on the social sciences or humanities in college and do not have a record of demonstrated success in quant-heavy disciplines.  Applicants can then point to this as a more recent—and therefore more accurate—reflection of their present abilities in a classroom setting.  While one or two classes can suffice, keep in mind that the more classes one takes, the more convincing this argument becomes (assuming strong performance in these supplemental classes, of course).