The million-dollar question that is at the top of the minds of all management aspirants is, ‘What do b-schools look for in an MBA aspirant?’ This question is natural given the fierce competition and the heavy odds of securing a seat at the top b-schools. The applicants-to-seat ratio at some of the top b-schools is a whopping 500:1! Given this huge demand for an MBA admission, b-schools have an assorted set of riches to choose from (read aspirants). Over a period of time, the top b-schools have built their own evaluation criteria and methodology to get the best possible batch profile. However, the same is not true for the lower rung b-schools which have a much smaller pool to choose from and therefore cannot be so discerning when it comes to selection.
Almost all b-schools in India use a two-stage selection process – the first stage comprises the Aptitude Test (AT) while the second stage comprises a combination of Group Discussion (GD), Group Exercise (GE), Written Ability Test (WAT), Psychometric Test, and Personal Interview (PI). Almost all b-schools use the Aptitude Test (like the CAT, XAT, SNAP, and NMAT) as a primary filter to eliminate candidates and arrive at a smaller ‘eligible’ pool which is considered for the next stages of the admission process. So, one can say that the AT helps b-schools separate the grain from the chaff and is, therefore, for aspirants, the most important hurdle to cross. The shortlisted candidates are then further evaluated intensively through a combination of GD, WAT, PI, etc.
What do the b-schools really look for?
B-schools look at getting the best candidates from the available pool and they accomplish this by using a wide variety of selection tools as specified above. They specifically look for candidates with academic ability, passion and
purpose, clarity of thought, communication skills, relevant work experience, and ‘fit for the programme’.
The past academic record of the aspirant in Classes X and XII and Graduation scores is a good pointer to the ultimate success in the rigorous b-school curriculum. Aspirants with a strong academic record score well on this parameter and have an advantage.
Passion & Purpose
Many institutes first look at the integrity and mental soundness of the applicant and then specifically look for a commitment to learning and a passion to achieve. The candidates are also evaluated on the basis of their vision in life. Purpose, or a sense of purpose, has to do with what you want to achieve in the world in a larger sense.
Aspirants accepted by the top b-schools, like the IIMs, XLRI, and SPJIMR, generally have a strong sense of purpose. They are driven to shake up an industry, or help people in need, or work towards a cause that they care deeply about. Typically, they would have already taken small, or even big, steps toward fulfilling their sense of purpose.It is seen that candidates with Passion and Purpose do well not only in the programme but also in their professional career thereby enhancing the standing of the institute.
Clarity of Thought
An MBA can supply knowledge, skills, relationships, and many new opportunities but it cannot provide clarity of thought. It is seen that aspirants with clarity of thought are those who possess the potential to do great things right from the day that their MBA classes begin. B-schools always look out for aspirants who possess this invaluable quality as they associate this with success in the programme.
B-schools consider communication skills to be the key attribute to pursue management education successfully. Group Discussion and Written Ability Test are the tools which b-schools prefer to assess and evaluate students’ verbal communication, analytical thinking pattern, and creative writing skills. Aspirants must be able to present themselves in the best way with appropriate communication skills and confidence.
The Admissions Committee perceives work experience in positive light. They assess the key skills and knowledge that the candidate has picked up during the course of employment. They also look for progress made by the candidate in the organisation, responsibilities handled and what, if any, impact that was made by the aspirant during the course of employment.
The Leadership quality and ability to align with the team to produce a collective result is another key parameter evaluated by the Admissions Committee. Many b-schools put special emphasis on group discussions only to see how candidates behave, communicate, and exhibit team spirit while aligning the group towards a particular direction. Those b-schools that do not use Group Discussion often evaluate the leadership potential in the Personal Interview.
Fit for the Programme
Perhaps the most important aspect that is evaluated by the Admissions Committee is the fit an applicant has with the programme. In situations where the admissions committee has to decide between multiple applicants with very similar scores and backgrounds, fit can be the tie-breaker. The Admissions Committee is interested in gathering evidence to determine if the applicant will succeed in the school’s competitive environment and can be an ambassador that represents the programme’s core values. Questions going through the interviewer’s head might include, “would I want this applicant as a class student”, “will this person contribute to the unique culture of my school”, etc.
Reasons for Non-Selection
The reasons for non-selection (or to put it bluntly, rejection) of a candidate can be varied. However, it is seen that most candidates fail on account of the following:
Inability to clear Stage 1: Most aspirants are unable to successfully negotiate this hurdle and are eliminated on this basis.
Failure to present oneself well: Many candidates fall short in the Essay they write and are unable to present themselves in a strong positive manner. The Admissions Committee find that many aspirants lack clarity on basic aspects like why they would like to do an MBA, their goals in life and how an MBA would help them achieve it; the candidates cut a sorry figure when they do not display an ability to bring clarity and reflect purpose.
Inability to differentiate oneself from other aspirants: Aspirants who have managed to clear Stage 1 and have also performed decently well in Stage 2 also find themselves being rejected. The reason is not too difficult to find – they have been unable to stand out from the others and convince the Admission Committee that their candidature is better than their peers.
Stay focused! Best Wishes!