This year, Harvard Business School admitted a student with a 510 GMAT score, a low GMAT score compared to the class median of 730. Last year, another applicant earned a place at HBS with a low GMAT score of 570. That particular MBA applicant was an NFL football player who headed up the player’s association during strike negotiations and successfully won new agreements with the professional football league. Clearly, HBS felt that his achievements warranted admission despite a relatively low GMAT score.
These two cases highlight an increasingly holistic approach to MBA admissions- an evolution that is certainly not unique to HBS. A stellar GMAT score is no longer enough for MBA applicants to earn those coveted spots in top MBA programs. Though it is certainly advisable to get your GMAT scores as high as possible, you must develop a personal brand that goes far beyond mere numbers.
Whether you are happy with your GMAT score or not, it should not be the basis for your MBA admissions strategy. You need to build a much deeper foundation, grounded in what matters most to you as a person and a professional. Instead of letting the MBA admissions board focus on your GMAT score (especially if it is not stellar) build an application that directs their attention to one or more of the following:
- Extraordinary achievements. Your GMAT score might not be extraordinary, but, if you are considering top MBA programs, you likely have a pretty impressive resume of accomplishments. Which are the most unique? Which fit best with your professional ambitions?
- Personal background. Some MBA applicants have very compelling backstories that have shaped them in unique and interesting ways. Perhaps you grew up helping with a family business. Maybe you have lived in several different countries, or feel drawn to help a particular region.
- Character traits. What character traits define who you are? What values do you live your life by?
Most MBA admissions board members are eager to see you as more than a number, but you need to help them. You need to give them a consistent message to focus on- a personal brand to remember when they think of you name. If you do that, you will greatly improve your chances- 510 GMAT or not. This is especially true as more and more top MBA programs look to build their brands beyond the numbers. Programs including HBS, Stanford, Kellogg, Wharton and other elites have realized that, in order to stay abreast of their competition, they must develop a unique and compelling brand for their MBA program. (Check out my post on Kellogg’s rebranding). With so many great programs and applicants, clearly defining your character and personality is critical, perfect GMAT score or not.