700+ is NO Guarantee – Lessons for GMAT Obsessed Applicants

GMAT 700 Not EnoughThe CNNMoney Post about how AdCom (Rotman School of Mangement) makes decisions gives us insight on the factors that the admission team value before making a ding or accepted decision.

Here is what we have learned from the post

1) GMAT Score is No Guarantee

According to the post: “A 28-year-old software engineer from India with a 710 GMAT will be thrown into the reject pile”


The Applicant was not able to convince the AdCom that he is not the typical software engineer with 700+ score that the admission team has seen hundreds of time.

Why he was not able to convince the AdCom team?

Most essays that we have seen from Indian applicants goes on and on about the technical aspect of the responsibilities without showing the AdCom that he understands the bigger picture of the project and what the customers’ expectations were in terms of deliverables.

Let us take an e-commerce site as a project

Customer - > “I want users to search the website for the latest deals”

Tech Architect -> “Integrate the Pricing and Deals module, so that users can search based on the latest deal”

Software Engineer -> “Create a module that sorts the products based on the latest deal”

Now if the essay is all about the implementation of the module and not on how the Engineer worked to achieve the customer’s objective, then it will bring nothing new the table. AdCom desks are filled with techie essays rambling about how they implemented an innovative function to solve customer’s problem.

Think about other aspects of your personality that the AdCom value – Communication, leadership/initiative and Maturity.

• Were you able to come up with solutions that were beyond your responsibilities?
• Were you able to understand the intent behind the Customer’s request?
• Did you interact with Tech Architect about an alternative solution that would help you achieve the project goals in a shorter timeframe?
• How did you convince the Tech Architect about your solution?

Now that would be an interesting read.

2) Only 15-30 Minutes

“Each admissions officer will spend between 15 to 30 minutes reviewing an application before deciding whether to invite a candidate to interview in person or via Skype”

That is right: 15 minutes before AdCom decides whether to consider you or not.

So don’t go for a lengthy introduction about who you are and what you want. Your experiences explained in the essay will give insights on your motivation and your fit for the school.

3) Balanced Score

When you are not in the 700+ range, you still have a chance to get into a top Business School if the Verbal and Quant Scores are balanced

Da Silva. "What else can I tell you about her in terms of data? The weak point of her application is a GMAT score of 630. Interestingly, her breakdown is fairly even between Verbal and quant, 73rd and 61st percentile”

Now the definition of balanced score would differ based on the school. But a 5 to 10 point difference is an accepted norm.

4) Don’t Ignore Recommendation Letter

The biggest turnaround for the applicant who scored 630 in GMAT was the recommendation letters. So if you have been spending 70% of your time on GMAT, 20% on Essays and mere 10% on Recommendation letter, this statement will force you to think about the whole strategy:

“As I read through her reference letters early this morning, her referees say that 'she is exceptional.' A partner lists her in the top 2% of consultants at the firm. And he is very explicit in saying that 'we would love to have her back anytime and she has had more of an impact on me than any of her peers.' You really couldn't see a stronger reference."

Although the GMAT Score was below average by 40 points (The Average GMAT Score in Rotman MBA is 673. Read this Interview with Marie-Eve - Assistant Director for Recruitment and Admissions), the recommendation letters convinced the AdCom that her career progression has no correlation with the GMAT Score.

Related: Recommendation Letter for MBA Application

5) Career Building – Break the Typecast

Now you can’t force your recommenders to mention qualities like ‘exceptional’ and “top 2%”. That is why you have to build your career before considering an MBA from a top Business School. The Career you build has to break the typecast. If you are a Software Engineer, the typical paths are

Software Engineer -> Sr. Software Engineer -> MBA -> Consulting (Functional Switching)
Software Engineer -> Sr. Software Engineer -> MBA -> Finance (Domain Switching)

If you are going down the same path, with very little achievements to show, then you are yet another Software Engineer who scored 700+ in GMAT

Here is what Da Silva has to say about the applicant’s career path

“So the reason she wants to do the MBA is because at her consulting firm she has actually built this really interesting career as an industry specialist, which is very atypical for a young consultant”

What is atypical of your career path? If you can’t articulate it, then you chance of getting into a top Business School would be pretty low.

“She was promoted after two years onto the consulting side”

Can you show your achievements in a tangible manner?

“She is co-authoring white papers and thought leadership on strategy”

What contribution did you make in your domain of expertise?
6) Self-Awareness

The reason why Business Schools are persisting with the weakness essay is that it gives insights on your self-awareness. If you still are writing about being a workaholic as your weakness, it is time to re-think about the whole weakness essay.

Rotman AdCom:

“She is aware of some of her areas of weakness”

The AdCom appreciates applicants who can articulate their weakness. If you understand your weakness, it becomes easier to work on it.

7) Age is a Factor

This post from Stacy Blackman explains why Business Schools are not interested in 30+ MBA Applicants. The bottom line is that recruiters cannot mould you when you have crossed 30 and top Business Schools expect applicants to have achieved substantially when you have reached 30.

Business Schools also believe strongly in this mantra

“People who are going to succeed in the future have a track record of succeeding in the past”

It is not a rule but more than likely it would be true.

Rotman AdCom:

“She's young. She turns 25 this year. She has some room for growth and development but seems quite coachable”

Age comes into play when an applicant is considered coachable or not.

Recommended Downloads

1) Sample MBA Application Recommendation Letters
2) MBA Application Resume Guide

Recommended Reads

1) Inside MBA admissions: How a top school decides
2) Interview with Marie-Eve - Assistant Director for Recruitment and Admissions (Rotman Full-time MBA)
3) Too old for an MBA?
4) Weakness MBA Essay

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