Getting into Your Dream MBA: How Much Do Grades Matter?
Updated: Apr 21, 2022
Now, this question is multifaceted, especially because there are so many MBA courses and their admissions processes vary. So, to start, let's take a look at the admissions requirements standardized across nearly all MBA programs:
Undergraduate Degree and Grade Scores: Nearly all MBA programs require students to have obtained an undergraduate degree. Along with your undergraduate degree credentials, admissions offers will require your GPA (Grade Point Average).
Entrance Exam Scores: A majority of the top-ranking MBA programs across the world require candidates to score appreciably in global entrance exams. Depending on the school, these exams include: the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) or Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT).
English Proficiency Test: If English is not your first language, then it is necessary to obtain a good score in an English Proficiency Test, as most global MBA programs are instructed in English. The most common English Proficiency Tests accepted are TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), IELTS (International English Language Testing System) and the PTE (Pearson Test of English Academic).
Work Experience: Unlike admissions into undergraduate programs, MBA programs like to see candidates with experience in the field of business. This is especially important for high-ranking universities and programs geared specifically towards individual studies. Work experience shows proficiency and dedication to the industry generally.
Letters of Recommendation: Again, unlike your admission into an undergraduate program, MBA admissions officers put a lot of weight on candidates’ letter of recommendations. These letters can come from employers and/or mentors.
Essays: Perhaps more important than any of the elements listed above, is the essay - also your chance to make a good first impression on your dream school. A strong essay is an is crucial, and also a chance for candidates to explain any discrepancies and possible weaknesses in their application (perhaps a relatively lower GPA).
Weighing Up the Variables
So, with all these application variables to consider, keep in mind that grades and entrance test scores are, in essence, screening tools to help schools sort through thousands of applicants. As such, it is not that getting the highest GMAT or GRE score or having straight-A’s during your undergraduate course will make or break your chances at getting into your dream MBA program. Rather, they are a way for schools to quickly sort through candidates. If you are concerned your grades / test scores are too low, take a look at the school’s admission webpage. They will likely list the range of test scores / GPAs that accepted applicants tend to fall within.
Now, remember that this also does not mean that a candidate with a score below a certain average has no chance at all – this is where all the other factors, most importantly the essay, come into play. The essay can be used to highlight a candidate’s strengths and inclinations as well as explain and compensate for some weaknesses (low grades or gaps in experience).
A great resource that can help in understanding the selection process is an article released by Fortune Magazine in 2016 called Behind the Scenes: How an MBA Admissions Committee Decides. The Assistant Dean of Graduate Admissions at Boston University, Meredith Seigel, states in the piece that the admissions committee’s goal is not to keep people out of the program but to select a class of students that will be excited by the program's opportunities. In fact, they do not follow a strict admissions formula at all. Read more here!
The committee focuses not just on academic traits, but candidates’ personalities and work experience as well, ensuring that accepted students are well-suited to the school’s collaborative, community-focused culture.
What it all boils down to is that while grades are an element of the selection process when it comes to applying to an MBA program, they are usually used as a screening tool and nothing more. An above-average GPA and entrance test score can be explained away if an applicant showcases his or her work experience and personality through well written essays.