I am happy to announce an acceptance at Stanford this year. Statistically this is the most difficult MBA to get into with an acceptance rate at around 6%, so naturally we are very pleased. The experience has provided some good take-aways that will be relevant for people trying to get into top schools.
1) GMAT is important. There are alternative tests popping up, and talk of the diminishing significance of GMAT on various blogs, BUT, for the top schools it is still one of the main criteria. However, once you get to 700, don’t take it again. The Stanford acceptance was on a 710. The candidate actually took the test again thinking he could increase his chances. The result was 700. In my experience, you do not strengthen your application by adding a few points if you already have a good score (680+).
2) You must differentiate. This application was a good academic and top consulting firm CV. One one hand very desirable, but on the other hard to make yourself stand out. Everyone on a consulting track will pursue a top MBA and these candidates end up competing with each other and driving the bar very high. You must find something about you that is remarkable and integrate it to your story.
3) Mitigate your weakness. There is no safe application at a top MBA, especially Harvard/ Stanford. In this case, we faced some tough weaknesses: very little international experience, and no professional leadership experience. Instead of ignoring these potential deal killers, we addressed them very carefully and admitted that these were future goals that the MBA would help to achieve.
4) Hedge your bets. One issue with applying to elite schools is that there is no transparency, no feedback, and a complex behind the scenes situation. Applying to only one of these schools is simply a huge risk. You could be rejected for a long list of reasons that you don’t even know about. And the reasons may not even be fair.
5) Don’t look back. Do the best application you can. Then move ahead on whatever else you are working on. Since the process is not transparent and in many cases not fair don’t waste your energy stressing about what you could have done different.