A winning MBA application has multiple components, but one which consistently causes stress for applicants year after year is the transcript. Your undergraduate academic performance is one of the only things you can’t really improve upon once you graduate college. Here are a few tips to help assuage your discomfort.
Of course the best advice we can give you for your academic performance is to do well while you are still in college. If you are reading this and fall in that category, know that making good grades in tough classes is a terrific way to convince the admissions committees at top business schools that you can handle the rigors of the MBA. Some schools actually value your undergraduate GPA even more than they value your GMAT or GRE score, since it’s more indicative of performance over time, vs. a one-shot examination. Having a good GPA communicates so much more than raw intelligence; it also tells someone you have good time management skills and educational stamina, both important skills in an MBA program.
Where grades begin to get gray is when you start looking at where you went to get your undergrad degree.
It would be too simplistic to say that the better the school you attended, the more “valid” your grades are, but the quality of your undergrad institution certainly makes an impression. Particularly with ivy league schools and other elite MBA programs, academic pedigree counts for a lot. Still, grades at many top colleges have become inflated over the years, so you will probably get more mileage out of your elite institution’s reputation that you might get from your grades there. The only way you can really blow your edge graduating from a top college is you had bad grades there. In other words, the expectation of MBA program admissions committees is that if you went to a top school, your grades will be good because pretty much everyone who goes there gets good grades. To have underperformed at a highly selective college is indicative of being an underachiever--and underachievers do not generally get into top b-schools.
What if you didn’t go to an impressive undergrad school?
If your college experience included a school falling outside the top 50 nationally, MBA programs will be looking for really good grades. It’s important in this situation to appear above average on your transcript, since far more “average” students make it into and finish at second and third-tier colleges. To stand out from the crowd in an applicant pool of students with impressive academic credentials, you must convince the adcom you have the chops to be competitive and not become overwhelmed with the course load.
If you fall in the unfortunate category of low-ranked undergrad school and poor grades, we can’t candy coat it---you will face challenges in the b-school application process. It helps to have your undergrad experience deeper in your past if this is the case, so often applicants who find success in this situation are older, when schools look more at your work experience than your academic performance. Still, this narrows your school choices, since many top schools have a bias against older applicants. A last ditch effort can be to build an alternative transcript, which we cover in the next blog.