Who Makes the Admissions Decision?

Getting a yes from a top b-school is a mysterious process.  It helps to know a little bit about the folks behind the scenes who are actually making the decision.

Most b-school applicants spend so much time preparing for and executing their applications that they never stop to think about the people who will be reading them.  Sometimes we forget that at the end of the day, it's real humans behind the webpage where you upload your content and it's real humans who are doing the analysis.  This often gets lost in a sea of GMAT scores and statistics, where we try to calculate our odds of admission based on historical data.

An admissions committee is typically made up of many people outside of the full time admissions staff.

Particularly at top schools, your first line of defense is often a reader, or someone they pay on a seasonal basis to sift through hundreds of essays looking for the ones that will resonate with their school's culture.  In many cases, these readers do not have MBAs themselves, so using complicated business jargon is usually a bad idea when writing essays and resumes.  Application readers are smart, everyday folks who have day jobs elsewhere and are looking for good communicators with something to contribute to the class.   

If you don't grab the reader in the first three minutes, you've already lost the war.  

Remember, these folks are pouring through hundreds of applications, many of which are HUM-dreads of applications!  Don't fail before you even get a chance to make it to the big table!  Classic mistakes are typos, over-selling, repeating what's on your resume in the essays and failing to expose yourself in a personal, compelling way.  Readers are trained to pick up on these things quickly, so be creative...but not too creative.  It's harder to go overboard like you could before the days of paper and pen applications, where I've heard tell of applicants who laced their packages with glitter or perfume.  In the digital era, it's still possible to make critical mistakes, however, so you must be careful to walk the line between pumping your stock and popping the balloon.  

Once you pass the readers, you are usually placed in a pile for staff consideration.

An admissions committee is typically comprised of the full time admissions staff as well as key students who have been invited to participate.  Students have the boots-on-the-ground perspective of what a good classmate looks like on paper, so fluffing up your experience rarely passes the sniff test of a current MBA candidate.  

If you make it past the table discussion, you are typically entered into the pile for interviews.  This is exactly where you want to be, that is, in a position to argue your case in person.  But it all starts with the adcom.