6 Traits B-Schools Look For In Applicants

June 13th, 2019

| Last Updated on February 8, 2021

This is probably the first question that strikes every aspiring MBA applicant across the globe, ‘What does it take to get into B-School?.

2021 is probably going to be a bit of a challenge for MBA applicants. With the changing course of globalisation, emerging trends in technology & modernisation, pursuing an MBA degree should have a purpose & goal behind it.

Before we get to the qualities that B- Schools look for in applicants, we suggest you take a look at this table for a minute.

Comparative Study of Acceptance Rate between Harvard, Stanford, Wharton & Columbia  

Application Acceptance Rate at B-Schools

A glance at your dream B-schools and you’ll figure out how many applicants get it to the program. The acceptance rate of these top business schools is less than 9 %. A top B-School like Stanford takes only about 419 applicants out of the 7,000 odd applicants a year with the average GMAT score ranging between 600-790. Harvard, on the other hand, takes in close to 1000 applicants out of the 10,000 odd shortlisted applicants a year. Even with a 760 on GMAT, your chance of acceptance is just 14%. Same is the case with a school like Wharton, where out of 23,000 applicants only about 1 in 10 applicants are accepted.

The specific point we are trying to stress on is that the competition is getting tougher by the year. With B-schools getting stringent in their admissions every passing year, there is more than what meets the eye. You need to go beyond your scorecard.

Taking the GMAT test is certainly the foremost step to begin your MBA application journey but it’s not always about cracking the GMAT test. Remember, your marks are just a gateway to the application process and it does not guarantee admission into your dream school.

Before you start building castles in the air about your dream B-School, we suggest you take a look at these primary factors that B-Schools look for in applicants.

  1. Academic Potential
  2. Work Experience
  3. Leadership
  4. Diversity
  5. Personality- The X Factor
  6. Goals

1. Academic Potential

Let’s get the basics first!

There are close to 2 lakh applicants for B-Schools every single year across the globe. And among them, a few thousand make it. So the primary factor for consideration of an application would be your academic excellence.

The MBA admission committee will look at your profile to understand your academic potential at college/ university. The key point they watch out for is the considerable progress you have made in your subjects. Ideally, if your GPA or Grade Point Average score is around 3.5 or more, you’d know that you are in the running for a good B-School.

Academic Potential

The second factor would be to test your interest levels beyond your classroom. Have you taken up any external courses or professional certificate courses apart from those taught at college? Is there a value addition to your academic profile?

Third would be of course one of the biggest criteria, GMAT scores. Your scores stand out in the application & become one of the most important factors for the selection process.

Apart from getting the GPA right, it is important to note that admission committees will also look at the strength of your institution and the rank it holds. Essentially they look at whether you’ve got what it takes to do an MBA? Are you confident enough to go through the rigorous MBA program? You can check out the details of where you stand academically & evaluate your strengths in this detailed blog here.

2. Work Experience

Checklist for MBA Application: Good.
GPA from college – check.
Great GMAT score- check.
Work Experience- Oh!

This is not probably the situation where you don’t want to be in. But let’s swallow the bitter pill here. Work experience is certainly one of the most important criteria for the admission faculty to consider your application. This is simply because the MBA admission committee believes that candidates with work experience tend to adapt to peer learning faster than candidates without work experience. Their goal is to not make the program too academic but rather interactive & progressive.

Now, the next question is- How much work experience is required? Let’s clear the air around this common myth that one can have any amount of work experience to qualify for an MBA application. Wrong. This notion can be very misleading for the application process itself.


If you are planning to do an MBA and have work experience, then your focus should be on the quality of work versus the quantity of work. You may have more than 8 years of experience but fail to show any significant progress in your work tenure, then chances are that your application might get rejected.

Work Experience

On the other hand, if you have barely 2 years of work experience & have projected titular promotion in your stint or have reached better positions at a faster pace, then you have every reason why you should apply for an MBA program.

You need to stress your key highlights at the workplace. Here’s a detailed blog about how to highlight your work experience before applying for business schools.

3. Leadership

This is a factor we can’t stop stressing enough. B-Schools watch out for applicants who exhibit excellent leadership qualities.

These are probably the questions to which you must have your answers ready. Am I a strong leader? If yes, then when and where have I exhibited them? Ask these basic questions to help figure out where you stand.


The next segment to focus upon is – How have I contributed to exhibiting leadership skills at work or outside work? You might have contributed to a small start-up with your consulting services or you might have organized a workshop for your colleagues. It could be anything that adds value to your professional portfolio, something that has challenged you to step outside your comfort zone & lead an idea, a team or a challenge.

Once you’ve listed your contributions, you need to focus on how to tell a compelling story to the academic committee. Read more on leadership skills & the art of strategizing your leadership story.

4. Diversity

This is a critical factor that may or may not be under your control but plays a crucial role in the MBA application process. There is this misconception around the idea of being a diverse applicant.

The notion is that every applicant is put through the same funnel and same lens by the admission faculty. Incorrect. This is probably one of the factors to bear in mind before you hit the application submit button.


By diversity, we mean what different are you bringing to the table? How are you adding value to your application? This is what they are looking at. The admission committee will screen your background to gauge your personality on the whole.

Learn more about knowing the importance of identifying diversification for the MBA application process.

5. Personality – The X-Factor

Let’s be specific about this. It is essentially who you are!

On average, there are about close to 10,000 applicants to every top B-Schools around the world. Most of them qualify for the program both academically and professionally. But not all make it to the B-Schools right?

The primary reason being that B-Schools look for a stand out factor in every applicant they scrutinize. What is it that sets you apart from the rest? What makes your personality unique and interesting?


Well, it’s time to ask these questions before you apply. What is my X-factor in all spheres of life: personal, professional and others. The admission committee for obvious reasons does not want to hear fluff. They want to know you better, your experience and reasons as to why this MBA will build upon your dreams in the future.

So, what’s your stand out factor? If you still have doubts, read more about this trait here.

6. Goals

Aiming for a good score at MBA programs & getting a job with a good pay package should not be the only criteria for applications. Of course, they are necessary to become a successful MBA graduate but that’s not what admission faculty at business schools look for in a candidate.

tell me why

They scout for people who have clarity on where they are headed in their career: job, position, function, industry, role, geography, etc. Because a B-School will not help you find answers to these. It is a platform to use your resources well to be able to achieve your goal. So, it is always better to be informed about what you want out of this MBA journey.

Typically, your essays must highlight your goals. An undefined career vision, lack of purpose, disconnect between work experience and future goals and an unconvincing motivation can have your application rejected at a glance.

If you have more doubts about setting the right goal that’ll aide in MBA applications, do read this section in detail.

We hope that this blog was informative and engaging for you! If you have more doubts, get in touch with us and we will reach out to you!

We also provide personalized guidance to those applying for B-Schools. Contact us for any kind of support! Good luck!