Why Class Profile is Crucial when Choosing an MBA Program
Last updated on August 14th, 2019
It’s no easy task to look for an MBA program that gives you exactly what you’re looking for.
But all too often, we forget to ask one of the most important questions:
“Will I fit in with the other students?”
The best way to figure this out is to look through a B-School’s class profile.
As we’ve said in our blog about the ROI of an MBA, your network is a big part of the returns you get on your investment. Getting along with your classmates is the first step of networking, which is a critical part of your MBA experience. So, you must consider how well you fit into your prospective class even before you apply.
In this article, we will discuss the following questions:
Let’s dive in!
Why consider the MBA Class Profile?
Class profiles usually contain some basic statistics about the current MBA batch at a B-School.
It’s good to be aware of the composition of a typical class at a school of your choice for two primary reasons. One is that it can help you get an idea of whether you will fit into the batch or not. The other is that it indicates your chances of getting an admit from a given school.
Here are some statistics you will find in most class profiles:
- Undergraduate Majors
- Pre-MBA Industry
- GMAT/GRE Scores
The average age of a batch helps you understand if you’re too young or too old for a given school. Ideally, you should be in a batch that has other students your age. If there aren’t enough students close to your age, fitting in can be challenging. We will get into the details of this in just a bit.
This tells you which fields the students in a batch have undergraduate degrees in. A greater variety of educational backgrounds will expose you to more perspectives. This enriches your overall MBA experience.
This gives you an idea of the kinds of industrial experience your classmates have. It has an impact on the contributions they will make to classroom discussions and debates. Once again, having exposure to a large variety of perspectives will work in your favor.
This is the aggregate of all the students’ academic performance throughout their undergraduate degree. It helps you get an idea of the caliber of students you will have as classmates.
MBA class profiles will typically show you the batch’s average GMAT and GRE scores. Some class profiles also contain the range of these scores. Looking at this gives you a chance to figure out where you stand in comparison to the students of a given program.
Three factors that usually come under this are:
- The percentage of women
- The percentage of international students
- The percentage of students from domestic minorities (for B-Schools in the US)
A class profile shows if a school offers you a good mix of students you can learn from and also contribute to. Your ability to establish such a mutually beneficial relationship matters because you’re expected to learn a lot beyond the classroom. B-Schools use case studies, debates, and discussions to help students learn from each other. So, in order to fit into a given class, you’ll need to contribute to these discussions and debates, too.
You will also learn which of your strengths you should focus on in your application to increase your chances of getting an admit.
One thing we know for sure is that B-Schools want diversity in their classrooms. Diversity is how they ensure that students are exposed to a wide variety of perspectives, cultures, and values.
Diversity enriches every student’s MBA experience by bringing in perspectives and insights from fields they have no personal background in. For instance, there will be students from sectors such as Banking, IT, and Engineering. You can also find students from Arts and Humanities in an MBA class. The point is that each student’s profile must contribute to what the class profile has to offer.
In the next section, we will discuss how to make sense of a class profile.
What should I look for?
Let us explain how to make sense of a B-School’s class profile using an example.
Here’s the class profile of Kellogg School of Management’s class of 2020:
Now, let’s look into the insights we can gain from this class profile.
1. Women’s Participation:
At 46%, the proportion of women in the classroom is higher than the US average. Harvard and Stanford both have 41% women, and Booth has 42%. It shows that the school is quite friendly towards female MBA aspirants.
2. International Participation:
Having 34% of international students places Kellogg on par with the best schools in the US, such as Harvard (37%), Wharton (33%) and Booth (30%). A large part of the international applicant pool in American B-Schools tends to consist of Indian students. So, an American B-School with a higher percentage of international students is more likely to accept your application than a school with a lower percentage.
This is another factor of concern for many Indian MBA aspirants. You are expected to convert your marks into the GPA system while applying to B-Schools outside India. The issue is that there’s very little clarity on how this conversion happens and how much you need to score to get a required GPA.
The thing is, you don’t need to get into the details of GPA.
There are three types of GPAs and you will have to convert your scores according to each school’s guidelines. So, just focus on doing your absolute best and maintain as high a score as you can. That’s the best you can do.
4. Work Experience:
The average work experience in Kellogg’s batch of 2020 is 5.1 years. Indian aspirants often assume that the average score is exactly what the school needs in order to accept their applications. So, aspirants with 7 years of work experience may assume that Kellogg is unlikely to accept their applications. However, the range of work experience in this class profile is 3.5 to 7 years. This clearly shows that someone with 7 years of experience also stands a chance of receiving an admit from Kellogg.
This brings us to a quick fact you should know:
When you review class profiles, be wary of averages!
Averages are a representation of middle values. By definition, this means that averages don’t show the highest and lowest ends of the spectrum.
Let us explain this using a graph.
If you plot the number of students on the X-axis and GMAT scores on the Y-axis, you will typically get a bell curve.
Low scorers cancel out high scorers, so the average (which in this case is 698) is close to the high point of the bell. Both the ends of the bell represent what are known as ‘outliers’: data that lie furthest from the average. It’s easy to forget that outliers exist when you look at the average as a single number, without a chart.
But more importantly, averages shouldn’t be trusted because they can get skewed too easily. If there are more outliers on either end of the range, it will tip the average closer to that end of the spectrum. So, suppose 20 students have GMAT scores between 600-630, then the given average will drop. If these 20 students have scores between 720-750, the average rises dramatically.
An average, in isolation, doesn’t tell you whether it is closer to the top of the range or the bottom.
So, look for the range or the median value wherever possible. The range tells you the highest and lowest points of a given data set. Median is the middle point of the range. Both these values will help you get a sense of where the average leans.
Comparative Analysis of MBA Class Profiles from 10 Popular MBA Programs
Let’s now go through 10 MBA class profiles of leading B-Schools from different parts of the world. Here are the ten schools we’re going to look at:
- Harvard Business School
- Stanford School of Business
- Columbia Business School
- Booth School of Business
- Rotman School of Management
- London Business School
- Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
- Indian School of Business
- Indian Institute of Management – Ahmedabad
Let’s dive into some details!
1. What is the Best Age to get an MBA?
When it comes to age, schools in the US, Canada, Europe, and South-East Asia have averages of 27-28.
But as mentioned, what’s more insightful than an average is the range. If you look at the age ranges in these schools, you can see that people in their early 30s can also get into MBA programs.
Interestingly, both the exceptions—the higher as well as the lower extreme—are seen at Indian B-Schools. While ISB stands at the lower end with an average age of 26.6, IIM-A has a significantly higher average of 31.5.
Further, you may notice that Stanford and LBS have not mentioned age in their class profiles. Some other leading schools also follow this trend. They provide information about the students’ work experience but not about their age. So, you can gauge the approximate ages from the given work experience.
What this analysis means for you is that the best time to get an MBA is between the ages of 25 and 32. However, this does not mean you shouldn’t apply for an MBA if you’re over or under these ages. You could still get in if you try; it will just be tougher if you’re younger than 25 or older than 32.
2. What is the Work Experience Needed for MBA Admissions?
The work experience section in Stanford’s class profile is a great illustration of why you shouldn’t trust averages. The average work experience mentioned is 4 years, but the range is 0 to 11 years.
On the other hand, you have Columbia with an average of 5 years and a range of 3-7 years. HKUST is similar to this. It’s average (5 years) is close to the highest as well as the lowest end of its range (3-9 years). So, when you see profiles like those of Booth, INSEAD, or IIM-A, with just the average work experience mentioned, you can’t tell whether or not they’re open to applicants with significantly more or less work experience than that.
Rotman and LBS are in the same league as Stanford in that they have equally wide ranges of work experience. You can consider applying to all three schools even if your work experience is not close to the average.
With a range of 2-20 years of work experience, ISB can have people from two distinct generations in the same class. This can be quite challenging because the students may not all be on the same wavelength. For example, young students may lean towards finding technology-based solutions to business problems while older students may rely on more traditional means.
Each school has a different level of tolerance towards candidates whose experience levels are far above or far below the class’ average number of years of work experience. You need to think about how much variety you’d like to have in your class before you decide where to apply.
3. Which B-Schools are the best for International Students?
It’s important to look at the international make-up of a class to see how well you will fit in. Your learning experience can be enhanced greatly by an environment that has other people with life experiences similar to yours. If there aren’t enough people who understand your perspective, it can get challenging for you to contribute to class discussions.
So, consider how much diversity there is in a given B-School before you decide whether or not to apply there. However, simply going after schools that have a high percentage of international students isn’t the best idea, either. Let us demonstrate why.
South-East Asian schools like HKUST and NUS have over 90% of international students. But don’t jump to conclusions based simply on this data. Consider that countries like Singapore and Hong Kong have very small resident populations. That’s why they have a very high percentage of international students.
If you look closely, you’ll find that Europe has more international diversity than Canada. Now, let’s dissect this data a bit.
Official data shows that 22% of the students at LBS and 12% of those at INSEAD are from North America. If you deduct this from the percentage of international students, LBS only has 53% of international students and INSEAD, 52%. That brings them at the same level as Rotman (Canada), which has 51% international students.
But North American students make up the majority in US B-Schools. Schools with high ranks tend to have a greater percentage of international students than schools with lower ranks. What you need to find out in addition to the percentage of international students is where these students come from.
Some schools will provide preliminary details about this. For example, the Booth website shows that 13.4% of its students come from Asia and 10% from South America. Stanford provides no such details; instead, it simply states that it has 42% of international students.
In such cases, it’s a good idea to take trends into consideration. Data from the top 15 B-Schools in the US shows that Asians are the largest group among international students. So, schools with a lot of international students will most likely have a sizeable number of Asian students. This means you’re likely to fit in well.
You should consider the percentage and composition of international students at a given B-School to check if you fit in. Make sure there’s a good mix of students similar to you and students quite different from you. Being in a diverse but balanced environment will be critical to having a great MBA experience.
In the next section, we’ll look at the trends in pre-MBA industries across the board.
4. Pre-MBA Industry
Most people are not sure what they should be looking for in the pre-MBA industry section of a class profile. Let us tell you why it’s important and how it affects your experience directly.
Just as your culture shapes your perspective, so does your work experience. Over time, your mind gets used to looking at every problem from the same perspective. For example, if you’re experienced in human resource management, you’re likely to focus on the people required to solve a given problem. An IT engineer will try to find technological solutions to the same problem. You get where we’re going with this, right?
The professional experiences of your classmates will make a huge difference to the quality of classroom discussions. Those are a critical part of how learning takes place in MBA programs. So, think about the kind of discussions and debates you will get to participate in.
Our point here is that there needs to be a healthy level of diversity in the class. That means you should be able to blend into the batch; but simultaneously, you should also have a unique perspective to contribute to the class.
You might ask, ‘what is it that we are expected to take away from all this?’
The biggest lesson to learn here is that you should use a class profile to find out how you can ‘fit in but stand out’ at a given B-School. Every B-School out there is touting its diversity factor to try and attract as wide an array of students as possible.
What you need to learn from this is that being too much like everyone else will reduce what you can bring to your class while being too different will get in the way of your learning. So, you need to find a fine balance between the two and apply to the schools that offer you a balanced environment.
Remember: similarities help build connections, while differences help provide perspective. Every candidate influences the class profile.
Take a look at the other factors that you should consider while selecting the right MBA program:
We hope this article has helped you understand how to use class profiles while choosing the right MBA program!
If you’re still unsure of whether or not your profile is good enough to do an MBA, get your profile evaluated now!