Top Ten MBA Admissions Myths from Chicago Booth

A little while ago Chicago Booth’s MBA admissions office created a Top 10 Myths page, inspired by all of the myths that the school’s admissions officers frequently read in online communities and hear from prospective applicants at events. Their page covers it all pretty well, but we’ve reprinted it here with a few of our comments (in italics) to offer up one more viewpoint where we think it’s necessary:

Myth 1: The GMAT is the most important part of the application.
There is no one admissions requirement that is more important than the other. While the results of your GMAT exam are important to us, they are by no means the only tool we use to make an admissions decision. The GMAT score is not a “make or break” item. At Chicago Booth, our application process is a holistic one in which the Admissions Committee attempts to learn all about you in order to determine a fit between you and Chicago that goes above and beyond your GMAT score.

This is certainly true, and it’s what every admissions officer at a any top MBA program will tell you. However, while there’s no minimum score (see Myth 4) that you absolutely must earn to keep you out, keep in mind that, if your score is below a school’s middle-80% GMAT range (which you can find online and in Your MBA Game Plan), you will need to present a very compelling reason for admissions officers to believe that you have what it takes to succeed in the business school classroom and beyond. Other parts of your application — such as your undergrad GPA, analytically-oriented work on the job, and post-college coursework can help here, to a certain extent.

Myth 2: A campus visit is a must if you expect to be admitted.
While we’d love to get everyone who applies to see our campus in person, we realize it’s just not possible for everyone to make their way to Chicago. We do strongly encourage applicants to visit campus at some point, but not visiting won’t negatively affect your application. Visit our website for more information about planning a campus visit.

It’s good to hear them say this, since a policy of favoring applicants who visit campus would seem unfair, but if it’s just convenience that’s keeping you from visiting your target business school, remember that there are thousands of other applicants who do find the time to make the trip!

Myth 3: It’s impossible to be admitted during Round 3.
Booth does in fact accept students in Round 3. Round 2 sees the greatest number of applications and since we fill spots in the program as we progress through the Rounds, there will naturally be fewer spots left for Round 3 applicants. The best advice is to apply when you believe that you can turn in the application that you’re most proud of that best reflects your strengths and talents. However, we do encourage our international students to consider applying by Round 2 in an attempt to avoid potential hassles in obtaining a student visa prior to the start of classes.

Yes, “Round 3 is impossible” myth had grown to mythic proportions these days. Still, when an applicant approaches us late in the application season and asks if we can help them apply in a matter of a couple of weeks to meet a Round 3 deadline, we often encourage them to step back and assess whether they really MUST apply now, or if they can wait until next year, when they’ll have more time to properly pull together a strong application. What keeps many Round 3 applicants is not the fact that they applied in Round 3, but that they applied under rushed or otherwise imperfect circumstances.

Myth 4: You must have a minimum GPA or GMAT score and have 5 years of work experience to be considered for admission.
This is an easy one; there are no minimums for these factors! Anyone who has or will obtain a bachelor’s degree and can report a GMAT score is eligible to apply for admission to Chicago. You can view our class profile online to see some statistics for the class of 2009.

Funny that they comment on the myth of there being a minimum amount of required work experience, since these days it seems that many top MBA programs (not necessarily including Booth) are unofficially enforcing an UPPER limit on the years of work experience that they want to see in applicants.

Myth 5: An interview with a staff member will increase your chances of admission more than an interview with a student or alum.
Regardless of who your interviewer may be, the feedback is valuable and is weighed equally in each and every case. Each year, we rely heavily on our alumni all over the world to conduct interviews with applicants. The same holds true for students here at the Harper Center and those who may be studying abroad. These two groups, each member of which has been carefully trained, conduct the vast majority of interviews. At times, the Admissions staff will also conduct interviews in certain locations.

We fully believe Booth’s admissions officers when they say this, but here’s another point of view: Imagine if you have an amazing interview with an alum who sends in a terrific report to be reviewed by the admissions team, and compare that to having that same amazing interview with an admissions officer. When the committee is carefully weighing your application and someone in the room has reservations about it, wouldn’t you want your interviewer to be there in the room, passionately arguing that you’ve got what the school looks for? Admissions officers will reply that this isn’t really how it works, but in admissions, just like in everything else in life and in business, personal relationships do matter, no matter how hard we try to completely level the playing field. We still believe that interviewing with an admissions officer increases your upside (assuming it goes well), since they’ll often be in the room when a decision is made on your candidacy.

Myth 6: The earlier you submit your application before the deadline, the earlier your interview invitation will come.
The interview invitation process lasts a few weeks for each round as our staff and graduate assistants read and review thousands of applications. The process of inviting applicants to interview is entirely random, and the point at which you hear from us is not a reflection on the strength of your application or the timeframe in which you submitted it – we promise! And we really do extend interview invitations all the way up until 9:00 am on the mid-decision date!

Yes, this is a myth for many applicants. Just believe admissions officers when they tell you that the application review process is not a linear one!

Myth 7: If you were not a Business major, you are at a great disadvantage in the admissions process.
Students who apply to and enroll at Chicago Booth come from a variety of backgrounds with respect to their undergraduate studies. In fact, 34% of the class of 2009 had a liberal arts background. We are always excited by the unique experiences that each student’s education brings to the community at Chicago.

This is another one where we think applicants need to look out for the inverse of this myth: Applicants who majored in business can be looked at a little more skeptically by business schools, which sometimes have a “Tell us again why you want another business degree?” attitude when reviewing these applications. We wouldn’t go so far as to say that these applicants are at a disadvantage, but their story of “Why an MBA?” can actually be a little more difficult to piece together than a non-business applicant’s story.

Myth 8: Chicago Booth prefers applicants from finance and consulting backgrounds.
We value diversity in all its forms, including career industry. Many of our applicants come from finance or consulting backgrounds; but many more have work experience in other industries, including military service, marketing, education, retail, and non-profit work, just to name a few. It’s not what you do that matters – it’s how you do it and the experience you’ll bring to the classroom and study groups.

See our last comment. Applicants coming from these very typical backgrounds can sometimes have a harder time getting in if they don’t have anything in their applications that helps them truly stand out in a very crowded field. One thing going for these applicants, however, is that they tend to already come with more business polish than other applicants, which can make them more appealing to potential employers (and, in turn, make them more appealing to MBA admissions officers).

Myth 9: The Admissions Committee members only read the first essay in the application – they disregard the rest.
Our staff, including our Admissions Fellows, reads each and every essay, recommendation letter and transcript that crosses our desks. This makes for a great deal of work but we’re committed to putting together the best possible class and to do so, we feel we need to get to know each applicant well. This process is a part of what makes Chicago Booth a unique place. You’ve worked hard to submit your application, and we appreciate that effort.

Wow, we don’t hear this myth much. Trust admissions officers here… They have no incentive to create more work for you unless they’re going to actually read the essays!

Myth 10: A letter of recommendation from the CEO of my company/a Booth alum I met once/the Governor/the President of the United States is better than getting one from a supervisor or colleague who knows me well.
Choose your recommenders carefully! Letters of recommendation are a crucial part of the admissions process and while you may be tempted to impress the admissions committee with the connections you’ve made, you’ll want to work with someone who knows you and your accomplishments, talents and skills well. Your current or former supervisor and a colleague or client who can speak at length about your value to your company or organization is a much better choice than someone who may have an impressive title, but little insight into you as a person or future Chicago Booth student.

Yes, what your recommendation writers say about YOU is much more important than who they are. And, the best way to ensure that they provide compelling, specific examples of your greatness is to pick recommenders who really know you. As we always tell applicants, you should assume that your recommendation writers won’t remember every little detail about how great you are, so you should prepare them with specific examples to make their jobs easier.

For more advice on applying to Chicago Booth or any other top business school, download Veritas Prep’s free Chicago Booth Annual Report, which gives you in-depth information on life at the school. And, be sure to follow MBA Game Plan on Twitter!

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