Top 5 Things MBA Admissions Officers Want to See in Your Application

Top 5 Things MBA Admissions Officers Want to See in Your Application

As a former admissions officer at Wharton, I can tell you how difficult it is to make assessments of candidates during the application process. Admissions officers want to select the most competent and talented candidates among the applicant pool, and they are constantly thinking of effective ways to rule out the ones who are not.

I’ve compiled five key factors that you should focus on delivering to be successful for the application process. Keep in mind that the applicant pool is so competitive, missing one of these key components puts you on, at best, the wait list, but more likely the “deny” pile.

If you need help determining where you are in the admissions process, click here to learn how to receive a free evaluation of your admissions profile on


5. The ability to do the work

Are you tough enough to lead the world?

Ultimately, no admissions director will accept you if they’re not sure if you will be able to handle the rigors of business school. They make that determination based on a combination of your test scores (GMAT/GRE), recommendations, work history, and academic history. This is probably the one area where we get the most holes – either GMAT struggles or a tough academic record.


If you consider any of these parts as a weakness, there are ways to mitigate them in your application. (Read: “Best Ways to Mitigate a Low GPA in MBA Applications“) We’ll be featuring a series of articles on the topic of mitigating weaknesses in your application, so keep yourself posted. You can subscribe to our newsletter to receive emails of new updates.


4. Demonstrated leadership

You don't need a title to be a leader

Notice that I didn’t say management. Not all managers are leaders and not all leaders are managers. Business schools are looking for future leaders. This is one of the toughest things to show, especially for applicants with less work experience.  

If you don’t have much work experience, think about ways that you’ve had a leadership role (led a team or project on campus, in your community, during an internship, etc.), especially through adversity. Incorporate those aspects into a story in your essays or in your resume. Leading your fantasy football team doesn’t count, but college experiences do count. 

If you do have some work experience under your belt, the same rule applies – think about the times you’ve demonstrated leadership and make sure to tell a compelling story in your application.

Think about ways where you’ve had to influence others without management control (“lead up”) – those are some of the best examples of leadership. Remember, you don’t need to have any titles to have demonstrated leadership!



3. Support from your recommenders

Recommenders tend to be one of the most important resources to find out about candidates. While I only saw a few really poor recommendations during my time at Wharton (they can be pretty humorous), I saw quite a few mediocre recommendations that led me to believe that the recommender didn’t really support the candidate. That was the easiest way to get to a denial for me AND a way to get to bed earlier after reading 20+ applications.

That being said, recommenders can be huge advocates if you can prepare them to help you. When reaching out to recommenders, think of quality of the recommendation they can provide over their title.

Asking someone who actually spent time with you and knows your work could lead to a more valuable recommendation rather than asking someone who you’ve only met once or twice for their signatures. This also means you should care about cultivating a good relationship with your future advocates from early on. More tips on choosing recommenders to come in a future blog post.


Moreover, once you’ve selected your recommenders, preparing them with the necessary information is also crucial. The more your recommenders are prepared, the better off you will be in the applicant pool.

At, we train our coaches to prepare customized recommender packages that make it easy for recommenders to share the candidate’s demonstrated leadership, responsibilities to highlight, corporate contributions, yMBA/MBA schools/ST&LT goals, etc.  Click here to get a free consultation with one of our experts.


2. Consistency across your application process

As a candidate, you want to share various aspects of who you are. However, diversity in traits should not sacrifice consistency in an application.

One of the best practices I recommend to MBA applicants is to pick a few key themes that they can promote consistently through their application – resume, recommendations, essays and interview.

In order to do this, think about your key differentiating factors from your demonstrated character trains that you can articulate from your personal, professional and community experiences. And make sure to deliver that message across the entire application process.



This one is easy to understand, but tough to execute. We will have a future blog on dedicated to personal branding in an MBA application, so keep an eye out!


1. A believable vision for the future

Given how competitive the process is at selective schools, there is no reason to accept a candidate that doesn’t have a good story to tell about where they want to go and how they plan to get there. Speaking to what you want to do in your career in the short-term and long-term (especially if you’re a career changer) shows good self-awareness and that you’ve done the research.


Make sure to clearly articulate a realistic set of post-MBA goals in your application. Unrealistic and/or poorly presented goals are a red flag to the admissions officers.

If you have related experience in an adjacent field, it’s definitely easier to sell a transition in career. However, if you don’t have any related experience, you will have to show the progression of how you will accomplish your long-term MBA goals.  

For instance, if you’re in finance at a pharmaceutical company, it’s not a huge stretch to go back to pharma in a business development or marketing role.  However, given the same background, it’s tough to say you’re going to go directly into private equity because you don’t have any relevant experience prior to business school. A more convincing path from the admissions officer’s view would be to leverage the healthcare experience and say that you will transition into healthcare investment banking and eventually private equity with a healthcare focus. Do you see my point?

We all struggle with finding our true calling in our career, so it’s fine if you don’t have everything set yet. Schools expect that your goals and interests might change once you’re accepted. That said, if you want your application to stand strong competitors, you want to provide a believable story that makes sense to the other side of the admissions table.

Remember, the point here to is convince the admissions officers, not about compromising your career goals.

A great way to set realistic post-MBA goals is to talk to MBA alumni who are working in the fields that you are interested in and get a sense for a realistic career path. Finding the right alumni to connect with can be tricky, but you can reach out to admissions offices and ask for assistance in connecting with alumni.

Luckily, users can use their online profile to find and connect with alumni and current students of your target schools to get insider tips. You can learn more on how to take advantage of the resources on here.


Wrapping up…

In this blog, we talked about the five key things that MBA admissions officers are looking for in application – your ability to handle the work, demonstrated leadership, external support, consistent story, and realistic vision for the future.

Business school application is all about getting the story right. Which part of the story are you struggling most in your application? Tell us in the comment below.

If you have any further questions, feel free to post a question to the community on our question forum – our experts will get back to you within 24 hours.


Never apply alone!



Eric on

Eric Allen

President & Co-Founder at
Eric works tirelessly to make sure users have a great experience by getting the advice and support they need to help them navigate to application process. He is a proud alum of Springbrook HS, Brown, and Wharton.

When not on a plane, you can find him on and at @ericallen13.

Get more admissions help at

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