The Mother of all International MBA FAQs: The role of pre-MBA acads in your MBA application

IMD’s campus at Lausanne, Switzerland

The kick-off post in the International MBA FAQ series (the relevance of GMAT scores in MBA applications) received a pretty encouraging response. The enthusiasm to learn more about international MBA programmes was apparent from the comments. So this time we are taking up another topic around which there were quite a few queries: pre-MBA academic performance and its relevance in MBA applications. Two of these came from the readers and one is a logical follow-up to those.

Q1. ajit10 asked: “My acads are 91.7% in X and 91.2% in XII. But, in my BTech I secured only 67% … I am a fresh graduate…”

Most profile evaluation requests that youll find on discussion forums (check out the Ask a Consultant thread on PaGaLGuY) start off this way. When it comes to MBA applications to most of the top b-schools, your undergrad performance is important but your 10th and 12th standard grades dont matter. To understand why that happens, consider the average profile of applicants to these schools.

On an average, they would have 4 to 5 years of work-experience at the time of matriculation (that is, starting the programme). This means that the 12th and 10th standard marks are at least 7-8 years old and going back to an era when the applicants hyperactive hormonal levels were just reaching equilibrium. That time frame is a lot bigger than the validity of a GMAT score (five years). So stop worrying about your high-school grades, unless youve achieved something (like a state rank) thats really worth talking about. Focus instead on factors that really influence your success in the programme and in your chosen post MBA career.

Q2. rider27 asked: “How much does the academic profile matter in getting into a good b-school? If one has not done well in academics then what are his/her chances of getting into a reputed school?”

Though theres a fair bit of practicality integrated into the course, but still, at its core, an MBA is still an academic degree. Which means you will be spending a lot of time with your head hidden in textbooks. Some topics will have a heavy emphasis on quantitative and statistical work. Others might involve a multi-disciplinary approach to problem solving. This is why admission committees consider academic performance as one of the components in evaluating profiles.

Some top schools specifically list out the pre-requisites on their website. This might be in the form of a cut-off for undergrad scores (first class or equivalent). Others are a little more flexible and prefer looking at the bigger picture before taking a decision. So to answer your question: yes, academic performance does matter and if you have got very low grades (a subjective call), then it can be tough. If its low, but not pathetic (again a subjective call), you can still get away with superlative performance in other areas.

Q3. My academic performance wasnt very good. Can a very high GMAT score exorcise that ghost away? How else do I fix it?

Strictly speaking, a GMAT score is not a replacement of your academic grades and for that reason one cant fill in for the other. But many schools might give you the benefit of doubt if you can get a high GMAT score and show that your quant and verbal skills are top-notch. If youve got bigger challenges to deal with (for example, losing an academic year), you still get a chance to put up a case for yourself using the optional essay.

For instance, if your low grades were due to an illness or you were busy managing a critical event that involved a huge budget, then bring this to the adcoms notice. You might even be able to use it to your advantage by demonstrating how youve gained practical skills that might have been difficult to pick purely from books.

Of course, not all situations are salvageable. So judge the level of damage and try not to push your luck too much with schools that have a higher academic hurdle to jump over.

Are there any other burning questions in your mind that youd like us to address in subsequent posts? Paste them in the comments below.

Author Sameer Kamat is the founder of MBA Crystal Ball, an admissions consulting venture and author of the bestselling MBA book Beyond The MBA Hype where he shares insights and pitfalls that aspirants should be aware of before they embark on their international MBA journey. He completed his MBA from the University of Cambridge in 2005. You can connect with him on Twitter @kamatsameer