Going into the admissions season, you might feel that your undergrad GPA, your GMAT quant score or that ten-month resume gap you have from 2008 is an albatross around your neck. Don’t worry – even the most glaring of weaknesses can be addressed if you’re honest with yourself and take the proper steps to fix them.
1. Weak Quant Score.
If your GMAT Quant score is weak, you should look at the other areas of your profile that reflect your quantitative ability (coursework from undergrad and quantitative responsibilities at work are good examples) to see just how much that score will impact your overall candidacy. If your quant coursework is minimal and you have no quantitative work responsibilities, you may want to retake the GMAT and “kill” the Quantitative section – that is, score over 85th or 90th percentile, depending on the school. If, however, you pulled a 3.9 in your mathematics major, and for some reason, scored an 82nd percentile, retaking the GMAT might not be a high priority (if your verbal score is also decent).
Remember: Admissions officers look at your score to determine whether you can handle the coursework in b-school; they consider it a disservice to admit you if you are unprepared to succeed in their program.
2. Weak Verbal Score.
A high GMAT Verbal score is a good way to distinguish yourself in a pool of applicants who are likely quite gifted at math. In a conversation with Businessweek, Chicago Booth’s deputy dean indicated that high verbal scores are a good indicator of future success in business (natural given that business entails a certain level of communication and salesmanship). If your GMAT verbal score is low, you should look at other areas of your profile that reflect your verbal ability: your verbal coursework, your communication responsibilities at work (writing and presentations), your GMAT AWA score, and your b-school essays. The essays are entirely under your control, so don’t pass up the opportunity to really “own” them.
Remember: The following is a good metaphor to guide your essay writing–you need to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph immediately. Don’t waste any space with cliches, loose language, or generic statements that don’t mean anything.
Check out these articles for more guidance:
3. Minimal Quant Coursework.
This weakness is related to #1. If the extent of your quant coursework from undergrad is “Philosophy Logic and Language,” or the “History of Mathematics,” consider taking a self-paced online course in statistics, economics, finance or accounting, or an in-person course if you have the time. Make sure you get credit (and ideally a grade).
Remember: Admissions officers will look closely at your transcript and notice both the strengths and deficiencies of your coursework. You might be surprised at the extent to which mediocre grades can be forgiven if your coursework is exceptionally challenging.
4. Low GPA.
It depends on just how low your GPA is. If you’re hovering around a 3.3 or 3.4 (a bit lower than the average at a top 5 school), schools may overlook this area of your profile, particularly if you went to an Ivy League school or elected a traditionally rigorous major. If it’s lower than that, you might raise a red flag. Acknowledge this, but don’t let it derail you! Your job performance is an area which reflects continuous and sustained effort, like your GPA. So, if you’re excelling at work and have a brand-name company like Google or Apple on your resume, you’re on the right track. You can also alleviate concerns about your analytical ability by rockin’ the GMAT (scoring over 700 with a 40+/40+ split across the sections).
Remember: Be objective when you evaluate yourself. If your undergraduate grades are low, don’t make excuses. Just make sure your work experience and GMAT score are stellar.
5. No Promotions.
If there is no indication that you are performing well at work, this may be more a function of your employer or your company than your performance. It may be that you need to reposition yourself within the company or work on your professional “brand” a bit. Consider volunteering yourself for new opportunities. Stay late, take on more, and help others out. Occupy your ideal position and perform the responsibilities before you ask for a new title.
Remember: Your professional success is always in your control despite how helpless you may feel at times. Check out what Stacy Blackman has to say on the matter.
6. Schizophrenic Resume.
This is one of the easiest profile weaknesses to correct. If you’ve switched career goals several times or have glaring resume gaps, you need to connect the dots with an excellent b-school essay and memorable personal story. Unlike the other weaknesses on this list, you can easily turn this one into a strength by re-framing your professional history. Consider employing an admissions consultant if you’re having trouble with this.
Remember: Solid guidance from the proper mentors can work wonders. Check out my list of tips for non-traditional applicants for some ideas.
7. No Extracurriculars.
If your resume shows no extracurriculars from college on, get involved with something immediately. Your efforts don’t have to be abrupt or unnatural. Consider volunteering with your company, mentoring others in your industry, or officially joining a cause you believe in. If you are unable to boost your extracurricular profile in time for admissions this year, consider focusing your application efforts on schools that are known to be less discriminating in this regard.
Remember: The short answer part of your application (the part where you list your involvements in clubs from college on) isn’t busywork. It will be scrutinized by the admissions committee, so do a meticulous job with the form.