What Makes Someone a Qualified MBA Student? | TopMBA.com

What Makes Someone a Qualified MBA Student?

By Manhattan Admissions

Updated March 16, 2021 Updated March 16, 2021

Every MBA program has a basic set of admission requirements. Nearly all of them require a bachelor’s degree and most look favorably on several years of prior work experience. Other expectations might include a high GPA, excellent letters of recommendation and a top GMAT score. To truly make your application the cream of the crop, you need to recognize and articulate the interconnectedness of your broad range of unique skills and experiences.

Top business schools don’t merely want straight-A students; they are looking for special people. Connect the dots of your life and create a consistent, well-rounded portrait of yourself that resonates with the MBA admissions committee. Here are some of the qualities schools seek in an MBA student (and yes, these apply even if you didn't study business at the undergraduate level):

1. Passion: Going ‘all in’

At first glance, having passion sounds elevating, uplifting and fulfilling. It’s the vital ingredient we need to stay engaged and tuned in to ourselves. The concept of passion is something that everyone loves, yet few really grasp and live out its true meaning. The word ‘passion’ is derived from Ancient Greek and Latin verbs used to convey ‘suffering’.

Just as there are the contrary forces of the yin and yang in Chinese philosophy, passion cannot exist without sacrifice, and sacrifice implies suffering. In other words, you cannot have passion without suffering. In our modern context, passion has become known only for its positive associations, but it’s important not to forget the amount of energy that passion requires. Passion can be cultivated if you have the curiosity and openness to be passionate about something. In the case of applying to business school, the MBA admissions committee will want to see someone who’s passionate, willing to shoulder risk and doesn't steer away from making sacrifices. Being smart and talented is simply not enough. What will get you through the difficult task of paying your dues is passion, since it is what makes your efforts worthwhile. The committee will pay close attention to those individuals who are able demonstrate their passion, which shows a fullness of character that can't be gleaned from data alone.

2. Leadership

The MBA admissions committee is also concerned with the leadership achievements of a prospective MBA student. Top business schools want to draw in leaders who’ve already contributed positively to their communities and societies, so you should round up examples of how you have shown yourself to be a go-getter.

Give specific instances of how you marshaled resources, motivated others around you to join together, and proposed a creative solution. Even if you can’t think of a specific, concrete example of leadership, the objective is to show how and where you made a true impact. It's OK if the examples you have don't initially strike you as particularly noteworthy or attention-getting. After all, the best leaders are usually those who are also strong team players. When you are applying for business school, hone in on instances in which you showed personal initiative. When an opportunity arises, are you the first to dive in and go for it?  

3. Community service

Even though community service is generally perceived as being voluntary, it is highly valued by many business schools. This is because community service almost always reflects your priorities and values, and speaks volumes about you as a person. Community service is a broad category that encompasses taking an active role and interest in your surrounding environment. It provides an opportunity for you to reveal facets of yourself that aren’t immediately apparent in your application. More importantly, your history of activism and participation shows the MBA admissions committee that you are likely to be an active contributor to their student and alumni organizations. As much as your test scores and prior experience matter, they will only get your foot in the door. Workaholic students with perfect scores yet poor social skills are not what the top business schools want in an MBA student. Make sure your extracurricular activities are highlighted. They can be the extra push necessary to get you an interview with the admissions committee.

4. Quantitative skills: Be a problem solver

Business schools look for students who are proven problem solvers. As you’re preparing your application, you might be a bit concerned about your quantitative skills, especially if you haven’t yet taken the GMAT. However, the GMAT is not the only way to show relevant quantitative skills. Did you do well in statistics in college? Can you grasp quantitative concepts quickly? Do you have a job where you crunch through Excel like a wizard? Make sure you reference these instances in your application, which will help demonstrate your abilities regardless of your quantitative score on the GMAT. Schools want to be confident that you will thrive in the MBA program and be able to analyze and discuss quantitative concepts. As long as you figure out a way to show that you are comfortable with problem solving and math, you will have an edge over other applicants.

5. Realistic post-MBA ambitions

Your long-term professional aspirations must be communicated, even though it’s common for a prospective MBA student to be uncertain about their specific career goals. Start with explaining your proposed plans after graduation and articulate the reasons that this specific MBA program is relevant to your dreams. When it comes to your career ambitions, you have to walk a fine line between being realistic and thinking big. Convey how your past and current roles have provided invaluable experience into managing and overseeing all aspects of a business. Convince the committee that your drive is not contingent upon your acceptance into their program, even though it would certainly aid you.

6. Innovation

The iconic Steve Jobs was more a business visionary than an engineer or manager. He transformed the user experience of personal computers and applied his critical thinking skills to the ways in which we experience the digital age creatively. One of his notable attributes was innovation and he constantly sought minor tweaks and revisions (Apple has continued this tradition by regularly releasing upgraded and updated versions of their products). In this regard, Jobs was a maverick businessman with a burning desire to try more and more new ideas, while always challenging the status quo. In your business career, you will also often have to think ‘outside the box’ to markedly transform ideas. Top business schools want to see how you might be able to capitalize on an intuitive marketing sense and produce something novel that meets a demand. Be sure to give them specific examples of your potential in this respect – how has your style of thinking influenced your colleagues or an idea in incubation?  


There are many reasons to pursue an MBA program: Diversity of employment opportunities, a higher salary and the acquisition of further skills high among them. Whatever your reason for applying to business school, gaining acceptance requires showcasing the qualities listed above. It might seem obvious that these are the traits that schools are looking for, but an honest self-assessment will be crucial to completing a holistic application to your preferred MBA program(s). It’s wise to gather feedback from people who know you well, to see if they have any insights they can share about your character, work ethic and values. Distinguishing yourself from the flock while presenting yourself as a worthy MBA student will take a good portion of your time, but if you can convince the admissions committee that you possess these six qualities – by providing excellent examples of each – it ought to put you in a league of your own.

This article was originally published in January 2017 . It was last updated in March 2021

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Manhattan Admissions is an admissions consulting firm dedicated to providing the highest quality admissions services on the market today. The dedicated team, including Jennifer Zhang (pictured), brings you optimal returns on your investment of time and money. For more information, please visit Manhattan Admissions’ MBA website.