It’s true that your undergraduate record plays a big role in admissions decisions. That doesn’t mean, though, that a less-than-perfect GPA or transcript automatically shuts you out of the top business schools. MBA admissions committees look at your undergraduate record, just as they look at everything else, in the broader context.

I worked with a client who really wanted to get in to one of the very top US business schools. He was worried, though, about his undergrad record – and with good reason.

He had begun his college education as a freshman at a highly competitive college. Just the fact that he was accepted there is a complement to his innate abilities. But he did poorly. He got very low grades and withdrew after a short while.

This client did complete his undergrad degree later, at another institution, where he did quite well. But he knew that he would have to submit transcripts from every college or university he attended when he applied for his MBA. The transcript from that first university was a serious blot on his record.

We talked about his situation. His freshman year had been an extraordinarily difficult time for him. His family was facing some unusual difficulties, and he felt he ought to be at home helping them. That was a big factor in his decision to leave his first school.

I helped him prepare applications that put his undergrad experience in context. He highlighted the fact that he had high GMAT scores. I knew that would minimize committees’ concerns about his education or his academic potential. We also worked on bringing out experiences and activities that showed he was mature, stable, and able to carry out a long-term commitment.

In the end, this client was accepted at most of the schools he applied to and he did so without the expense and extreme inconvenience of building an alternate transcript.

I’m pleased that I was able to help this client understand what he needed to highlight in his application to offset a committee’s concerns about that first-year college experience. I’m not sure he even would have had the confidence to pursue admission to his dream school without that. He’s a fine person and is off to a great start in his career. I’m glad I was able to help him do that.

– Contributed by Senior Consultant Douglas Braithwaite. In addition to serving as Director of Admission at Harvard Business School, Doug is also the co-architect of the admissions process at MIT’s Leaders for Manufacturing Program.

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