Conventional wisdom holds that there are three possible outcomes when you apply to business school: admissions, rejection, or waitlist. There is a fourth possible outcome, however, that comes up every year: the conditional admission. Also known as a “provisional admission,” this happens when a business school likes your application, but sees one weakness that admissions officers want you to improve upon before you can enroll.
First of all, this is not a bad thing. The school wants you, so much so that it’s willing to admit you despite a pretty big weakness. Keep in mind that the acceptance rate at most top business schools is at or below 20%, and you can appreciate how good this feels. Instead of saying, “Never mind” and moving on to the next application in the pile, admissions officers said, “We like this applicant so much that we are willing to admit him if he can just take care of this one thing.”
That “one thing” is typically one of the following:
- A Low GMAT Score — This is especially common among MBA programs outside of the top ten. Even though business schools will seldom admit it publicly, they do care about the average GMAT scores of their incoming classes, and if they really want an applicant who would otherwise bring down their average, they will ask him to retake the GMAT. Every year we hear from at least one applicant who says something like, “I was told that if I can just get a 650, I’m in.”
- A Lack of Quantitative/Analytical Background — Business schools will sometimes grant conditional admission to a candidate whom they know can do the MBA coursework, but who doesn’t quite have enough experience in this area. Admissions officers know that the applicant is bright, but want her to be able to hit the ground running, rather than risk spending the better part of the first year getting ramped up on quantitative subjects. The solution here is normally to require the student to take (and earn at least a “B” grade) in a course such as accounting or business statistics.
- Weak English Skills — At American MBA programs, a frequent reason for offering conditional admission is mild concern about an applicant’s English skills. Wharton even calls this out as a common reason for granting conditional admission on its website. In this case, the school may require the student to complete additional coursework in English, with an emphasis on speaking and understanding speech. Many business schools even offer these programs themselves, or through their parent universities.
Again, conditional admissions is not a bad thing. Being provisionally admitted means that you’re 99% of the way there, and you just need to confirm that admissions officers made the right decision in betting on you. Now prove them right and check off that last requirement for admission!
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