Executive Education

What are EMBA Admissions Committees Really Looking For in Prospective Students?

emba committee

Most EMBA programs share the same requirements for applicants: a professional track record of excellence, glowing references, a stellar GMAT score and some dynamite personal essays.

But for an applicant trying to convey the entirety of his career to date—and his professional ambitions for the future—how do you make sure that the admissions committees at the institutions you’re applying to get the full picture? And what do they want to see in that picture anyway? To get a better answer to this question, Ivy Exec talked to Brett Twitty, Director of Admissions for the executive programs at the Darden School of Business.

“We are looking for people who have the capacity to lead, to work constructively in teams, to communicate effectively, to solve complex problems, [and] to be supportive of peers and classmates, to name a few of the qualities of interest to our Admissions Committee,” Twitty tells Ivy Exec. “As you might imagine, these are not qualities that can be inferred from a single aspect of a candidate’s application.”

So how exactly does an EMBA applicant demonstrate that she can do all of those things that an admissions committee is looking for? Twitty admits the answer might not be one that candidates like to hear: every single part of your application matters and helps to shape the narrative of who you are and what led you to apply at this point in time.

“At Darden, we take a holistic approach to file review, meaning, we read everything a candidate submits in an effort to develop an overall impression of just who this person is at this particular moment in her career,” Twitty explains.

If you’re protesting that your GMAT score does not indicate exactly who you are at this point in your career, you’re certainly right. And while there will certainly be parts of you application you can no longer change—a GMAT score being one example or perhaps a transcript from your undergraduate institution that seems incongruous with your ambitions—there is one message you can be sure your application communicates.

Also read: Do You Need to Take the GMAT to Pursue an Executive MBA?

“We always want to know that this person has a plan, that there is intentionality to this decision. In other words, this applicant knows why she wants to get an MBA, why she wants to attend this school and how this experience aligns with both her short and long-term career goals,” Twitty says.

The importance of being deliberate and clear as to why you are applying is paramount. But submitting essays that feel too calculated or cold can be a turn off to admissions officers.

“The best applications are those in which you feel like you are actually hearing the applicant’s voice and encountering her personality,” Twitty explains.

Twitty encourages prospective students to be candid and honest in their applications so that the admissions committee can get a feel for their voice. Surprisingly, he even suggests that applicants select a few, key details about their life outside the workplace to include: hobbies, the types of activities they pursue for fun. These can help illuminate the full picture of who an applicant is and assist the admissions committee with creating an interesting and well-rounded cohort.

While not every applicant will be offered an interview with his top choice of school, this face-to-face communication with an admissions officer can be the most important part of the entire process. Darden offers interviews to candidates who are in top consideration for an offer of admission.

“Being able to sit with a candidate for 45 minutes and hear her story is, for an admissions officer, a tremendous luxury. And for an applicant, it is an unparalleled opportunity to share your voice and provide the Admissions Committee with a deeper sense of just who you are as a person,” Twitty says. “The interview is truly our best opportunity to assess whether a candidate would be a good fit for our institution as there is an authenticity and depth that comes through in a face-to-face meeting that can occasionally be obscured in the application itself.”

Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that Twitty encourages prospective students to reach out to the admissions officers at the schools to which they are applying. While not every admissions team may be as welcoming as Twitty’s is at Darden, asking insightful questions along the way can help you tailor your application to your chosen school and get a little extra face-time with the admissions committee as they consider your candidacy.

About the Author

R. Kress is an Emmy Award winning journalist whose reporting and writing has appeared in national media from NBC News to the International Herald Tribune. She has covered news from cities around the world including Jerusalem, Krakow, Amman and Mumbai.