Neha Iyengar, MBA Head, OnCourse

Neha is a Chartered Accountant and an MBA from the Indian School of Business (ISB), Hyderabad. She has extensive experience in the Financial Services Industry having worked with PricewaterhouseCoopers and ENAM in Mumbai and HSBC in London. After a rewarding career in Investment Banking, Neha turned to the education industry and joined OnCourse within the MBA Services team. As the Head of the MBA Division, she has been instrumental in carving out a niche for Oncourse within the Post-graduate Counselling market. With her robust understanding of the industry, she enjoys working with professionals and experienced candidates to piece together a strong story for their MBA application. A doting mother, Neha also loves spending quality time with her son.


A question that seems so simple but yet is so complex to answer! Let’s start with a bit of background information. Acceptance rates for some of the top MBA programs in the world range from 6% to 10%, the value of the global MBA degree is incredibly high, and the admissions process is holistic- subjective and objective.

The highly selective nature of admissions means that to stand out in the applicant pool, you must have a well-rounded application that highlights academic excellence, meaningful work experience, and character-building activities across every element of the application. The candidate has the opportunity to impress the admissions office through his/her resume, essays, letters of recommendation, and the interview.

Every applicant is typically assessed on three broad parameters and making a well-rounded application requires applicants to highlight their strengths in each area.

  1. Academic Excellence

Undergraduate grades, quality of education, and consistency in performance are essential for admissions officers to gauge the intellectual capabilities of the candidate. Therefore, it is important to highlight your position within your undergraduate cohort, and students who have consistently been in the top 5% of their class have a significant advantage. The standardized test scores, typically GMAT/GRE, are an important part of the selection process as well. Having a well-balanced score, usually above the school’s recommended average, will help the school assess your ability to cope in a fast-paced program.

Our experience: Over the past 10 years, we have learned that while schools have placed an increased emphasis on standardized test scores, a solid undergraduate performance, proof of analytical prowess through other tests, and a robust profile can sometimes compensate for a weaker test score.

Ways to strengthen: Take multiple attempts of the GMAT/GRE- usually the second/third attempt results in the best score, highlight undergraduate academic performance beyond the GPA, enroll for online courses such as GMAT Math, consider the Executive Assessment where accepted, etc.

  1. Meaningful Work Experience

Statistically speaking, nearly 60% of learning within the MBA program is through peer interactions both inside and outside the classroom. Schools encourage case-study discussions, industry projects, and classroom discussions as a preferred method of learning. To ensure the highest quality of learning, schools want to know that you have the right quality and quantity of work experience to contribute to the program meaningfully. The average work experience for US programs is usually 3-5 years, and European schools prefer more than that at times. The quality of your experience is essential, particularly to identify your leadership potential, diversity of insight, and post-MBA career opportunities.

Our Experience: With regards to the interview, work experience is the most crucial part of the application. It sets the tone for a powerful conversation and is perhaps the deciding factor while offering scholarships. Therefore, it is imperative to show the quantifiable impact of your work, the transferable skills you gained, and clarity of how your experiences will help you achieve your post-MBA goals. Applicants who recognise their transferable skills, as well as the gaps in their profile that the MBA will help fill, are more equipped to create structured and clear goals essays.

Ways to strengthen: Highlight experiences within your resume that show leadership, initiative, analytical capabilities, teamwork, and industry-relevant performance metrics. Consistency of skills, contributions, and strengths between the resume, goals essay, and recommendation letters are necessary to avoid any red flags.

  1. Character Building Activities

All activities outside professional work, including community activities, sports, hobbies, and interests, are a part of the third component of the application. This helps the admissions committee recognize how the candidate will impact the MBA community. Consistent and impactful contributions are important metrics while evaluating this component.

Our Experience: The range of activities is very vast; however, it is important to highlight your contribution and how these activities have enriched you. Quality over quantity will help show a candidate’s consistency and depth instead of showcasing multiple extracurriculars with a superficial involvement in each. Selected activities but do them right, is what we recommend!

Ways to strengthen: Identify 2-3 areas within your extracurriculars that you would like to highlight. Use the essay prompts to showcase the extent of your involvement and personal growth stemming from each activity. Including a mix of team participation and personal projects can make for a holistic profile. Highlight consistency and impact in each area of involvement. This is a great conversation starter when connecting with alumni, adcoms, etc.

While these are the more obvious components used for evaluating candidates, the devil is in the details. It’s crucial to be able to identify the right program, emphasize an understanding of the campus culture, and showcase clarity of goals, etc.

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