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HBS, Stanford, and Wharton: How to boost your odds of admission by 46.5%

Posted by Khaled Kteily on in All About Consulting
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Are you starting to think about your course selection for next semester? A recent publication by Harvard Business School - titled "Why Unqualified Candidates Get Hired Anyway" - can teach you a thing or two about the courses you should be taking. 

The article is based on the results of a study called 'Inflated Applicants: Attribution Errors in Performance Evaluation by Professionals', and it focuses on a concept called the 'fundamental attribution error'. This is people‚Äôs tendency to "overemphasize internal explanations for the behavior of others, while failing to take into account the power of the situation." 

The research paper shows that "the fundamental attribution error is so deeply rooted in our decision making that not even highly trained people-evaluators, such as hiring managers and school admissions officers, can defeat its effects."

For example, "the first study asked professional university admissions officers to evaluate nine fictional applicants, whose high schools were reportedly uniform in quality and selectivity. Only one major point of variance existed between the schools: grading standards, which ranged from lenient to harsh. Predictably, 

In fact, "admissions officers tend to pick a candidate who performed well on easy tasks rather than a candidate who performed less well at difficult tasks," says [Gino, one of the authors], noting that even seasoned professionals discount information about the candidate's situation, attributing behavior to innate ability." 

You'll notice this blog often discusses topics of social psychology - in posts such as 'How IKEA can help you craft the perfect CV' - and this is because whether we like it or not, human psychology plays a large role in the factors that will ultimately get you into consulting and help you succeed as a consultant. 

Now lets talk numbers. "In the real admissions records of graduate business schools, which tend not to consider situational influences in their evaluation of applicants, and are more likely to accept students from schools with lenient grading norms.... applicants with a GPA that is one standard deviation above the mean, 0.17 points, are 31 percent [emphasis ours] more likely to be accepted than denied or waitlisted, the authors report in the paper." 

Now let's talk about you. Let's assume that:

1. You are a 3.5 GPA student, who averages a B+ half the time, and an A- the other half.

2. Instead of taking 5 required courses per semester, you instead take 4 required courses per semester, 1 easy 'bird' course, and then take 2 summer courses (or an extra year) to compensate. 

3. You get an A on your 'bird' courses, and an A- on your remaining, lightened course load. 

4. Your GPA per semester is now a 3.76, and accounting for your summer courses, you now have a 3.75. 

You've now boosted your yearly GPA from a 3.5 to a 3.75. That's 1.5x a standard deviation from the mean GPA for acceptance to a top business program... using some slightly questionable logic, you are now 46.5% more likely to get accepted to the business program of your choice. And that's assuming you don't get more interviews and a better job because of your newly-boosted GPA. 

Isn't social psychology fun?! Check out our 'IKEA effect' post for some more interesting psychology facts that will impact your applications to top consulting firms. And yes, this is another example of a deliberately-provocative title - as any social psychologist will tell you... it works!

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Guest Dec 15, 2017