Why Emotional Intelligence Is Key To MBA Admissions Success

A concept born in the 90s, b-school admissions teams are now reinforcing the importance of a high EQ among MBA candidates

Anyone who’s ever taken a cursory glance at MBA admissions literature has probably noticed one thing: candidates with serious quantitative skills are in high demand.

If you’re applying to business school, you’ve got to demonstrate how accurate and efficient your number-crunching powers are, whether by GMAT scores, previous work experience, or some other metric.

Historically, what often gets played down or overlooked among applicants are less quantifiable skills, like emotional intelligence.

EQ is the latest b-school buzzword making the rounds. This is part of an industry-wide effort to “make MBA students more…interpersonally savvy,” believes Paul Bodine, of Paul Bodine Consulting/Admitify.

Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management’s 'how have you grown' essay prompt is an example of how “all top schools now encourage candidates to be authentic about their personal growth in their applications,” says Paul, “partly because they want students who have the self-honesty and self-knowledge to be able to admit to and learn from mistakes and setbacks.”

Recent studies correlate EQ with personal and professional success. Indeed, Aarti Ramaswami, academic director of the ESSEC Global MBA, published a paper exploring the topic, drawing connections between EQ and salary.

Emotional intelligence is a loosely defined skillset that people use to interpret the emotions of others, manage their own emotions, and inspire teams, which is where the true value of EQ arises.

“Inasmuch as emotional intelligence is the key currency in team-driven workplaces, business school really does set students up for success,” says Break into Tech’s Jeremy Schifeling. 

If business school is valuable for any reason, it’s for developing your ability to work with others. Many MBA programs have found innovative ways to help sculpt emotionally intelligent graduates while they’re still malleable.

“[Business schools try to] screen out nerds, nutjobs, and nincompoops before they are admitted via interviews and essays,” says HBS guru Sanford Kreisberg.

“No school that I know of will ever admit a jerk knowingly,” adds Accepted's Linda Abraham. “If an applicant comes across as arrogant or rude, they’re toast. They can be condescending to a janitor; if somebody sees it or reports it, they’re finished.”

New York University Stern School of Business is one leading figure when it comes to assessing and recruiting EQ talent—the school recently added an “EQ Endorsement” section to its application.

“EQ differentiates Stern MBA students in their ability to solve problems and tackle challenges,” writes Isser Gallogly, associate dean for MBA admissions and program innovation.

“We seek students who possess a combination of strong intellectual and interpersonal strengths—what we call IQ plus EQ. If you don’t have the EQ to drive your ideas through an organization, you can't create impact.”

Since the 1990s, schools have slowly designed their MBA curricula to reinforce the importance of EQ.

“Within the classroom, MBA programs are offering more courses on soft leadership that help students better understand the importance of EQ and the self-awareness required to improve it,”  says Jeff Thomas, CEO of Stratus Admissions Counseling.

Another way schools cultivate graduates with high EQs is to intentionally mix up the teams, so students are forced to understand and implement ideas from a variety of perspectives.

“In some instances, these teams of 5-6 first-year students work together for all their core curricula, and must develop EQ skills to navigate assignments across multiple classes and functions,” explains Jeff.

Stanford Graduate Business School's highly popular Interpersonal Dynamics course and Harvard Business School's FIELD Foundations, which "engages small teams in interactive workshops,” are two EQ-centric offerings that come to mind.

“There are many courses and experiences that help students develop self-awareness and team skills,” says Karen Marks of North Star Admissions.

“This part of the curriculum is infused into leadership courses, study group, and cohort structures, and as part of enrichment opportunities like board participation and conference leadership.”

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