MBA Admissions Reality Check: There’s Only One Dilfer

Every January, two seemingly-different sets of lofty goals converge around the tale of one man; whether you’re applying to a top ten business school or trying to win the NFL’s Super Bowl, you need to remember that there’s only one Trent Dilfer.

Trent Dilfer, of course, is widely accepted as the (and we say this with admiration) worst (or maybe “least best”?) quarterback to win a modern Super Bowl, the most glaring exception to the commonly-held notion that a team needs an elite quarterback to win the NFL’s championship. Sure, teams with marginal quarterbacks say, most Super Bowls have been won by Montana, Brady, Elway, Aikman, Manning, Bradshaw, etc., but Trent Dilfer did win a Super Bowl, so we have a chance with our guy. But here’s the flaw in that reasoning — it’s easy to remember Dilfer’s name because he’s really the only one who fits that category. He’s surrounded in history by the all-time greats at the position, quarterbacks who won multiple Super Bowls and in other years nearly always had their teams in the hunt. Dilfer is the glaring exception, so we remember his name because he was so rare. There’s only one Trent Dilfer, so if he’s your guiding hope that your team can win with a lackluster quarterback, you’re grasping at incredibly thin odds.

And if your goal isn’t necessarily to hold up the Lombardi Trophy in New Orleans this year but rather to hold up an MBA diploma in Cambridge or Palo Alto in two years, this message still applies:

There’s only one Dilfer.

In the MBA Admissions Consulting business, we hear the refrain more often than we’d like. “I know my GMAT score isn’t very high, but it looks like Harvard does admit some people with scores below 600”; “Yeah, my GPA was pretty lousy and I don’t have much work experience, but a friend of a friend knows a guy who’s son’s friend was admitted to Stanford right out of undergrad!”; “I know the odds aren’t great but what I hear you saying is that it’s not impossible for me to be admitted with this profile, right?.”

There’s an exception to every rule and we hate to be the bearers of bad news, but if you’re thinking along those lines above, you’re trying to be Trent Dilfer against all odds. Sure, Harvard does every so often admit someone who’s GMAT score begins with a 5…but like Trent Dilfer had one of the greatest defenses in NFL history helping him become that exception to the rule, the admit with the 5-something GMAT score typically has an unheard-of asset like a personal letter of recommendation from a US President or a history of successful Zuckerbergian entrepreneurship. Yes, Stanford occasionally admits someone with no work experience, but that person may have several inventions with patents or a pattern of leadership in exotic volunteer organizations. So if your GMAT score is below that middle 80% range at your target school and you’re taking solace in the fact that “10% of admitted applicants have scores like mine”, keep in mind that you’re trying to be Dilfer, and if you don’t have a Ray-Lewis-sized asset working behind you your odds aren’t good.

Why post this (other than our desire to Photoshop Trent Dilfer into the article)?

Sometimes tough love is what people need. Many applicants this time of year are so scared of Round Three that they’re hoping for Dilfers with really no chance. The truth — if you’re applying with a 610 in Round Two versus with a 680 in Round Three, Round Three is likely your best and only shot. If you’re so set on applying this year with limited work experience, a lower-than-you’d-like GMAT score and some thrown-together-to-meet-the-deadline essays, you’re likely to end up with your backup schools when a year of patience, work experience, and organization behind your applications could have sent you to a school you really want to attend. Too many applicants rush their applications, sell their GMAT score short, and either throw away application fees or attend backup schools simply because they’re trying to be Trent Dilfer, the exception to the significant trend.

As dreamers and hopefuls, we’re hardwired to remember the Dilfers. Like Lloyd Christmas in Dumb & Dumber, when we hear “one in a million” we think “so you’re telling me there’s a chance.” But remember — we know the Cinderella / Dilfer stories so well because they’re notable, and they’re notable because they’re so rare. Don’t give up on your dreams, but don’t assume that you’ll be the exception either. One Super Bowl has been won by a Dilfer, but the vast majority have been won by the likes of Montana, Bradshaw, Aikman and Brady. If your MBA application feels like a Dilfer, take a step back (Staubach?) and use the “offseason” to turn it into a Rodgers or Manning.

If you’re wondering how best to distinguish yourself, call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today. And, as always, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!