There are traditionally two types of business school students, which I grant you, fall into very broad, generalized buckets: Poets & Quants. It’s likely if you have begun digging into b-school research already that you have come across these categories and have therefore considered where you might be located. It’s often fairly obvious who fits in where, and certainly there are exceptions for folks who truly straddle both categories, but by and large, you will identify with either one or the other, and knowing where you come from can often help you in the application process. It can possibly also help you in other ways as well, such as when you are working on team projects in school, or afterwards, when the time comes to choose your post MBA job opportunity.
For some applicants, it’s rather obvious. For example, if you scored in the 90th percentile on the GMAT math portion, you’re clearly a quant, or at least have the skills of one. Often these types of scores will correlate with engineers, financiers, accountants, project managers, computer scientists, etc. Of course this is not always the case, and in fact, if you come from a more “poetic” background (let’s take an extreme example: English teacher), yet can still post a 90th percentile on the quant portion of the GMAT, you can actually really stand out as unique, so congratulations, and aim high!
For some reason, scoring in the 90th percentile on the verbal portion does not necessarily mean you are a poet. It seems that folks who nail the quant can often also nail the verbal part of the test and are in general, good test takers (don’t you just hate them!). So again, these folks might be labeled as quants. And guess what? B-schools favor quants. The reason for this is the math and analytic-driven curricula and the hopelessness some folks experience when they get in over their head with “calculating things” in class. Schools cannot afford to drag a class down with folks who just don’t “get it” when numbers are involved. And let’s face it—if you want to do well in business, you’d better be pretty good at math, so it’s justified. It’s a long road before you can simply hire others to do the math for you!
But what about folks who do fine on the GMAT, but don’t have a clear strength—the most obvious example would be someone who scores evenly on both sections. There are other areas to look, and one of the clearest can be your college experience. Do you have a BS or a BA degree? Was your major in Biology, Business or Engineering or were you gracing the halls of Philosophy, English, History or Political Science? Did you attend a Liberal Arts school? These indicators can sometimes communicate to the admissions committees if you are a Poet or a Quant. Another strong indicator is what you do for a living. Social Worker? Poet. Banker? Quant.
Overall, more quants than poets apply to business school, which on one hand is a shame. There are loads of successful poets out there running businesses (they simply hire really good CFOs). If you are a quant by nature, you will have an easy time meeting qualifications for b-school but a harder time standing out. Because there are fewer poets in the mix, their advantage is in appearing unique, and thanks to the advantages of a diverse classroom, b-schools seek poets to round out the student body makeup. After all, the last thing we want in the business world is quant-jocks making all the decisions.
I have mentioned before that the curriculum in b-school assumes no prior business knowledge. For this reason, poets can hang with their quantitative counterparts in the classroom just fine. So if you are a poet, you may want to spend some time boning up on your math skills before you apply and if you are a quant, you may want to befriend your fellow poet—not only can you help them with the numbers (and thereby make a friend for life), but you can also gain some insight from the “softer side” of business.
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Scott Bryant has over 25 years of professional post undergraduate experience in the entertainment industry as well as on Wall Street with Goldman Sachs. He served on the admissions committee at the Fuqua School of Business where he received his MBA and now works part time in retirement for a top tier business school. He has been consulting with Veritas Prep clients for the past six admissions seasons.