India's IIM-A, the World's Toughest B-School to Get Into

Testing into the top B-school is tougher than getting into Stanford
Not even 1 percent of applicants were admitted to India’s top business school last year Photo illustration by Darren Braun for Bloomberg Businessweek

Find the acceptance rates for MBA programs at Stanford University (7 percent) and Harvard University (13 percent) terrifying? Here’s a bit of perspective: Not even 1 percent of applicants were admitted to India’s top business school last year.

The Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad (IIM-A) offered spots to only 0.25 percent of applicants for the 2012-14 academic years. Entry is based heavily on their performance in India’s Common Admission Test, or CAT. Applicants who were admitted to the school and also took the U.S.-based GMAT bested business students the world over: The minimum GMAT score for students in IIM-A’s postgraduate program in management, equivalent to a two-year MBA program, was 770, compared with an average score of 730 at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, according to data reported by 200 global B-schools to QS Quacquarelli Symonds, a London-based researcher. (Stanford is the most selective U.S. MBA program, according to Bloomberg Businessweek data.) “Competition in India is so intense. So many kids have outstanding grades,” says QS Quacquarelli Symonds founder Nunzio Quacquarelli. “The application to acceptance rate probably makes [IIM-A] the most competitive business school in the world.”

The institute received 173,866 applications for 2012-14, vs. 6,618 for Stanford’s Class of 2013. “India’s population is so large, particularly among young people, it’s easy for [IIM-A] to have the luxury of making one huge cut” based on test scores, says Graham Richmond, co-founder of Clear Admit, an MBA admissions consulting firm in Philadelphia.

While the CAT makes the task of winnowing applicants easier, some question whether the process is the best predictor of business aptitude. Tushar Dublish, an undergrad computer science and engineering student at the Indian Institute of Technology in Mandi, doesn’t plan on applying to IIM-A and will instead shoot for Harvard Business School and the Yale School of Management, among other programs outside India. Dublish, 20, says the pressure of doing well on the CAT isn’t what bothers him. It’s the notion that his score on a single exam—not his background, achievements, and other qualities—would determine his fate.

Quacquarelli says test-centric admissions may also mean less diversity. According to statistics compiled by his firm, the vast majority of students at IIM-A have engineering backgrounds, and just 17 percent of those admitted in 2012 were women. At Stanford, the figure is 35 percent, according to data gathered by Bloomberg Businessweek. “We value diversity in the student body and pursue that within the constrains of a selection process that has to be transparent, publicly defensible, and accommodate one of the largest applicant pools in the world,” says IIM-A professor Sarin Ankar.

To distinguish himself from other Indian applicants to U.S. B-schools, Dublish is studying in Sweden. He interned at ShopClues, an e-commerce startup based in Gurgaon, India, over the winter break and has lined up an internship at Microsoft in Hyderabad for the summer. “Don’t you think working on oneself is much better than working for an exam that you will forget in a couple of years?” he asks.

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