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The MBA Gatekeeper At MIT Sloan

MIT Sloan Admissions Director Dawna Levenson

MIT Sloan Admissions Director Dawna Levenson

Dawna Levenson made a lot of people very happy on Friday (Dec. 20)—and an even greater number of people disappointed and sad.

As director of admissions at MIT’s prestigious Sloan School of Management, Levenson notified round one applicants whether they were admitted, dinged or wait listed just before the Christmas holiday.

If all went according to form, you can bet that Levenson shed a few happy tears here and there as she informed candidates that they will be welcome to join Sloan’s Class of 2016. As an alumna of the MBA program, she knows firsthand what a difference acceptance to the school can make.

After graduating from Sloan with both a BS and MS in management science in 1984, she joined Accenture for a near 18-year stint at the consulting firm. When she left the business as a partner in 2002, Levenson says she wanted to pursue a different career. “I really loved being on a college campus,” she says, “so I moved back to the Boston area and I applied for many jobs.” At one point, she received a call from Sloan, asking her if she would be interested in being a contract reader of application files in 2006.

“I jumped on that opportunity and then six months later I got a job at MIT in a different department—the MIT Professional Education office. I continued to stay involved as a reader and then two years ago a couple of positions opened up and I pursued them. Levenson first became associate director for Sloan’s Master of Finance program and then in February of this year she was named director of MBA admissions. ‘It sounds trite, I know, but it just feels like home,” says Levenson, whose dark, wild and curly hair is one of her distinguishing features.

Levenson reports to Rod Garcia, who has been a fixture in MBA admissions at Sloan for a quarter of a century. Garcia joined Sloan admissions in September of 1988. “We are overlapping circles,” she says. “There is an awful lot we do together but then there is the external side that Rod spends a good deal of time with. He has established some very important relationships with alumni all over the blog. He can spend more time cultivating those relationships now. I am responsible for the day-to-day running of the office. The entire admissions staff reports to me. It works very well.”

Last year, 4,300 applications flowed through Sloan’s admissions office, up 7.5% from the previous year.  About 15.2% of those who applied–roughly 650 applicants–were admitted to the program’s 400 or so seats. The class that Levenson helped to enroll in the fall ranges in age from 22 to 37, and averages five years of work experience, a GMAT of 713 and an undergraduate grade point average of about 3.53. Sloan admits a significantly higher percentage of international students than many of its peers—41% in the Class of 2015, equal to Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and Duke University’s Fuqua School, but higher than every other Top Ten school.  A hefty 37% have undergraduate degrees in engineering.

We interviewed Levenson early in the morning one day last week, just before an all-day meeting at which she and her staff would be holed up in a conference room, making yes, no and maybe decisions on a slew of candidates.