Ahlm says the interview is the candidate’s opportunity to highlight your skills and personality in ways that a written application cannot. Be prepared to discuss your strengths and development areas, but also understand that the interviewer especially wants to get to know you as a person. He or she wants to understand how you can contribute to the Booth community. Ahlm suggests that you review your application before walking into an interview. You should show up early so you have some time to collect your thoughts, dress in business attire and bring a copy of your resume.
“Know how you will want to convey your story, your career plan and your unique goals,” he suggests. “If your goals and motivations are clear, you can expect a lively conversation and lots of good questions by the interviewer. You should also use the interview as an opportunity to learn more about Booth. There will be time at the end of the interview for you to ask your interviewer questions. You should have a few questions ready to find out about the things that are most important to you and your MBA experience.”
Interviewers grade the candidates on the same one to six scale. Once the interview report comes in, the file is then given to another admissions director who has not yet seen it. That person does an assessment of the entire file, deciding whether to admit, deny, or put the decision to a committee of the six admissions directors and Ahlm. “The committee process is an opportunity for us to all take a group of very talented people and sit down as a collective and have a discussion of the merits of the application,” explains Ahlm. The committee meets for two or three days to go over these applications, quickly rendering decisions after a full discussion of the applicant’s file.
ULTIMATELY, EVERY ADMIT OR DENY DECISION BELONGS TO AHLM.
All admit and deny recommendations go to Ahlm for final decisions. It’s rare for him to override a recommendation, but every year there are several cases where he may turn a deny into an admit or an admit into a deny. As the only person in the process who reads every application, he is now looking to craft a diverse and varied class of incoming students. “No one is denied until Kurt denies them,” says Kole. “So he never reverses a deny. He has a recommendation from several readers, but he owns that decision.”
An example of a recent decision in which Ahlm effectively overruled a recommendation? Says Ahlm: “I had a candidate that I was looking at the other day. There were elements of the application in which the story wasn’t as tightly knit together as the student and my staff would have liked, but there were elements in the application that suggested to me the candidate had great self awareness and good intellectual curiosity. Maybe the applicant didn’t necessarily understand Booth to the degree that I would have liked. But I saw attributes that jumped off of the application and made me think this person could be really successful here. At the end of the day, we not only want to get people who are very talented. We also want them to fundamentally fit with the culture here.”
What exactly is “fit?” Adds Kole, “You have to be someone who is comfortable making up your own mind and taking ownership for your decisions. That is a critical part of drinking fully from this experience.” That’s because there is only one required course at Booth. Unlike Harvard or Wharton, there is no first-year core curriculum in which you take as part of a cohort of other students. You pick and choose your courses based on your experience and interests.
Martinelli, who was admissions director for more than five years until moving to the overall university’s department of admissions last year, puts it this way: “You come to Booth as an adult. You build and leverage on your past successes. You don’t come in as good. People are like CEOs of their own experiences here. At Wharton, that core could kill you or bore you. Here, you don’t have that. You’re responsible for your education.”