Kellogg | Mr. Defense Engineer
GMAT 760, GPA 3.15
Cornell Johnson | Mr. Indian Dreamer
GRE 331, GPA 8.5/10
McCombs School of Business | Mr. Ernst & Young
GMAT 600 (hopeful estimate), GPA 3.86
Kellogg | Mr. Innovator
GRE 300, GPA 3.75
London Business School | Ms. Private Equity Angel
GMAT 660, GPA 3.4
Harvard | Mr. Defense Engineer
GMAT 730, GPA 3.6
Chicago Booth | Ms. Indian Banker
GMAT 740, GPA 9.18/10
Harvard | Ms. Developing Markets
GMAT 780, GPA 3.63
Yale | Ms. Biotech
GMAT 740, GPA 3.29
McCombs School of Business | Mr. Marine Executive Officer
GRE 322, GPA 3.28
Kellogg | Mr. Engineer Volunteer
GMAT 710, GPA 3.8
Stanford GSB | Ms. Global Empowerment
GMAT 740, GPA 3.66
Chicago Booth | Mr. Bank AVP
GRE 322, GPA 3.22
Harvard | Mr. Renewables Athlete
GMAT 710 (1st take), GPA 3.63
Stanford GSB | Mr. Infantry Officer
GRE 320, GPA 3.7
UCLA Anderson | Ms. Apparel Entrepreneur
GMAT 690, GPA 3.2
Harvard | Mr. Armenian Geneticist
GRE 331, GPA 3.7
Berkeley Haas | Mr. 1st Gen Grad
GMAT 740, GPA 3.1
Ross | Mr. Travelpreneur
GMAT 730, GPA 2.68
London Business School | Ms. Numbers
GMAT 730, GPA 3.5
IU Kelley | Mr. Fortune 500
N U Singapore | Mr. Naval Officer
GMAT 710, GPA 3.2
NYU Stern | Ms. Entertainment Strategist
GMAT Have not taken, GPA 2.92
INSEAD | Ms. Spaniard Consultant
GMAT 710, GPA 8.5/10.00
NYU Stern | Mr. Army Prop Trader
GRE 313, GPA 2.31
Chicago Booth | Mr. Unilever To MBB
GRE 308, GPA 3.8
Stanford GSB | Ms. Healthtech Venture
GMAT 720, GPA 3.5

How A Top School Screens MBA Applicants

The new Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto


So when Kevin Frey, managing director of Rotman’s full-time MBA program, met da Silva, then director of MBA admissions and recruitment at Ivey for three years, he was immediately sold. “Within four minutes, I knew I had to get Niki to Rotman,” says Frey. “She’s articulate, persuasive and passionate about MBA student recruitment and that was obvious within minutes. And she’s fiercely competitive–which in my opinion is a must-have in an admissions director in the current MBA environment. She’s the complete package.”

Da Silva was drawn to the school because of its charismatic and visionary leader, Roger Martin, who has transformed the place into a major player in business education in his 13 years in the job as dean. Martin smartly built on the school’s natural advantages. It is in a world-class city, Canada’s business capital, and is part of the most prestigious university in Canada. But Martin also has made the school’s MBA program truly distinctive, focusing the curriculum on integrative thinking and business design, providing one-on-one executive coaching for every student and raising the money to a new $93 million state-of-the-art building that opened last year.

The goal of admissions, believes da Silva, is to get as clear a picture of the true candidate as possible. “Everyone wants to get the candidate off the script,” she says. “We have to ask the things they’re not prepared to talk about. We screen on a continuous learning orientation, intellectual curiosity and horsepower, coach-ability and self-awareness,” she adds. “To be an Olympic fencer or a professional poker player is a bonus here. That is very Rotman. There is a real celebration of diversity at the school.”


Her favorite part of the job? Telling applicants they’ve been admitted to the school. “I want to be the very first to tell you you’ve been admitted,” is how that telephone conversation would start. “When you make that call, it’s going to change that person’s life forever. You hear screams on the other end of the phone. Some people cry. I love doing it.”

*            *            *            *

At exactly 10 a.m. of a January day, da Silva has a scheduled admissions interview with a 24-year-old MBA applicant who currently works as a consultant for the Toronto office of a leading global firm. The slender woman with blonde over-the-shoulder hair could have easily walked off the pages of a fashion magazine. Dressed in a black slip dress with an elegantly tailored checked jacket, brown tights and black pumps, she is pretty, graceful and confident. She is wearing tasteful diamond earrings and her makeup is impeccable.

She sits down at a small round table in da Silva’s office where a ten-inch-high stack of red folders lay on the desk. The admission director’s office is painted in stark white, with industrial gray carpeting. There are no paintings, pictures or posters on the walls because da Silva only recently moved into the recently opened wing.


The consultant is perched on the edge of her seat, bearing just a slight trace of nervousness. A small black notebook is at the ready to jot down a thought or insight.

“I’m already familiar with your application package,” says da Silva, who sits across from the candidate. “The strategy behind our admissions interview is to really use what you’ve already told us as the starting point for a conversation. Typically questions from my end will run 20 to 30 minutes and then I’ll leave time to cover your questions.”

After a knowing nod from the applicant, da Silva delivers her first question:

“Can you walk me through the highlights of your resume and talk a little about not just what you’ve done but why you’ve done it and what you’ve learned?”

“Right now,” the applicant answers, “I’m in strategy consulting and have developed a real focus on an industry. It’s been a great opportunity to advise clients both in the U.S. and Canada and to work with senior-level executives on strategic and operational issues. I have been able to build a brand for myself in the industry, through published research I’ve done and by interacting with clients and through industry events.”


Back and forth, the questions and the answers fly.

“How did it happen that you started to publish white papers and build a brand?”

“What contributed to your promotion?”

“Are there brands or organizations you would like to work for?”

About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.