How A Top School Screens MBA Applicants

What will happen to the Rotman brand when Dean Roger Martin (above) leaves the school as dean this year? asks an MBA applicant

“What would you want your classmates to say about you at graduation?”

“What is one big piece of constructive feedback that you have taken to heart?”

The applicant answers each question with relative ease. The latter evokes an interesting response. “I’ve been told to maintain a poker face when I hear something I don’t necessarily agree with,” she says.


In just over 20 minutes, da Silva seems satisfied and asks the candidate if she has any questions for her. The applicant zeroes in on the big question facing the school, demonstrating that she has indeed done her homework on Rotman.

“With the announcement of the dean stepping down, I wonder how that will affect the school’s trajectory and its brand?,” she asks.

Dean Martin announced in October that he would be stepping down at the end of June, a year shy of completing his third term. Da Silva tells the applicant that the dean will remain at the school as a professor and that his upcoming departure has been known for some time. She tells the candidate that he has been dean longer than most—a total of 14 years when two five-year terms are generally the norm—and she says with confidence that the succession will be smooth. The interview ends when da Silva lets the applicant know that she can expect to hear back from Rotman before the first week of March.

Even before the applicant strolls out of da Silva’s office, there’s a feeling that she pretty much aced her interview.

*            *            *            *

Only five hours later, at 3 p.m., da Silva will gather her admissions staffers in a mid-afternoon meeting in room 6024 and recommend the young Canadian woman she interviewed hours earlier for admission.

“Let me give you the background on the young woman I met this morning,” she begins. “The candidate’s name is Karen. (To protect the confidentiality of the applicants, their names have been changed and their employers not identified). She is a consultant who started as a business analyst. She is a graduate from a top Canadian undergraduate business program.”

“Nice,” says one of the other admission officers at the table.


“She has an interesting story,” continues da Silva. “What else can I tell you about her in terms of data? The weak point of her application is a GMAT score of 630. Interestingly, her breakdown is fairly even between verbal and quant, 73rd and 61st percentile. I will tell you why I don’t think it’s an issue or a deal breaker by any stretch of the imagination.

“So the reason she wants to do the MBA is because at her consulting firm she has actually built this really interesting career as an industry specialist which is very atypical for a young consultant. She was promoted after two years onto the consulting side. She is co-authoring white papers and thought leadership on strategy. As I read through her reference letters early this morning, her referees say that ‘she is exceptional.’ A partner lists her in the top 2% of consultants at the firm. And he is very explicit in saying that ‘we would love to have her back anytime and she has had more of an impact on me than any of her peers.’ You really couldn’t see a stronger reference.”

Most of the heads in the room are nodding in agreement.

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