THE APPLICANT WHO DID A MOON WALK
While most admissions offices do not have the time to check Facebook or Twitter accounts on each applicant, she says that at Wharton admission officers would sometimes follow up on websites that were provided by applicants. “Sometimes they were a good choice (amazing videos of a school a female applicant had helped to build and run in South Africa from the ground up). Sometimes they were not (really bad karaoke renditions of Michael Jackson complete with moonwalk).”
At Wharton, every MBA application had two readers. The first was a current MBA student (this is no longer true). “We had about 80 students and I ran that program,” she recalls. “They would read 15 to 20 files a week and do the first round. Then a staff member would do the second and make a bottom line recommendation. We would then go to a committee session where the battles sometimes got quite heated. There was a lot of discussion and interaction. It was a very intense and thorough process. Ultimately, the director would have the final say, but we really worked through every case that went through the desk. The nights were long.”
Often, Hodara says, she felt as if she were a lawyer defending a client. “You were presenting a case and defending the student and why this was going to be a great fit for the school. You argued why they would survive the quant if the GMAT score was below our average. It was intensely personal. Candidates don’t really know how admission officers dig into their cases. It is a very collaborative and thorough process.”
AS A WHARTON ADMISSIONS STAFFER, SHE OFTEN FELT LIKE A LAWYER DEFENDING A CLIENT
Because she acted as an advocate for many non-traditional candidates at Wharton, Hodara found herself in defense attorney mode on many days. “I was really committed to social impact groups and non-profits. But you also needed to maintain a sense of the overall class coming in. At the end of the day, you can’t have 60% from a certain industry or a different profile. You have to have a sense of what the class is going to look like when they walk in in the first week of August.
“It can get very personal. You see these people at events. You get regular emails from them. And if they are admitted, you helping them make the decision to matriculate. Admissions officers tend to be very outgoing. They enjoy social interaction and are comfortable in those settings. So you keep tabs on people, the ones you got and the ones you lost to other schools.”
She laughs now about the campaigns by some applicants to get the attention of the admissions committee. “There are candidates who sometimes didn’t understand the limits of what was too much. Sending a box of brownies to the whole office might have seemed like a good idea at the time but wasn’t. Some of this has to do with self-awareness. Sometimes you want to be admitted so badly that is can color your judgment.
JUMPING UP AND DOWN IN FRONT OF ADMISSION OFFICERS
“I am a proponent of appropriate interaction: phone calls and emails are okay if they have a purpose. If you want to learn more about the aerospace club and need to be put in contact with someone, it is a give-and-take relationship and jumping up and down in front of an admissions officer isn’t always going to get you noticed in the best of ways. It’s not for lack of interest. It’s for lack of time. We would love to have talked to every single candidate that came in but it would have left me no time to do anything else in a day. The best candidates are pretty savvy about how to reach out.”
Just before leaving her Wharton job, she unwittingly stepped into a controversy when it was reported that she had joined the advisory board of an admissions consulting firm in Japan while also being senior associate director of admissions. Hodara suggests a mountain was made out of mole hill. She explains: “In 2008 I was asked to advise the leadership of a Japanese admissions consulting firm, to help them better understand the admissions process for undergraduate and graduate programs. I requested and received approval from my director, though subsequently stepped down from the advisory role prior to any active involvement.”
She left her job as senior associate director in September of 2009, served as a senior auxiliary reader for Wharton for another nine months, and then made the transition to a full-time admissions consultant. “One of the reasons I went into consulting was because I wanted to have that close, hands-on, sometimes philosophical discussion with students. As an admissions officer, they know you are helping to make the ultimate decision. I could tell them what I could about our process, but you don’t tell them everything. They have to go through it themselves. Now I can share my understanding of what goes on and help them feel confident about their decisions. To me, that is just such wonderful work.”
NOT ENTHUSIASTIC ABOUT HARVARD’S RECENT ADMISSION CHANGES
Asked how the MBA applicant pool has changed over the years, Hodara says candidates today are incredibly well informed. “You really get students who have done their research,” she says. “They ask very specific questions. They understand a lot more about what they need to do. They are a little more realistic because they understand the profile. They are coming to you with a little bit more self knowledge and they are savvy with who they want to work with on the consulting side.”