I also would think that an open interview policy has some marketing advantages s as well, especially for a school in Hanover, New Hampshire, right?
There are marketing benefits to an open interview policy for sure. People come who have never been to New Hampshire and say, ‘I thought you were going to be in the middle of the woods with nothing to do and I am pleasantly surprised.’
Over the years you’ve been in MBA admissions, you have witnessed tremendous growth in the international applicant pool as well as from women. What other trends have you seen? Are applicants smarter or different in any other way?
One thing that is different is that I am astounded by the international experiences of our applicants. When I started 20 years ago, it was more of an anomaly that you saw someone with international experience. And it is now the norm. We ask more questions about it: Have you studied abroad? Do you speak a foreign language? Have you worked abroad? We are asking questions that are aimed at a global mindset.
I can’t believe that 27-year-olds have had such robust experiences outside their home countries. That’s definitely a change. It makes sense as the world has become more global.
Has Tuck changed the way it assesses the people who apply to the MBA program?
This year, we put greater emphasis on feedback from our advisory boards. I work with each of those boards and they work with other members of the senior staff to help make improvements at Tuck. All of the members are Tuck alums. The MBA Advisory Board created a subcommittee that worked with me to take a look at our admissions process.
One suggestion was to put more focus on poise and presence in the recommendation form. So we added some questions about poise, presence and professionalism and what type of impression does the candidate make in presentations with clients and colleagues. Our European board suggested that we may need to be a little more flexible with the amount of work experience some of the European candidates need to have in part because of the dominance of one-year programs in Europe. The overwhelming message was, you are looking at the right things: teamwork, leadership, and communication skills.
What about your faith in the ability of the GMAT as a core tool to help you decide who gets in and who doesn’t?
It’s hard to quantify success, especially what correlates to long-term financial success. A Darden professor looked at a class that graduated 25 years earlier. He examined their financial success and 25 different variables and the biggest correlation was whether that person participated in sports in high school or college and particularly if he or she were a captain of the sport. That is not all that surprising. We’ve seen that in meetings where we ask faculty and career services who is standing out in the program and in the placement process. When we pull out their applications, we see a lot of student athletes who tend to stand out.
I think the GMAT is valuable in giving us one apples-to-apples benchmark that we can compare across different countries and cultures. It’s not like judging different grading systems or different companies. All applicants take the same test and this is one commonality among many differences. The combination of the GPA and GMAT strongly correlates to an applicant’s first year performance.
What about the GRE?
Only 4 to 6 percent of our applicant pool takes the GRE. The Educational Testing Service is working on validity studies on the GRE for an MBA curriculum. That will be very helpful to us. Until we get that validity study from them, our public policy is we prefer the GMAT because we have more data on its validity. There may be a time when we view both tests equally.
And how do you account for grade inflation at so many undergraduate institutions?
If you looked at averages ten years ago they would be lower than today. Now we are at 3.5 but a lot of schools are in the 3.6 and 3.7 range and it’s to the point where you see someone with a 3.2 from a good school that was deeply involved in the community and you question it. There are a lot of good applicants who are inspired and motivated and who may not have a 3.5.
Another aspect of MBA admissions that has changed, according to many officers, is the increasing tendency of some business schools to ‘buy’ the best applicants with scholarship money. What’s your take on this?
There have been dramatic changes in the last few years with the scholarship situation at schools. You can throw money at people with high GMAT scores to lure them to your school. A GMAT study a few years ago showed that women and minorities are more risk adverse when it comes to taking out debt so everyone is trying to recruit more women and minorities and some schools are in a position to be very generous with them. I hear incredible stories of women who say they want to come here but they get a full ride plus a stipend to go to another school. We don’t offer full ride scholarships to anyone. That is an issue I have been really vocal about in the last year and I think we are going to see some change there.