What matters most to you about an application?
The academic aptitude piece matters. We also look at their professional experience and their leadership potential. And personal attributes matter. As well, how do they bring in that Longhorn Love? We bleed burnt orange here at McCombs due to our association with UT-Austin and the Longhorns. I’m a graduate of the program, our assistant dean is a graduate of the program, I have three Longhorns in my admissions staff. We look for a tint of burnt orange in the application. I would even be OK with a burnt orange resume if it was easy to read. We have a fairly small program. We’re looking for individuals who are really pumped about the experience, and we have a really student-driven approach here at McCombs. Those are the kinds of students that become the most successful here, and the most successful alums. The ones that are really going to drive change.
Please describe the best application video you saw after McCombs began accepting them in lieu of an essay. The worst?
We truly want them to put their best foot forward, and there are some people that are better writers than speakers on video. We want to let them select the best way to express themselves. I would hate to single out one video as being the best or the worst. But something that I have seen is videos that fail to achieve what the person is trying to achieve, from folks that are better writers than producers of videos. The videos that we see that are poor are the ones that are trying to do something out of their comfort zone. I wouldn’t say that this is the time to experiment. Evaluate the options, see what they’re most comfortable in, and then go that route. We’ve seen everything from videos recorded with an iPhone camera to a higher production process. They can be as successful talking to a camera that’s on a tripod and giving us a really heartfelt expression of who they are, or they can have a video with higher production value, but it’s not really necessary, in our opinion. What’s most important is the message that they’re trying to convey, how they go about answering the question.
How often do you make mistakes in admitting people? What’s the worst one yet?
(Laughs) I don’t like the word ‘mistakes.’ It’s a little bit disrespectful to call people mistakes. There are certain students when they get to campus that encounter challenges. Part of the benefit of having a small program is we can really give hands-on assistance. We do have students that come in, maybe they’re from a foreign country, and maybe their English isn’t as good as they thought it was. We have resources in the program to make sure they are successful. If we have students that they arrive and their English is not kind of where we think that it should be . . . or maybe they’re struggling with a particular class, we have the resources here to make sure they are gong to be OK and they’re going to succeed at the end of the day.
Do you have an example of an applicant you took a chance on, in spite of some deficiencies?
Something that I hear from applicants is a certain level of anxiety for individuals that have a poor undergraduate GPA, and that’s something that they can’t change. There are students that come in with undergraduate GPAs that are below our average, but we feel like with the admissions process that we have in place, we can take a calculated risk. An example of this is maybe someone that is first to college, that maybe didn’t have the mentorship and background, and struggled through college. If in the application they are genuine and sincere, we’re going to understand where that’s coming from.
What application caused your biggest-ever disagreement with an admissions colleague?
We have a pretty seasoned team and we’re usually on the same page. We’re fortunate that we have a pretty strong pool to evaluate. There are a few folks, usually the ones that we bring in maybe with a little less work experience, that we have more discussions about. Less than five per cent of our class has two years or less of work experience. If there is a disagreement in the admissions committee we usually bring in our career management friends to help mediate that discussion. Are they going to be able to achieve their goals, going against people that maybe have little bit more experience? It’s a pretty collaborative process. There is comfort that we’re going to make the right decision at the end of the day.
What did an applicant do that made you want to shake them, metaphorically speaking?
I tend to be pretty easygoing, originally from Brazil, and it’s such a crazy place that you have to be easygoing to get along there. When I get frustrated is whenever at recruiting events and I’m representing the school, maybe at a fair, and we’re interacting with students, and they come up and ask me questions without having done any research, about information that is easily available on our website. Their time is valuable, my time is valuable, let’s make sure we’re making the best use of our time.
What’s the oddest thing you’ve ever received in an application package?
I’ve received some odd things over the years. We’ve received CDs of people singing and performing. We’ve actually received cakes, like sweets, in the office.
Did you eat them?
I didn’t. (Laughs) We also received portraits of admissions officers, painted. I’ve never received one; I had two people on my team who received a portrait. There are cultural differences (and) whenever we do receive unusual gifts we ask the question of kind of, ‘Why?’ and kind of try to understand the story behind it. The applicants tend to be thoughtful, and have a story behind them. We try to understand the genesis of such acts.