The MBA Gatekeeper At NYU Stern

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What are the worst mistakes an applicant can make?

The thing that you see sometimes which is unfortunate is what I call a lack of professionalism or a lack of judgment. You’re applying to business school. There’s a difference between writing a business school essay and writing in your journal. What you would include maybe in your diary, your journal, versus what you would include in an application to a professional school in the world of business are going to be different. There are some words that I probably wouldn’t use in that context. There are words that start with ‘F’ and ‘S’ and ‘H’ that probably don’t have a place in the world of business. An amusing anecdote that you might share with a friend about consuming more alcoholic beverages than your manager might be wonderful conversation with a friend but not really an appropriate topic for a professional school application. There are moments when I think people kind of forget what they’re applying for and they look at it as an exercise in self-reflection and thought. It is a bit more prevalent than you would think considering that you’re talking about a business school application.

You want to treat every member of any organization with respect and courtesy, and there are going to be things that are possibly frustrating or concerning during any process like this. If I ever hear that someone is rude or disrespectful . . . that isn’t the person I want to be an ambassador for the program. If you’re upset with something, and sometimes people are, it happens, there’s an appropriate chain of command – you don’t need to send an email that cc’s the president of the university and the dean of the school. There’s a way that things are done in the world of business that are appropriate and professional and show respect, and that’s just kind of how you manage things. The majority of people are entirely appropriate.

What interview question elicits the most telling answers?

It’s really all about the follow-up question. It’s really all about getting behind their answer. You may ask them, ‘OK, what do you want to go do?’ but really it’s the next question, which is, ‘Why?’ It’s really about follow-up questions, and just seeking a depth of understanding about people. There’s not a one-size-fits-all. It’s not like we have a list of questions that we ask people. What makes this person unique and  special — trying to figure out what that is. That’s what it’s really about.

What interview question do applicants have the hardest time answering?

It depends on the applicant. People struggle with questions when they haven’t done their homework. You ask them something and they don’t know the answer. None of our questions are ‘gotcha’ questions. We’re not into gotcha questions. We’re into ‘getcha’ questions, where we get to know you. It’s just a nice conversation when we get to know you. The interview usually flies by and they have a lot of fun doing it. It shouldn’t be a high-stress situation if you’ve thought a lot about what you want to do and you’re really excited about it. Doing a little bit of planning about what types of questions you may want to ask is important: the interview is a two-way assessment at Stern. They should also be checking us out: ‘Do I really want to be at this school? Is this the place where I’m going to be really happy?’ It’s another opportunity to make sure that this is the place. Let’s say, for a specific area or topic, what in our curriculum may give them the knowledge that they’re looking for? What professors have the knowledge that they’re looking for? What’s the learning style — are we going to be lecture based, case based, a lot of group work? The more they understand where they’re going to do their best, the better.

If you really like the environment where people pull together to help each other, that’s the kind of thing you want to ask: ‘Is this a competitive environment? Is this a team environment?’ Those questions you’ll want to ask to see if it meets your needs professionally, if it fits with you personally.

What would get an applicant immediately ruled out?

We typically review an application before declining it. What would get it immediately in the trash I guess would be a thorough review that indicated the person isn’t the person that we’re looking for. You’ve got to look at the whole application. While there may be a yellow flag here or there, there might be other stuff. You can’t just stop when you have a concern; you have to look at the whole thing.

How often do you make mistakes in admitting people?

Good decisions don’t always lead to good outcomes, and bad decisions don’t always lead to bad outcomes. It’s not a perfect art, admissions; we’re talking about decisions by humans. You can’t predict anything that’s going to go on in the future. Do we make mistakes? I don’t think we mistakes – I think we make good decisions, and sometimes they play out differently than what you thought. That said, our batting average is really high. I go to students when they start. People always tell me, ‘I don’t know how you do it, I love everyone. People seem, like, real, wow, it’s great.’ Everyone’s unique, everyone brings something to the table. I almost never hear, ‘This person I don’t really like,’ from students and faculty. We’re very fortunate. We’re a very selective school and we do our interviews in such a way that we really invest in that interview process and that really gives people the comfort that when they come to the school and then they look to the left and to the right, they know those people add to the value of their network. Sternies are close, more than just professionally but personally. They make really good friends for life.

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