The MBA Gatekeeper At McDonough

Shari Hubert, associate dean of MBA admissions at Georgetown's McDonough School of Business. Courtesy photo

Shari Hubert, associate dean of MBA admissions at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business  – courtesy photo

When going through the application process for a top business school, it’s a good idea to avoid annoying those who are making the ultimate decisions. It’s best not to spam the entire dean’s suite during a holiday break asking for an admissions response. And it’s advisable to avoid stalking the LinkedIn accounts of 50 alums from your top school and demanding the head of admissions put you in contact with each one.

Indeed, applicants to Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business have committed these transgressions – and both received a ding, according to Shari Hubert, associate dean of MBA admissions. What Hubert does recommend is deep reflection on your personal strengths and weaknesses, and working those to your advantage. And if you’re applying to McDonough (or any other B-school) it’s a good idea to show respect toward the staff and the process.

Hubert took over McDonough’s MBA admissions at the end of 2012 after a stint as the director of recruitment for the Peace Corps, where she actively recruited 4,000 volunteers every year. The school has increased one spot in Poets&Quants composite rankings from 23rd to 22nd since Hubert has been at the school.

During the past application cycle, McDonough saw a 16% increase in application volume for its 270 slots. For the class of 2017, the median GMAT remained flat at 700 and the average increased one point from the class of 2016 to 692. Hubert has been instrumental in McDonough’s Consortium involvement. The incoming class had an increase of underrepresented minorities to 14% from 10%, and the size of the Consortium class leapt by 50%.

Hubert holds a bachelors degree in French from Dartmouth College and an MBA from Harvard Business School. In an exclusive interview with Poets&Quants, Hubert gives insights ranging from how to successfully navigate Georgetown’s interview process, to what her office looks for specifically in an application, to whether you need to practice your handshake, to the spot you should be looking at during a Skype interview.

What are the three best things an applicant can do before applying?

It depends. It’s not a cookie-cutter solution. I think it’d be best for them to begin by developing a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis on themselves relative to the top two or three programs they are applying to. I would suggest to develop their own game plan to shore up their weaknesses and maximize their opportunities so that they are in a better position of understanding their competitive advantage.

For example, just for myself, I was a liberal arts major and a French major, had five years of work experience, and a decent academic record, but was not strong quantitatively. So in my instance, what I really focused on was practicing for the GMAT. Unless you know going in you’re a good test taker, you really owe it to yourself to put the due diligence in to prepare for the GMAT.

Retake as needed, but I’d say after three times, move on from there and if your score still isn’t in the middle to top 80% of the schools you’re looking at, really focus on other aspects of your profile where you feel like you have more of a competitive advantage.

Another example, let’s say you have someone with a strong quantitative background, they come from a strong quantitative major or are working in a finance field. They might be an international student whose primary language isn’t English, and have never traveled abroad or to the U.S. I would really focus on an ESL course that focuses on business professionals. I would encourage them to watch, read, and listen to any program or publication that’s in English. Find a friend that’s American and practice speaking with him or her. Ask them about their culture and about business norms and practices. Talk about, very openly, any weird stereotypes that you as an applicant have of the American culture or that you think Americans might have of your own culture. And really start to talk about and dispel those myths, so that you’re in a better position to explain your ability to acculturate in a more competitive environment, once you get into the program.

There are not three best things a person can do; it really depends on the starting point of that individual person and where they want to apply.

What matters most to you about an application?

For us at Georgetown, there are three qualities we really think students possess that will thrive in our environment and even as alums. One is resourcefulness. If you get into our program, we know you have the skills and intelligence – we’ve been able to ascertain that through the admissions process. But then we want you to really apply those skills and intelligence and really use them throughout your two-year experience.

Also, resilience, so this idea you can fall down and get back up in one motion. It’s really important, this notion of grit and determination and perseverance. Lastly, would be resolve. I’m a big believer in our MBA associate dean of programs, Prashant Malaviya; we talked about pursuing your dreams with determination and resolve. And I think that is absolutely the case. Don’t let anyone tell you you cannot achieve your dreams. I also think, though, that you need to be realistic and honest with yourself about what’s important to you and achieving your end goal—whatever that might be. If it’s more money, if it’s a better lifestyle for you and your family, if it’s more respect, more responsibility, if it’s even to start your own enterprise—whatever it is, determine which program is going to be best to help you achieve those goals relative to what you bring to the table.

So we really look for individuals throughout the application process who we can tell have done that kind of homework for themselves that they’ll do that due diligence and self-reflection. It’s also OK to shoot for the stars and not let anyone dissuade you but we definitely see some applicants who have caviar and champagne tastes that aren’t aligned with their personal and professional reality. We really look for individuals who are really bringing their reality that matches with what we have to offer—what we think, aspirationally, we’d like to transform them into. Because if we are successful in doing that, they are going to be much more happy and content with their experience. They are going to be much more in a position set up for success to achieve the goals they have for themselves and their families.

If you feel like your application is less competitive in one dimension that is . . . important to the school, then you have to make sure you are showing off those other parts of your application, those other parts of yourself, so that at the end of the day, you can put forward your most competitive application possible. So we really look for people who don’t leave anything unsaid, who don’t leave any gaps, who are really clear and transparent in their application so that we really understand the full picture and the full story of the applicant and are not left guessing.

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