The MBA Summit: How To Get Into A Top Business School

 
If the MBA admission chiefs of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, Yale’s School of Management and UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business were candidates applying for admission to their own schools, what would they do?

Ross’ Soojin Kwon, SOM’s Bruce DelMonico, and Haas’ Morgan Bernstein tackled that question and many more at this week’s MBA Summit, an extraordinary live stream event sponsored by Poets&Quants and the University of Michigan’s business school. Their panel on MBA admissions was among three sessions on May 1 broadcast live from the Ross campus. The other two featured MBA students and recent graduates from all three schools and executives from such major MBA employers Amazon, Google and McKinsey, along with Ross School Dean Scott DeRue (see The MBA Summit: What Employers Really Want From MBAs).

Watched live by nearly 2,000 prospective students and nearly 100 more in person, the takeaways from the admissions panel came through loud and clear:

  1. Even a 780 GMAT score won’t get you automatically admitted to any of the three schools. In fact, Haas denies close to 60% of the applicants who had a 750 or higher GMAT score.
  2. If you plan to apply to multiple schools, you should build out a calendar with all the deadlines required to apply. Reverse engineer the dates from when you hope to start your MBA program.
  3. Be your best authentic self. Don’t try to package your identify for a given school. Present who you are and who you want to become.
  4. If you can, visit a business school campus to best determine ‘fit” with a school’s MBA program.

CANDID ADVICE FROM ADMISSION OFFICIALS WITH A COMBINED 37 YEARS OF EXPERIENCE

Together, the MBA gatekeepers to three of the world’s most prestigious MBA programs boast 37 years of admissions experience. Kwon, a former Deloitte consultant and Ross alum, has been reading applications and reviewing applicants to Ross, for more than 16 years. A former attorney, DelMonico has been doing the same for Yale SOM for nearly 14 years. Bernstein, a Haas MBA who worked briefly in consumer marketing before joining the admissions team at her alma mater, has been reviewing Haas candidates for more than seven years. Last year alone, they assessed a combined 11,715 applicants for just 1,055 seats in their incoming MBA classes, more than 10 candidates for each available class seat.

So how would these highly experienced MBA gatekeepers approach the applications process if they were candidates for the forthcoming coming admissions season? Soojin Kwon, whose son is now in the midst of applying to colleges as an undergrad, suggested starting with practice standardized tests. “Take a lot of tests, practice tests, so you get used to it and you know what your range is, and then spend some time researching schools, because you really want to find the right fit for you,” said Kwon, managing director of full-time MBA admissions and program at Ross. “It’s not about finding the school that’s shiniest. It’s about finding the one where you’re really going to thrive.”

Bruce DelMonico, assistant dean and director of admissions at Yale SOM, believes that the hardest part of the application process for many will be smartly managing applications to multiple schools with different deadlines. “That’s why I think advance planning can go a long way,” he said. “I know a lot of you probably live in spreadsheets. In thinking about the deadlines, I tend to try to reverse engineer things. So ask yourself, when do you want to start the program? Then, when do you have to apply to start the program? And finally, what steps do you need to do to get the applications in?”

‘FIRST, SIT DOWN WITH A GLASS OF WINE AND PREPARE FOR THE LONG JOURNEY AHEAD’

Like Kwon, Morgan Bernstein, executive director of full-time MBA admissions at Haas, suggested that appliants start prepping and taking the standardized tests. “Now is a great time to start taking those GMAT exams and really to start gathering information,” she said. “And so I think over the summer now is when business schools will be attending fairs, delivering their own information sessions, hosting webinars. This is the time to go out and explore, whether it’s attending an online event or an in-person event. Gather as much information as you possibly can to identify that initial list of target schools which is really a critical thing to do at this point in time.”

Before that, however, Bernstein dished out some other counsel. “First,” she said, “I’d probably sit down with a glass of wine and prepare for the long journey ahead. I’d take a deep breath and remind myself that in the end it’s all going to work out, and that it’s all going to be worth it.”

Indeed.

Following is an edited transcript of the entire MBA Summit session.

John Byrne: I want to turn the tables on the three of you to start off. Let’s pretend you are all applicants to your schools. How do you tackle the application process?

Soojin Kwon of Ross

Soojin Kwon: I’ll start. Actually, my son is going through the college application process now, and so it’s kind of pretty close to reality. What I’ve told him, and what I would tell MBA applicants is what I would do is start with practice test taking. Take a lot of tests, practice tests, so you get used to it and you know what your range is. And then spend some time researching schools because you really want to find the right fit for you. It’s not about finding the school that’s shiniest. It’s about finding the one where you’re really going to thrive. So that’s what I’ve told him to do. Has he done it? No, but hopefully MBA applicants will.

Byrne: You’re about to go through an amazing experience to see this from the other side.

Kwon: It’s going to be scary.

Byrne: You’re going to have so much more empathy, not that you don’t already have for your MBA applicants, but you really will after this.

Kwon: It’s going to hurt.

Byrne: Morgan, what would you do first?

Morgan Bernstein of Haas

Morgan Bernstein: You know, first I’d probably sit down with a glass of wine and prepare for the long journey ahead. I’d take a deep breath and remind myself that in the end it’s all going to work out, and that it’s all going to be worth it. But I think more tactically speaking, like Soojin mentioned, I think that recognizing where you are in the process is really important. Now is a great time to start taking those GMAT exams and to start gathering information. And so I think over the summer is when business schools will be attending fairs, delivering their own information sessions, hosting webinars. This is the time to go out and explore, whether it’s attending an online event or an in-person event, I think just gathering as much information as you possibly can to identify that initial list of target schools is really a critical thing to do.

And then once you get later into the summer and we begin to approach those round one deadlines…many schools will have their first deadline coming up in September…obviously, you want to give yourself enough lead room to work on the essays and letters of recommendation. But right now where we are, I think it’s all about information gathering and preparing for the tests.