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

Byrne: And it’s best not to just show up, right Morgan? You should be arranging the visit to make maximum use of your time and the chance to actually be in a class, maybe go to lunch with a student or two.

Bernstein: Exactly. I think it’s in the candidate’s best interest to plan out this visit in advance. As Bruce mentioned, we do all have structured campus visitation programs, but within that, you can also reach out to certain clubs, student leaders. You can reach out to faculty members, alumni who might be working in the area and schedule additional touchpoints.

I think that candidates, sometimes, can be intimidated by current students or not feel like they want to trouble them with an ask for a few minutes of their time, but really, business school students love sharing their experiences. They love talking about their favorite classes or experiences so I would strongly encourage candidates to thoughtfully reach out to current students and ask to meet in the courtyard for a coffee. It’s a great way to really just enhance the structured programs that we all have in place.

Byrne: And I’m assuming all three of you have ambassador programs in which the students who are going to meet with prospective applicants are volunteers. They want to do this.

Bernstein: Exactly. And I think, particularly, just adding on that, it’s a non-evaluative process. I think all of our ambassadors are there for the candidates, to answer their questions, to make them feel at ease whether you’re just visiting campus for the first time or whether you’re coming in for your interview. They’re not jotting down copious notes and then running back to Soojin, Bruce, and I to give us the inside scoop. They’re just really there to make it a little bit easier.

Byrne: Okay. All of you have what I would call a first cut, and this is what makes the whole application journey something like a marathon. Besides the standardized tests and the research and the campus visits and filling out all the applications and getting your recommenders, then you have to get an invite to an interview. What percentage of your applicants actually are invited to interview? And how can they put their best foot forward?

DelMonico: For us, about a quarter of applicants are invited to interview, and we tend to admit roughly about 60% of the people who come to interview. In terms of the interview itself, I think people understandably get very anxious about the interview because it’s the last thing you typically do before you get your admissions decision. I think there’s a perception that it’s kind of make or break. If you do well, you’re in. If you don’t do well, you’re not in. Which is not at all how it works. And we have mostly second-year students who do our interviews. I think we all do it somewhat differently. But what they will do is they will conduct the interview and write up a summary of the conversation. We add it to the file. Then, we go back and look at the entire file, and we use that as a data point, but we check it against the rest of the file to see if it is it confirming things we were thinking? Is it, maybe, dispeling certain concerns we have? It’s not an up or down by any stretch. It’s much more nuanced than that.

In terms of candidates, I would say you should take it seriously. Prepare. Look over your resume. There are some basic questions I think we’ll all ask. We’re not trying to trick you. We’re not trying to come up with crazy case interview questions that we’re going to ask you to answer.

Byrne: You’re not going ask, ‘If you were in the zoo, which animal would you be?

DelMonico: Or what flavor of ice cream would you be and why? No, we’re not going to do that. It’s really meant to be more of a conversation to get to know you. What I would say is take it seriously, but don’t stress about it. It’s not meant to be an interrogation. A 30-minute conversation with a student is not going to outweigh four years of your undergraduate experience or the professional experience you’ve gained. It’s very much, for us at least, more on the margins to help give us more insight into you as a person.

Byrne: So, Soojin, at Ross, what percent of the applicant pool would you actually interview and ultimately accept?

Kwon: We cast the net pretty wide. We invite about 40% of our applicants to interview because we want to give as many people a chance as we can to demonstrate their fit with us. We do second-year MBA and alumni interviews to gauge fit with our community. What we’re looking for in the interview beyond the fit piece is how do you present yourself. Are you someone who’s going to interview well in the recruiting process, whatever industry you’re going into? How far is that gap between where you want to go and where you are now in terms of how you present your story in a clear, succinct way? Do you know your story? You should know your resume backwards and forwards because, if you’re going to put something down on paper, you should be able to talk about it.

But we’re really looking at whether that person has researched what they want to do, researched our school, can demonstrate that they understand what our ethos and our community is like so that we can say thumbs up or thumbs down as to whether they would be a good fit at Ross.

Byrne: And what percentage of those who make the first cut actually get an admit?

Kwon: About half.

Byrne: Morgan, what do the stats look like at your school?

Bernstein: I’d say we’re just about in the middle. We’re probably right around 30% or so that we invite to interview. I think, because an interview is required for admission at Haas, we have seen that percentage increasing a little bit over the last few years, and that’s been intentional. I think wanting to gather as much information about our candidates upfront so that when and if they are put on the waitlist, we already have that information about them to make an informed decision.

I’m not sure that I have much else to add beyond what Soojin and Bruce have said about the interview process. I think what Bruce mentioned just about recognizing that the interview is not the make-or-break element, that it is just one additional data point that we’re going to be looking at. I think even if, maybe, you’re having an off day and you’re not feeling well or maybe you stumbled over a couple of questions, that doesn’t mean you’re not going to get an offer of admission if the rest of your application checked out. Oftentimes what we’ll do is, if there is a questionable interview, again, recognizing this is one 30- or 45-minute data point, we’ll look back at the letters of recommendation because those are typically coming from people who’ve known you for years, to see if there were any sort of indicators of this type of behavior or challenge or something of that nature in the recommendations. In most cases, it turns out the person was just having an off day, and we, again, completely recognize that.

Byrne: And you would admit what percentage of those who come in for an interview?

Bernstein: Typically, I’d say less than half.

Byrne: Usually, there is no such thing as a perfect application. There may be a deficiency here or there. What if your GPA, for example, is under the posted average on your class profiles? Is there a strategy the applicant should deploy to make up for that? What do you think?

Kwon: I would start with the GMAT or the GRE because you’ve got to demonstrate to us that you can handle the rigor of an academic program. You can either do that through your undergrad experience or through a standardized test and supplementally through your work experience as well. We’re looking for a track record of being able to do hard work as well. Not just what the outcome is, but can you apply yourself and do things that are going to really be hard? Standardized test taking is hard. If you didn’t show it in your undergrad, don’t give me the excuse of, “Well, I was immature, and now I’ve grown up, and I’ve got my priorities straight,” which some people write an optional essay about. That doesn’t give me confidence that once you get to business school, you’re all of the sudden going to have your priorities straight. We need evidence that you can do hard work.

Byrne: Some suggest that an alternative transcript can be helpful if you hadn’t taken quant courses before. Is that a good idea if you have a low GPA?

Bernstein: I think that’s definitely one other approach that candidates could take because ultimately what we’re looking for is demonstration of academic readiness for the program. We want the students to come in and to be successful in the core program so that they can then explore their careers and leadership opportunities and not be struggling.

I think classes are one additional way to do that. I think most admissions officers would say that retaking the GMAT would be the first priority, recognizing that sometimes people just realize they’ve plateaued and that’s not going to happen or maybe they’re just not good test takers. Then, I would say the alternative option would be to take one of these courses. But I wanted to just add on to something that Soojin was saying earlier about undergraduate performance and explaining that in the optional essays. I think it’s important to have some self-awareness in the sense that there is a difference between providing an explanation and making an excuse. I think we certainly recognize that, for some candidates, there may have been challenges or circumstances in their undergraduate years that made it difficult for them to truly excel in the classroom the way they might have wanted.

Maybe they were also working part-time or full-time to support someone else. Maybe they had a personal hardship, such as an illness or something of that nature. I think those are some of the contextual things that we would like to see come across in an optional essay if it helps to explain things like a lower GPA.


Candid perspectives from MBA students, admission officials, and employers