CentreCourt: The MBA Gatekeepers At MIT, London, Duke & Indiana

From left to right, Kristen Lindema of MIT Sloan, Shari Hubert of Duke Fuqua, David Simpson of London Business School (top right), and Jim Holmen of Indiana Kelley

Symonds: Now, David, you have your own pub on campus, the Windsor pub. Is that where you make all of your admission decisions?

Simpson: No. We do have a pub attached to the school and have lots of things attached to the school. But with us, it’s fairly similar to what occurs at MIT Sloan. We have professional admission staff viewing applications. We actually use our alumni to interview all around the world, with a very global applicant body. So, we will have somebody local to you wherever you are interviewed, so they have an extra set of knowledge. They’ve also been through the programs, so they have a big stake in who comes next. That interview will take place. Their details are sent back, and then we’ll reassess the one-to-one alumni interview. We also use a video interview as well. So again, that’s to provide the consistency when you have 500 alumni interviews to bring it back a step to say, now let’s look at everybody before we offer places. It works very well as a package. It’s time consuming. It’s very thorough. You should all feel confident that a lot of due diligence has been put into assessing your applications. We care very much about making the right decisions. So, it’s thorough, quite long.

Symonds: Right. And are you happy with this video element? Are you finding that it really does offer an additional window of insight into the applicant?

Simpson: Yeah, for us, we use it when people have been selected for interview. Some schools use it upfront for every applicant. For us, it just adds an extra layer. We’re very careful, because you could be accused of bias by looking at it. We’re just using it for people who are selected to interview. They all seem to be pretty good. And we have years of experience in international recruiting so we know what we might expect from around the world. If you’re a front office person who is used to working with clients and being super confident, then we’re going to expect you to do quite well compared to somebody who perhaps is doing an MBA to bring them out into that arena. But it just adds a little flavor, a little color to an applicant.

Symonds: Right. Jim, you talked about yield, which also implies you are really looking beyond academic excellence, strong test scores, and the professional fast track. As you look at the holistic admissions process, where does that sense of fit and alignment really come into it?

Holmen: When we are looking at a candidate, we are looking for fit just as candidates should be looking for the program that’s the right fit for them: The culture, the learning styles, the community, the alumni network. So one of the most important aspects of the application process beyond the information they share is the interview because I think often when you’re sitting down with a candidate you really are beginning to get a sense of who they are, what they bring to the table, and what they are looking for. You cna tell if they going to be interested in working in a team-based collaborative environment or are they more interested in working independently? We’re looking at their self awareness, their social awareness, and their emotional intelligence, because the task of an admissions team is imagining the candidate sitting down in front of a recruiter representing not only themselves, but in our case representing the Kelley School. So we have to take a look at where they are now and their potential when coupled with what they will get in the Kelley program. Can those two pieces come together so that when they’re sitting there, they’re making everyone proud?

Shari Hubert of Duke Fuqua

Symonds: You obviously have all of this information about applicants, but Fuqua has one of my favorite essay questions. Tell us 25 random things about yourself. How does that then influence the admissions process?

Hubert: So I actually went through that process and filled out my own top 25 as well when I was going through the interview process to join Fuqua and it really is something that we all embrace at Fuqua: The staff, the faculty, and the students. It really gives us another perspective. So, in the application process, we see all of your quantitative, and academic attributes. We see your work and career and professional attributes, but this gives us a real good insight into who you are, what’s your personality like, what you care about and where you come from.

It reveals what makes you uniquely you and what are you passionate about. And so those are the things that for us are very important. There was a question submitted by a member of the audience who asked, ‘What makes each school unique?’ We feel we’re unique because we’re looking for individuals who are humble. We went through a rebranding exercise at the school last year and the branding firm that we use interviewed alumni, staff and students. The firm asked, ‘What the essence of Team Fuqua and how would you describe it? What are the words that we use to describe the culture?’ The four words that came up unanimously across the boat were driven, humble, grit, and the fourth attribute was happy.

You don’t really associate that normally with an MBA program, but our students are happy. We want to make sure that folks are enjoying their transformation, enjoying the experience, but also showing up, being accountable and thinking of others. So it’s all about how do you move a team forward. Our dean, Bill Boulding, has now started to really embrace this notion of DQ. In addition to IQ and EQ, there’s this decency quotient that we talk about and that’s really important to us. And I think at that is at the core of Team Fuqua. It’s not just about how smart are you or, you know, how articulate or communicative are you, but it’s also about how decent, how much empathy do you have for others?

Do you care about and support your teammates and your classmates as you’re going through this transformation together? As a individual stronger, that will make your team stronger, the class stronger, and the school stronger. It adds value to your brand and to your degree.

Symonds: I imagine that you’re going to be reading random things that translate into being driven, having grit, humility, and being happy. For all of you, having seen such a breadth of applications, if you had one piece of advice to people applying this year what would it be?

Linderman: I think that it builds on what you mentioned earlier about fit. Every school is unique and the best way to learn about the school is to go and visit. And I know that’s not easy. They’re not necessarily all located in the same place. You are not all located in Boston, so it’s a challenge, but it’s worth your time to do that. Fit is kind of a cliched word, but it includes so many things, not only the size of the program, the method of teaching in the program, but the culture, what the students are like with the faculty. It’s meaningful to put yourself in the position as if you were living the day in the life of a student.

Most schools, if not all, offer a class visit, and lunch with students, or an info-session, or a coffee chat, and the ability to be on campus and really get that experience. You can then ask yourself, ‘Can I see myself here?’ And that’s going to go a long way in helping you make the right choice for yourself, and to also help you in the application process.

Symonds: Jim, what would you add to that?

Holmen: Well, as difficult as this may be to do: don’t overthink the process. You will stand out by being authentic. Shari’s example at Duke is a great one. And I suspect that when some candidates come up with their list of 25 interesting things, they will probably think so hard and try to figure out, ‘What would a Duke admissions committee want to read?’ But the person who comes up with a list that helps us really get to know you is the person who is going to stand out.

If you’re applying to multiple schools, and each school may have two or three essays, it can be overwhelming and sometimes even paralyzing, when you’re looking at all this information you have to present. And one piece of advice I sometimes share is that when you’re writing that first draft, don’t write it for us. Don’t picture an admissions committee at the other end reading your words. Imagine if you were asked the very same question by your best friend, or maybe even a family member. I bet it would be a pretty easy answer. But as soon as you think that you’re answering the question for an admissions committee, the question all of a sudden seems bigger than it needs to be. So my suggestion is again: be authentic. Write your essay to friends and family. Then clean it up for us. That may be a good way to get started.

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About the Author...

John A. Byrne

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.