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MBA Insider - Admissions Q&A

Admissions Q&A: IESE Business School

Change is afoot at IESE Business School (IESE Full-Time MBA Profile) at the University of Navarra in Barcelona, Spain. For starters, in the past year the full-time MBA class size increased from 215 to 290 students, and all sections now start in English as opposed to before, when one section started in Spanish. In addition, the school recently opened a New York campus, where students can take electives in their second year if they'd like. Next year students will be able to do the same in China, says Javier Muñoz Parrondo, IESE's admissions director.

Muñoz Parrondo recently talked with Bloomberg Businessweek reporter Francesca Di Meglio about everything from the school's assessment day, a unique approach to the admissions process, to the ideal IESE candidate. Here are edited excerpts from their conversation:

What are some of the major components of the application?

I'd say the entrance door is the GMAT. You need to have a good score on the GMAT to start competing with the rest of the pool. Once you get to a decent level—our average is about 680—then we forget about your GMAT, and we start looking at the accomplishments you've had in your life to compare you with other candidates. In the rest of your application, you should focus on explaining the things you have done better than others. Your strategy should be to differentiate yourself and demonstrate the accomplishments you've had in your life.

What is assessment day?

For our assessment day, we gather a group of 30 to 45 candidates who have already passed the interview stage at one of the locations we have around the world in New York, São Paulo, New Delhi, Hong Kong, and Barcelona, and we work with them for one day. We put them in teams, and we give them small cases. They do presentations, take questions from the audience, and we have lunch with them. It's a way for us to get to know them better and explore the way they communicate and work in teams. For them, it's a good opportunity to understand the business school better. We organize about 12 assessment days in a year.

What's the selectivity of the class?

Last year, we got a little more than 2,095 applications, and we admitted a little more than 400 students. There are 292 students in the class. We have people attending from all around the world, with about 20 percent coming from Spain, 15 percent from the U.S. and Canada, and others from Germany, Japan, India, Mexico, and Brazil. We have 50 different nationalities represented in the class.

Any tips for writing winning essays?

The essays are the best opportunity you have as a candidate to show us the things you've done better than the rest. The writer's strategy should be to think about the people who are reading those essays. You have limited space and must use it wisely. It's like selling a product. We are interested mainly in those things that set you apart from others.

What about admissions interviews?

The interview is by invitation only. You have to get an interview invitation to go on with the admissions process. We interview about 800 candidates per year. It's part of the admissions process, and it's mandatory. You need to have a one-hour interview. Mainly, it's about investigating the accomplishments you've had in your life.

One of the mistakes candidates make is to tell us about their professional and academic experience only, and there is something interesting about things they did when they were 17 or that they do after work. In the interview, we make sure those kinds of things are covered.

How would you describe the ideal student for your program?

Our MBA program is based on the case method, so you need to be able to communicate. You have to be willing to discuss your opinion and decisions and convince others of them. You will be doing that for two years. If you are very bright and smart, and you are not able or you don't want to share with others, there are other people who would be a better fit.

Team skills are also crucial for us. The first thing you will do every morning is meet with your team of eight people, and we choose those teams. You have to work with those people for the first year. Work experience is also important to us, and we require a minimum of two years because of the case method. To participate fully in the case method, you need at least two years' experience managing teams, being in charge of projects, being in front of clients, trying to convince people, etc.

What makes your program unique?

The MBA at IESE is unique because of a combination of factors. First, it's truly global. Even the recruiters come from all over the world. Second, it's a very international European MBA with an American structure. It's a two-year program that features an internship, electives, and international exchanges, which is rare for Europe.

Another thing that makes the MBA at IESE unique is the possibility of learning Spanish. Here, you will be picking up one of the most important languages in the world, and it has opened a lot of doors and new markets for our MBA students, especially in Latin America and Spain. Ethics is also something that has been in the roots of IESE since its founding in 1958. And Barcelona is one of the best cities in the world. It's cosmopolitan, has great weather and architecture, and it's close to Paris and London.

How would you describe the campus culture?

I'm an MBA from 2003 myself, so I was a member of the class. Your life is the people in the MBA. The whole class is new to the city. There are very few people who were living in Barcelona before the MBA. As a result, the people in the MBA are really your family. These are the people you will contact if you have any sort of problem. They are the people with whom you will hang out at night and with whom you'll travel. This sense of community is very, very strong at IESE. The beginning of the MBA is very demanding, and you have a lot of work. But in the second or third term, you will get used to it and start enjoying the city. The environment is very friendly.

What tips do you have for those filling out an IESE application?

Timing is crucial, so you should apply as soon as possible. The second tip is to visit the business school. The MBA is a huge investment of money, time, and effort. You just do one MBA program in your life, so you better make the best decision.

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