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Business Schools

The American Experience

Admissions officials at American University say they look for authenticity and originality in their students

Choosing a business school isn't just about academics. So, to round out the picture, potential students should speak to current undergraduates and ask them what—besides curriculum—contributes to their education and college experience, says Lawrence Ward, associate dean for academic programs at American University's Kogod School of Business.

"Talking with our students really gives prospective students a chance to get a comprehensive sense of what the experience would be like," says Ward.

Besides class, Kogod offers a set of co-curricular experiences called Kogod Leadership and Applied Business (called "K-LAB"), which includes case-competition and service-learning components. The school's location in Washington, D.C., allows undergrads to intern in business or politics, if that's more their speed.

Ward and his colleague Toby McChesney, assistant director of undergraduate admissions and an AU alumnus, recently chatted with reporter Julie Gordon. Here's an edited transcript of their discussion.

What should students consider when applying?

Ward: Does the school have the program and/or programs that meet their areas of interest? So many students will look at one program, for example business, but we know that students change their minds. Whether or not they actually change their major, they will certainly change their minds. So if a student has an interest in psychology and business and the arts, could the school accommodate those multiple interests?

So, do students think "I'm applying to college," or "I'm applying to business school"?

Ward: Generally, they think of the city, then the school, then the program.

Do students apply directly to Kogod or AU in general?

McChesney: They apply in general to the university. But when they put down their intended major as business, they're going to apply to the business school. All of our five schools have the same SAT and GPA [scholastic aptitude test and grade point average] requirements. So it's as competitive to get in one school as the other.

What are average SAT scores and GPA?

McChesney: Our average SAT score last year was a 1282—that doesn't include the writing. Average GPA was 3.55.

What are you looking for in the essay?

McChesney: We want to make sure students are taking time and effort and writing a decent essay.

More students have college counselors or tutors who write essays or heavily edit them. How does that provide a challenge for you?

McChesney: Sometimes you can tell. If a student has low grades and low testing and their essay is out of the world, that does raise questions. So our admissions committee would spend some more time on them. We may even call their guidance counselor and touch base with them (see, 10/3/06, "How to Buy Your Way Into College").

Ward: From an academic perspective, one of the things we've been talking a lot about as a campus community is the idea of originality and authenticity, particularly in the context of academic integrity. When I'm looking at an essay or talking with a student at a recruitment event, I'm looking to see that they're authentic, that they're original, that they have a clear sense of why they want to go to college and what their interests are. That's not reinforced in a lot of different dimensions of their young lives. Conformity is really reinforced more.

What geographic areas do most students come from?

McChesney: They mostly come from the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast corridor—Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and the New England area. We're seeing an increase now in the South and West.

So is there an "East Coast mentality" on campus?

McChesney: I think in the past, yes. When I went to American, that was definitely true. That's slowly changing. One of our goals is to get students from not just New Jersey but Iowa and Colorado and everywhere else.

How important is foreign language?

Ward: There's not enough emphasis on language. We have a six-hour language requirement for all business students. But for anyone who wants to pursue business in an international environment, we need to do a better job of making sure that our students are proficient in a second language.

Many school officials talk about their students receiving a global education through study abroad and learning a second language. But how can students reach beyond superficial programs and requirements and really get a deep global education? (See, 9/13/06, "UNC's Business Undergrads Look Abroad.")

Ward: We've tried to move away from what we call "island programs," where you go overseas and take classes in English with kids from the same university and it becomes more of a travel study experience. We've moved toward direct enrollment at foreign universities and what we call immersion programs and really encouraging students to take language when they're abroad.

Students who are proficient in a language can go over and take classes in the language of study, and then to do an internship while abroad at a multinational company. That, I think, creates a much stronger international experience, and frankly I think makes students more competitive when they go to look for jobs and opportunities at graduation.

What languages are hot in business now?

Ward: One of the hottest-growing areas is China, but it's also one of the most difficult languages to adopt (see, 1/9/06, "China's B-School Boom"). But China, India, and Latin America—emerging markets—are three of the high areas. You will see a lot of students with a growing interest in them.

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