An admissions official and a first-year student discuss Carnegie Mellon's MBA program, particularly how to get in and enjoy it once you do
Carnegie Mellon's Tepper School of Business, ranked 16th in BusinessWeek's most recent list of best MBA programs, accepted 30% of the 1,331 people who applied in 2006. The percentage of applicants accepted in 2008 could be smaller because, according to Laurie Stewart (LStewartTepper), executive director of master's admissions, this is turning out to be "the most competitive year ever."
Stewart, along with Tepper first-year student Jaymin Patel (JPatelTepper), recently answered questions about the 2008 admissions cycle and campus culture during a live chat event. Fielding questions from BusinessWeek.com reporter Francesca Di Meglio (FrancescaBW) and an audience of those interested in the program, Stewart and Patel covered everything from GMAT scores to the pros of living in Pittsburgh.
Here's an edited transcript of the online event:
FrancescaBW: Why don't you start out by giving us a general idea of what you look for in an MBA candidate?
LStewartTepper: We're really looking for individuals who have the potential for academic success here at Tepper, along with professional goals and potential—and a whole range of personal qualities including leadership skills, teamwork ability, work ethic, and personal ethics. Basically, we're looking for the kinds of individuals that we all love to work with.
There is no set formula for admission. We're really evaluating all aspects of a candidate's application to make our decision.
FrancescaBW: How competitive has this application season been?
LStewartTepper: This has been our most competitive year ever. Our application volume is up for the fourth consecutive year. So far, this year we're up about 14%. The quality of candidates has been really strong, too.
FrancescaBW: What advice do you have for applicants who are concerned about the competition? What can they do if they don't get in or if they end up on the waiting list?
LStewartTepper: First, I'd encourage any candidate who is interested in Tepper to apply. If someone isn't successful in the admission process, we do offer feedback appointments later in the summer and a streamlined reapplication process (BusinessWeek.com, 3/6/08) for those who are interested in Tepper for a future year.
I encourage individuals who are offered a place on our waiting list to stay in touch with us and keep us apprised of any updates in the application profile. We don't rank our waiting list until we know how many spaces we have available, and at that point, we reevaluate their application and any updates they have submitted.
FrancescaBW: What advice do you have for students about writing the application essays?
LStewartTepper: We do have an application tips page on our Web site that includes some advice from one of my Tepper admissions colleagues about writing essays, but in brief, both content and style matter. We're looking for a clear understanding of a candidate's professional goals and why the Tepper MBA is the right next step for them to reach their goals.
KelliHaywood_2: I am a graduating senior at Spelman College. I'd like to know if Tepper is open to applicants coming directly from undergrad. If so, is there anything in particular you look for in those specific applications?
LStewartTepper: Tepper is receptive to candidates applying directly from their undergraduate studies. If you look at our recent class profiles, you'll see that about 5% to 10% of our recent entering classes have less than a year of experience. We're looking for all the same qualities we seek in Tepper MBA applicants in general, but clear goals and an understanding about why Tepper and why now, along with strong academics and solid internships, are key in our decision.
billbillaim: I'm a student on the waiting list who wants to submit another recommendation. Should my recommender submit a letter, or should he or she fill out the form the previous recommenders filled out?
LStewartTepper: We'll accept another recommendation in any form that is convenient for your recommender. They can either send it by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or by snail mail. It doesn't need to be on our form.
FrancescaBW: Jaymin, why did you choose Tepper?
JPatelTepper: There were a lot of factors that influenced my decision to come to Tepper. The first was truly the management science approach to learning. I felt this was the best pedagogy to give me the skill sets to be successful in the future.
Once I visited Tepper, I was also really impressed with the culture, and felt a good "fit." I spent time walking around the building, sitting in classrooms, chatting with current students, etc. Ultimately, I felt this was a place I could really enjoy my learning experience, and I have.
FrancescaBW: Jaymin, what do you think of your experience at Tepper so far?
JPatelTepper: My experience has been great. The culture here at Tepper is truly collaborative in every sense. My classmates and teachers have really made this a great place to learn, both in and out of the classroom. Further, there are so many exciting things going on at Tepper that I have many opportunities to get involved with a very supportive administrative staff, which makes a difference.
KelliHaywood_2: Is there a specific GMAT score and/or GPA that you look for in an application?
LStewartTepper: We accept a range of GMAT scores and GPAs. You can find details on our class profile. Our mid-80% range for GMAT was 640 to 760 last year.
RafaelColombia: I applied in the last round. I would like to know about the interview process. Is there just one interviewer?
LStewartTepper: All of our interviews are conducted by one of my admissions team colleagues. They can be either on campus or by phone. We are experimenting with offering Web cam interviews (BusinessWeek.com, 1/10/08) this round. Interviews are by invitation, and invitations may come at any time from the point that you submit your application until you receive your decision from us.
jemmalvar: The Tepper MBA program offers both concentrations and tracks. What's the difference between a concentration and a track? How many are students allowed to take during the program?
LStewartTepper: There are a few differences between tracks and concentrations. Our tracks require more electives to complete, eight to 10, while a concentration is only three electives. Tracks also may involve coursework outside of the Tepper School at Carnegie Mellon's other graduate colleges and a capstone project at the end of the track. Students have room for one track or multiple concentrations (usually three or four) due to the number of electives MBA students can take.
I should mention you have lots of time to consider your options about taking tracks or concentrations. They usually begin in year two, and the most popular areas at Tepper are entrepreneurship, finance, strategy, marketing—along with the dual-degree option with our MS in computational finance.
RafaelColombia: Jaymin, how would you describe your life in Pittsburgh?
JPatelTepper: The best part about being a student in Pittsburgh is definitely the cost of living. It is very affordable to go out on the town and have a good time. The city is a sports city, and it is great to go watch live sports events. Beyond that, there is a great park right behind the school. As a class, we attend a lot of cultural events together, like going to the many local museums, going to see plays or the symphony (where we're headed on Thursday). The nightlife is also a lot of fun.
RafaelColombia: How many of the applicants get an invitation for an interview?
LStewartTepper: It isn't a fixed number that is invited for interviews. Last year, we interviewed about 70% of our MBA candidates.
KelliHaywood_2: Does Tepper offer campus visits? If so, are visitors allowed to sit in on classes?
JPatelTepper: Definitely! I strongly suggest you come out and visit us. Mondays are the best days to come because those are the days I hold an information session with the admissions staff to give you great insight into life here at Tepper. However, you can visit any day of the week and attend classes, have lunch with students, etc. Fridays are not typically a great day to visit because we do not have any classes on Fridays.
FrancescaBW: What do you think is the biggest mistake most applicants make when applying to business school?
LStewartTepper: I think the most common mistake is not doing enough up-front research and self-reflection to narrow down which programs will be the best for a particular candidate. It's important to show how thoroughly you've thought through your business school decision and why you're applying to a particular program like Tepper. There are lots of great resources out there for learning more about Tepper, including visiting, like Jaymin mentioned, or our online community if you can't visit.
JPatelTepper: I definitely agree. Looking at rankings is a great way to start your research, but a horrible way to end it. Be sure to visit campus, talk to students, and learn about what the program really offers. I credit the current second-year students as having the most impact on my decision to come to Tepper.
FrancescaBW: Jaymin, please tell us what you think of career services and what you'll be doing over the summer.
JPatelTepper: The Career Opportunities Center really does a great job of making the application and interview process very easy for the students, which is great when you're also attending classes. They also have great relationships with many top recruiters, and it's nice when your dream company comes to campus to see you. This summer, I will be interning with Booz Allen Hamilton in its strategy consulting practice aligned with consumer and media. I'm very excited!
FrancescaBW: What's the workload like in the first year? What kinds of extracurricular activities did you participate in?
JPatelTepper: The workload is rigorous, and I'm glad for it. I feel very confident in the skills I've learned my first few months here, and I'm excited to use them in the real world. The key to Tepper is that we work hard and play hard, too. Regarding extracurricular activities, I have been involved in many student clubs at Tepper, such as the Consulting Club and Net Impact.
I've also had opportunities to participate in many case competitions both at Tepper and at other schools, such as USC Marshall and NYU Stern, competing with schools around the world. As a member of the entrepreneurship track, I've also been invited to meet with local entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, which is great for building my professional network.
Now, I am in charge of the International Festival Cultural Show, which will be held during our Welcome Weekend this year. As I said, there are many exciting things going on at Tepper and great opportunities to get involved. The best part is a very supportive administrative staff to help you achieve the things you want when it comes to extracurricular activities.
Oh, and I was also a beermeister for our "Friday Beers," a weekly social event that brings together students (and sometimes professors and alumni) on campus to unwind at the end of the week.
FrancescaBW: Laurie, what sets Tepper apart from other MBA programs?
LStewartTepper: Jaymin mentioned working hard. Rigor and relevance are two ways to think about what is unique about Tepper. Some of the dimensions I think are key to candidates is our foundation in analytical decision-making, our small community (170 to 175 students per class), the environment that makes it possible to customize your study with more than 120 electives (including access to courses across the Carnegie Mellon campus), quality of our faculty, and the new knowledge being transferred to the classroom.
jemmalvar: Given the economic slowdown/recession in the U.S., are you seeing more applicants this year than previous years? Is the applicant pool more competitive this year?
LStewartTepper: We are seeing more applicants this year, but it's unclear that it can all be attributed to the economy. We're up about 14% compared to last year and it is shaping up to be our most competitive year ever due to the quality of candidates we're seeing.