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ESADE Admissions Q&A

Changes are coming at the Barcelona business school. The admissions director explains what ESADE is doing and why

With the arrival of a new format in September 2009, ESADE in Barcelona will be expanding its class size slightly, from 150 to 170 or so. But maintaining the school's characteristic intimacy, says Camila de Wit, director of Admissions and Career Services at ESADE, is a priority. The admissions staff takes this intimacy seriously when choosing the next class. "One person out of 150 [or 170] has an impact on the culture and the successes of the program and career services," says de Wit. "What will this person bring to the class?"

Recently, de Wit discussed how to stand out in an application and other aspects of the admissions process with BusinessWeek reporter Francesca Di Meglio. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Q: How would you describe the culture at ESADE?

A: Compared to our closest competitor [IESE], our program is half the size. There are 150 to 170 students. Size allows for personalization. Professors and staff will know who you are. It's more collegiate. At ESADE, 30% of your grade comes from working in teams. We promote teamwork. There's no curve. Some [of our students] go on exchanges at other schools and find they get little help from their classmates because of the competition. That's not the way it is here.

ESADE, perhaps because of its Jesuit origins, is open to anyone. It was founded 50 years ago by a few businessmen who wanted a different kind of business education. They got together with the Jesuits to create the school. If you come to ESADE, you will receive an integral education. But your point of view and where you want to go is entirely up to you. We're producing business leaders who will transform the world. We won't mold you into something. We'll teach you about business. But we want you to enjoy business your way.

Q: What can you tell us about the change of format planned for September 2009?

A: In September 2009, we will change our format. We have a one-year and an 18-month MBA program. We found that one-year students wanted to participate in exchanges and internships like the 18-month students. On the other hand, 18-month students would get their job offers early and would want to finish their MBA sooner. We'll have one intake only in September. After the first term (in December), students can decide whether they want to finish in 12, 15, or 18 months, depending on whether they want to go on an exchange or have internships.

Q: What are the requirements for admittance?

A: You must have a superior academic capacity. You must take the GMAT, provide a university transcript, and have an undergraduate degree in something. You must also show the potential for professional impact. You must share your career goals. What is your work experience? How does this mesh with your career goals? What skills are transferable? Do you have an orientation toward leadership? Are you a team player? Our goal is to determine what you want to be when you grow up. If an MBA is not an option, how will you get there? That's the kind of thing we want you to tell us. We also want to see that you have a global mindset. We want people who'll move and think beyond their [home] country. We want diversity. About 20% of the student population is Spanish. We want people from all walks of life.

Q: Do you have any advice for the application essays?

A: Candidates tell us the essays are eye-opening for them. They had to [ask themselves] why they needed an MBA and why at ESADE. That has to come through in their essays. Career goals, demonstration of leadership potential, and personal motivation are all important.

We suggest students visit [the campus]. I could explain the culture until I'm blue in the face. You can't understand the culture until you come here and see it. We really care about the individual. Our admissions team wants to advise people on their futures.

We [work with] students and companies. Our management model makes us strong. We develop personal relationships with our recruiters. We have career-service specialists developing relationships on the ground level with recruiters all over the world.

Q: Are you taking any steps to protect yourselves in terms of career development in light of the financial crisis ( 9/18/2008, "B-Schools: Perspective on Financial Crisis")?

A: Only 15% to 20% of our students took jobs in banking. Consulting accounted for 25%, and the rest were in industry. We're well-positioned because our placement wasn't as relevant as, say, London, where 40% go into banking. We're developing relationships. Because of our size, we're helping students one by one. The main message we're sending them is to be prepared. The same companies from last year are returning to campus this year. But they're taking eight instead of 15 hires, for example. It's more competitive. You have to know why that company is right for you and why you're right for that company.

But there are pockets of opportunity, too. For instance, there are opportunities in the Middle East. An attaché from Saudi Arabia recently reached out because the country wants to attract talent and make the most of ESADE's location in Barcelona. There's an advantage to our location because there's a clear link with the Middle East, Latin America (because of the language), the U.S., and even Asia. India and China are huge markets in admissions and recruiting. Singapore is a big market now. From a program perspective, we're looking at creating the best managers in modules based on geography. We give you a bit of language, culture, and discussion on doing business in that region. You need to be prepared for what's out there.

Q: What advice do you have for letters of recommendation?

A: One should come from a boss and the other a colleague who know you in a professional capacity and can vouch for what ESADE is looking for. We have [rejected] students because of their letters of recommendation. We call recommenders sometimes for a second opinion.

Q: Are interviews required of applicants?

A: Interviews are required for 100% of people who come to ESADE. There are two kinds of interviews: in person or by phone. In-person interviews provide us with more information. In person, candidates are required to do [an on-the-spot] case, an article with four or five questions to answer in a Power Point presentation. You'd be amazed at how much you learn about a person when he or she has to do a presentation. My advice would be to try and finish the case. We want comprehension and communication. The second part [of the interview] is trajectory up to this point—what have you achieved, why the MBA, etc. We also test competencies. We urge people to do the in-person interview when possible. If it is not possible, then we do the phone interview. People in admissions travel all year, so we hit many countries twice. We have open days monthly. On open days you can attend a class, meet students and alumni, attend a presentation on the school, and do your in-person interview. These open days are usually held the last Friday of the month.

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