On December 20, 2000, our guest was Alberto Arribas, director of admissions at Spain's IESE (No. 3 on BW's 2000 Top 7 Non-U.S. B-School list). Arribas has been at IESE as a teacher, an executive MBA student, and for five years, as an administrator. He started as an associate director of admissions, in charge of Spain and Latin American countries in 1996 and now makes the final call on applicants. He was interviewed by Business Week Online's Mica Schneider. Here's an edited transcript of their conversation:
Q: Several of your U.S. colleagues have noticed an increase in the number of applications to their full-time MBA programs this year. What's happening in Barcelona at IESE?
A:We receive around 1,200 applications, with an intake of 210 students every year, or about 15% of applicants. This year, we have changed some things in the admissions process. Now, we have rolling admissions with four deadlines.
So far, we have increased the number of applications by about 40% in this first deadline compared with the same dates last year. We've received 180 applications so far.
In the past, our problem was that most of the applications [were due] from February to April. We wanted to have a more homogenous flow of applications, so we started this deadline system -- with good results, I think.
Q: Where do the majority of IESE applicants hail from?
A:Last year, we received 380 applications from Spain, or about 32%, our largest group. Around 250 applicants, or 21%, came from Latin America. And another 252 came from Western Europe, with 200 from Eastern European countries. Applicants from the U.S. and Canada sent 80 applications.
Q: It seems that IESE isn't attracting a large Asian contingent of applicants, unlike U.S. and other European B-schools.
A:We have around five [admitted] students every year from Asia.
Q: Why isn't the school attracting more Asian candidates?
A:Every year, we participate in an MBA fair [held in] different countries. And IESE has an important relationship with a European school in Shanghai called the China Europe International Business School.
MBA students from IESE can go there for a semester, and we receive students from that school's MBA program. Some professors usually go there to spend one or two months delivering and discussing business cases. We also have, I think, a very good reputation in the Philippines.
But with the rest of the countries, the competition is very hard, especially in the American market. We have traditionally linked with the British. But since we want a mixture of different nationalities, it's O.K. to have five or six Asian students every year.
Q: What is the ideal IESE MBA student?
A:Both professional experience and also personal experience count. We are looking for a candidate that, apart from the [exam] results and transcripts -- which have to be good -- through this professional experience and personal experience, has a professional maturity. That is something that we pick up on in the interview.
Q: Which IESE applicants land interviews?
A:All of the people we see as good candidates for IESE are interviewed, because we are very interested in knowing them. That's why all of the admitted students are interviewed.
When we receive a [complete] application, we have a committee decide if the candidate will have an interview or not. So if the candidate doesn't go to an interview, he is rejected. The interview is when we would discuss the [candidate's] professional experience, but also the separate activities.
Q: How important is the other evidence of performance IESE applicants have to submit, such as the GMAT?
A:The requirements are the usual requirements at every business school. The GMAT score has to be good. Our average last year was 655. [The student] has to be fluent in English, and one of the requirements for non-native English speakers is [scoring well on] the Test of English as a Foreign Language [TOEFL] exam -- we ask for a minimum score of 250 out of 300. Professional background and work experience before the MBA are important, too. Last year, the average was 4.5 years [of experience].
Q: How important is it for an applicant to demonstrate that he or she participated in extracurricular activities?
A:It's important, because we also want to have a global idea of the candidate.
Q: Applicants can choose whether or not they want to write their required essays in English or Spanish. Should applicants from North America write in Spanish? And should native Spanish speakers aim to demonstrate a solid grasp of English?
A:They have to write in the language they feel most comfortable with. It doesn't matter if it is in English or in Spanish, because the MBA program is bilingual.
The 210 students that we admit every year are divided into three groups in the first year. Two of the groups complete the first year completely in English and one group does so in Spanish. The English groups receive Spanish classes every day, so that at the end of the first year they are bilingual. Some of those students complete the application in Spanish. Also, in the interview, we assess the candidate's language skills, because some of the questions are in English and others in Spanish.
Q: That said, which admissions requirement holds the most weight?
A:From the admissions point of view, statistics -- the GMAT, for example -- count. But the important thing is the maturity of the candidate.
Q: What is the one thing applicants should avoid while applying to IESE?
A:I don't like to see arrogance in an interview. If a candidate comes here with the aim of being first in everything and the most brilliant student without caring about the rest of the class, that's something that we are not interested in. I don't want students that can't spend some of their precious time [with their classmates] -- especially in the first year.... Or even ones that won't make time for extracurricular activities, [such as] playing in a rugby or football match or going skiing.
Last year, a candidate had a GMAT score of 750, and very good work experience from different countries. So on paper he was "The Candidate." But during the interview, I saw that he was weak in the things we are looking for. He wasn't admitted, and he was really surprised. Even his boss phoned me to ask why we had done that.
Q: When accepted applicants decide not to attend IESE, which B-schools do they go to?
A:IESE has very tight competition, especially with INSEAD, in Fontainbleau, France, and London Business School. Every year, we have admitted candidates that finally [decide to go to those schools]. We have tight competition with those schools for candidates.
Q: When is the best time to apply to IESE? Is earlier in the application season better?
A:This is obvious, but the last deadline is very dangerous. In our case, the last deadline is at the end of April -- we usually have places open until that time.
Q: How long does it take for IESE to notify an applicant of its decision?
A:There is a maximum amount of time [we spend on an application]. For example, the first deadline was the 29th of November, and we have a decision deadline of the 14th of February [or two and a half months later]. But the committee gets together every week, so sometimes a decision is made in two weeks, if the interview can be scheduled quickly.
Q: IESE employs a wait list. How many applicants did the school accept from that wait list in 2000?
A:People that are waitlisted are accepted only there isn't room for them in the current class. Last year, 35 people were on the list, and 15 were able to start in October with the class. We rank the waiting list by when the person applied. This begins, more or less, at the end of April and beginning of May. We can't take people off of the list any later than July, because it is usually too late for the applicants to tell their companies that they are leaving and to move to Spain.
However, everyone on IESE's wait list is guaranteed a spot in the next class in the next year. The only condition is that in February they have to send us an updated resume and a deposit [to secure their place in the class].
Q: What closing advice do you have for prospective IESE applicants?
A:Be yourself. Sometimes we can give an applicant what they're looking for. Sometimes we can't. In that sense, it's better to be oneself and to have confidence in the people in admissions to help you decide if [you fit] our profile. If that's not the case, the best thing that we can do is not to admit him or her.
Second, this is a very serious program in terms of heavy workload, and you have to be able to share time with the rest of your classmates. You have to be able to lead a complete life. So be careful the moment you decide to complete the MBA and be careful [in choosing] the school in which you want to spend these two years.
One of the things that candidates looking for [in an MBA] is a good network. If you don't have time to establish such relationships, the network won't work.
By Mica Schneider in New York