Our guest on Dec. 20 was Cheryl Millington, director of MBA recruitment and admissions for Toronto's Joseph L. Rotman School of Management (No. 7 on BW's 2000 Top 7 list of non-U.S. B-schools). Millington became director of admissions in September, after the former director returned to school full time. Before that, she was also in admissions for professional and international programs. She was interviewed by BusinessWeek Online's Mica Schneider . Here's an edited transcript of their discussion:
Q: Rotman was ranked by BusinessWeek in its 2000 rankings as No. 7 outside of the U.S. With more students appearing to be heading back to B-school thanks to a dulling economy, what trends are you noticing at Rotman?
A:Looks as if we have a 25% increase in applications over last year. I am also noticing an increase in work experience. In 2000, the average was 4½ years of work experience. Some applicants this fall had as much as 12 years. As to where people are coming from, it hasn't changed much. We're getting a fair number of Canadian applications, as is expected, as well as applicants from China and the U.S. I've seen a few more from Latin America, and a handful from Europe.
I don't know if our good fortune will continue, but right now, based on the files that we have and the 80 students that we've made offers to, the average GMAT score is 680. We think that we're attracting better students.
Q: Has the school changed the admissions process in recent years?
A:This year we've added an earlier deadline, giving us three deadlines. The first is on Nov. 30, followed by Jan. 15, and one at the end of April. The other big change is, possibly, that our school has become better known -- getting ranked certainly helps.
Q: It's one thing to receive more applications, but the admits have to say that they'll enroll at the B-school for an admissions process to be truly successful. Is the school concerned about its yield since less than 50% of the admitted applicants in 2000 enrolled?
A:I'm not sure what will happen this year. One of the problems that we had in the past is that the office didn't complete admissions as quickly as we will this year. A lot of our admissions [decisions] went out late, so the school had to admit twice as many applicants because, by the time Rotman got through admissions, applicants may had already received an offer from another school, paid a deposit there, and so on. We'll get the admissions decisions out faster. We're also making entrance scholarship decisions faster.
Q: How much time elapses from the time an application is received to the time that applicants hear how they fare?
A:Assuming that when an applications arrives, it is complete including the GMAT score, TOEFL, etc., then it can take as little as two weeks to hear back from us.
Q: Scholarships. Is the school, which is already a bargain by U.S. standards (tuition is $41,000 Canadian for Canadian MBAs, and non-Canadians pay $47,150 Canadian for two years of study), offering more cash than it did during the last academic year?
A:It's the same amount as last year, $235,000 (Canadian) in scholarship money. On average, MBAs receive $10,000 (Canadian) as an entrance scholarship. In the past, we made those decisions at the end of the cycle [in the late spring]. This year, we're making financial-aid decisions in three rounds -- for people who apply before Nov. 30, Jan. 15, and April 30.
Also, Canadian citizens can get up to $60,000 Canadian in loans -- some are interest-free, others are at the prime rate, which is about 7.25%. Non-Canadians can receive entrance scholarships. At this point, Canadian banks don't lend outside of Canadian boarders.
Q: That must make it hard for students outside of North America.
A:It's very difficult if you're coming from a developing country. When I was in China, people were even asking me to waive the application fee. If we have to waive that, how can they afford tuition? One of the things that's on my "to-do" list is to lobby the banks to see if they will consider offering loans to non-Canadian citizens or residents. I hope I can get it done.
Right now, if prospective MBAs access our Web site, or receive our brochure, they probably don't apply because they see that they can't afford to pay it unless they have the money. That's one of the reasons that we don't get a lot of applications form developing countries. And the ones that we do receive tend to be very serious and can come. These people are probably middle to upper-middle class.
Q: Then should applicants aim to file their applications earlier if they want a chance at more money and admission?
A:They do have a better chance of getting in if they apply early. The pool is smaller until January, so applicants can stand out. Usually, our class is full in March. You also have a better chance of getting a scholarship if you apply early, too. [Applicants] can know earlier on if they've got scholarships, which could [help them] make a decision.
Q: How prohibitive do you think it is that tuition to MBA programs is on the rise across Canada since many students could also chose U.S. B-schools?
A:A lot of it really depends on where [an applicant is living], and how much money they're making. But for the most part, that has not been a concern. The students who can go to U.S. schools still think that we're cheap. In Canadian dollars, we're relatively inexpensive if you are a Canadian student looking at U.S. schools.
I've spoken to hundreds of potential students at GMAT forums, and other MBA fairs. And [tuition] doesn't seem to be a big concern for them, because one of the things that we have for Canadian students is, if you are admitted, and you do come here, we have a loan program with one of the banks that guarantees them a loan.
Q: About 31% of applicants were accepted in 2000. What is it that the other 69% lack?
A:Obviously, [they lack] two objective things: a good grade-point average, and a good GMAT score. Beyond that, the [admitted MBAs] wrote really good essays -- when you read the essays, you have a good sense of who that person is, and what kinds of skills that they have. They might be good communicators, as students they may have received awards, or as employees, some sort of acknowledgement or recognition from their employer.
Q: What piece of the application carries the most weight?
A:None does -- we looked at everything in the package. You have the best chances of getting in if you have a high GMAT and a high grade-point average. But that's not the case every time. The minimum GMAT score we look at is 550, so someone with a 550 can get in. Essays and recommendations can really help a weaker applicant.
But also the references. We asked for three references as well...If students get three amazing references, you know, it could make a really big difference. As you read the file, you know, you just -- you really get a sense of, wow, this person's amazing, or something. And also, we looked at their resume as well, too. So, if the resume is somehow well written, and it's -- you can see that the person has progressed and has been promoted, and so on, you know.
Q: What work experience should an applicant leave off of their application?
A:They should show everything, because what we're looking for is people with a range of experiences. Some people are fortunate in that they have a job where they have had some management responsibilities, while others are not so fortunate. We see people with science backgrounds that worked in a research lab, pharmacists, or someone with a physical therapy background working in a hospital. Because of their unique work environment, they really don't have a lot of management experience, and probably will never get it. It's to their advantage to show everything.
We get a lot of applications and we can be relatively selective, so putting extra things down may actually stand out above the rest of the applicants, because it's so unique and different.
Q: Rotman enrolls 26% females in the class. What is the school doing to shore up that number?
A:In February, the Women in Management organization [on campus] is planning a reception for women students and alumni. We're inviting prospective students, and also people who haven't made offers to. Hopefully that will show them that this is a female-friendly place, although, it's male-dominated, in terms of the actual numbers.
One of the problems, is that on average we're getting less female applications than from males, and they depend to coming in, on average, with lower GMAT scores, and in some cases, lower GPAs as well. On one hand, we'd like to increase the percentage of female students we have, but we wouldn't want to lower the admissions standards for females.
What will we do? We'll encourage more women to apply, and then, if they are able to hook up with the female students on campus, they can get advice on how to submit a really good application, and so on.
The other thing, I suppose, is that we ask for students with work experience. On average, the MBAs are coming in with about 4½ years work experience, making them about 27 or so. When I was that age, I was on a mummy track.
Q: What areas of the world does the school want to recruit more applicants from?
A:Our focus right now is on recruiting more U.S. students. That's because we haven't been discovered by them yet, and we think that we're a good business school, and a good value for their money. We consider ourselves an international school, so we'd like to get more American students here. We'd also like to get more students from Europe as well.
We're holding an information session in New York in February, and are trying to coordinate something with our alumni. As for Europe, I'm hoping to attend a couple of MBA fairs in Zurich and Vienna.
Q: What's Rotman's selling point at those fairs? What does a Rotman MBA get that schools in the U.S. and Europe can't offer?
A:The biggest difference that they will get here is integrative thinking. Integrative thinking is one of our new dean's biggest innovations. [Editor's note: Rotman's dean, Roger Martin, is a former director of Monitor Company, a strategy consulting firm].
Q: MBAs give up a lot to attend a B-school in Canada, too. According to Rotman's class of 2000, grads earned about $57,000, compared to an average base salary of about $80,000 elsewhere. What do applicants say about the six figure salaries Rotman grads rarely get?
A:In Canadian dollars, the average starting salary for these students is amazing. We do have some grads who [work] in the States, and our largest alumni group is in New York, so I believe that if they are interested in working in the States, they can. Hence, they can leave with a higher starting salary than what the average is right now. The salary range for June 2000 graduates went as high as $156,000 Canadian.
Also, a lot of the Canadian students don't actually want to work in the States.
Q: If you had all the applicants together in one room, what advice would you give them?
A:There's a whole lot of anxiety attached to the application process. And once in a while, I meet a few students who would say that they had been thinking about [B-school] for one or two years. It just takes them a while to get going. They seem to be intimidated by the whole process of writing essays, getting references [to write letters of recommendation], and so on. To them I say, just do it.
And once you do it, take it very seriously. Choose your references very carefully. It doesn't happen very often, but once in a while, I cringe when I read a reference letter because I can see that the [applicant] obviously doesn't know what the referee is saying about him or her.
The other thing is to take essays seriously. Sometimes I see typos and grammatical errors. For the students invited to an interview: this is your opportunity to sell yourself. Frequently I interview people who expect me to fill in the blanks for them.
Q: Interviews at Rotman are by invitation only. So if an applicant gets a call with an invitation to interview, is that a good sign?
A:It is. It means that you're not refused right off the bat. Plus, that interview can really tip the scales in your favor. If you do an amazing interview, and we can see how you present yourself, we get [a taste of] all of the little things that are difficult to pick up on the telephone.
Q: What questions can an applicant expect to be asked?
A:It's a follow-up on things in the application, for instance, things they mentioned in their essays, or on their resume. We refer to comments that references make, too.
We're looking for exactly what we say in the brochures: exceptional people who will become exceptional managers. So, I ask them questions such as, "What makes you exceptional?" It's their chance to sell themselves.
Q: Rotman placed 60 applicants on its wait list every year. How many ultimately enrolled, and what can wait-listed students do to better their chances?
A:Only two or three ultimately enrolled. The reason they're placed there is because the class if full. They're on the list to take the place of someone who had paid their deposit, but changed their mind. We only start a waiting list in March. What determines who comes? If they can come certainly helps. Sometimes, we call them two weeks before the term starts to see if they'll enroll. To make your chances better, let us know that you will come, [that] you can come, and that your situation is such that you could pick up and move to Toronto within two weeks.
We automatically give wait-listed applicants an offer for the following academic year if we can't enroll them in the current class. Twenty of the MBAs that will start in September 2001 were from last year's wait list.
By Mica Schneider in New York