Our guest on Jan. 2, 2001, was Larysa Gamula, director of admissions at the University of Western Ontario's Richard Ivey School of Business (No. 5 on BusinessWeek's ranking of non-U.S. B-schools). Gamula has been at the university for about 17 years. She started in the placement office, moving on to become an academic counselor on the Faculty of Science, followed by undergraduate admissions. In her current position -- one she has held for 10 years -- she leads admissions and student services for Ivey's MBA program. She's also a 1999 graduate of the school's executive MBA program. She was interviewed by BusinessWeek Online reporter Mica Schneider . Following are edited excerpts from that conversation:
Q: Larysa, you've experienced quite a few trends in business education. What changes have altered the MBA program most at the Ivey school since you came to the B-school?
A:The curriculum and the delivery of the program have changed the most. The curriculum began focusing on globalization in 1990. We made that move because that's how business is conducted these days. The school also felt that it was important to offer a general-management program with a global perspective, so students get a strong understanding of what the global marketplace is all about.
The other development that has occurred over the past two years is technology, in response to both the Internet and e-commerce. We require that our MBAs have a laptop, and have rewired all of the classrooms to accommodate a wireless-LAN connection. We want people to improve their computer skills, and in an e-business world, [MBAs] need to be used to laptops and comfortable communicating through the Web. The students can see everything that they need about class schedules, placement interviews, exam schedules, library access, accessing printing facilities, spreadsheets, and simulations.
Q: Ivey is accepting more students than it did just a year and a half ago. Incoming classes are 280 students strong, compared to 210. Now that the school accepts more students, is it less selective? Ivey accepted 40% of applicants in 2000, vs. more selective B-schools, which take as little as 14%.
A:Over the last seven years, our application numbers have increased annually. Last year, they increased another 10% [to 1,100]. We haven't been less selective, so we have not seen a decrease in the profile of our class. After all, the main reason we expanded is because there was such a demand for our program.
Q: Speaking of an increase in demand, people say that B-school is the place to be now, thanks to a weakening U.S. economy. Has the admissions office noticed an uptick in applications similar to what many U.S. schools have seen?
A:We just started reviewing applications the end of November. So for us it's a bit early to get a sense of how it looks. By the number of applications I've reviewed so far, we've got to be right in line with expectations. I don't get a sense that our applications have dropped.
Because of what's happened with a lot of [layoffs at] dot-com companies, we'll probably have more people applying. But most schools in Canada either maintained the application numbers or increased a little. We were up 10% last year.
Q: Like many other schools, Ivey is devoting some of the curriculum to e-business issues. Ivey's take on the hot subject is its e-leadership stream, which starts in the winter of 2001. Could you talk about this?
A:The reason we called it e-leadership instead of e-business is that the school won't focus on e-business or e-commerce in a technical sense, but rather on developing people with leadership skills in the field of e-business. It's a multidisciplinary stream, so the MBAs consider how e-business affects finance, banking, marketing, production, and so on.
The other "stream" that Ivey offers is consulting. Students use a bidding system to get into one of the 70 spaces in the streams. Of course, the school also added the whole concept of e-business to all of its courses. It won't be very long before e-business is accepted, as the idea of globalization was ten years ago.
Q: How has the applicant pool changed over the decade?
A:It has strengthened in two main areas. The first area is the length of work experience [that they have]. On average, our MBAs have five years of work experience, and [likewise, it's] a slightly older group, with an average age of 29. That's partly been school-driven because employers coming to campus are looking for more experienced people to hire. Also, the more work experience an MBA has, the more they can participate in class. Their work experience is also spread across more countries than before -- the school has a higher percentage of non-Canadian students now, with 43% of MBAs coming from another country. Because we offer a general-management program, we continue to attract applicants from numerous academic disciplines and work industries.
We break each [MBA] class into four sections of 70 students each. Every section is sculpted to be as diverse as possible, meaning everybody with an engineering background won't be grouped together. In 2000, the school began assigning diverse learning teams -- students work in four in the first year -- of approximately five MBAs.
Q: Ivey doesn't require its MBAs to have received an undergraduate degree. Instead, seven years of work experience is deemed adequate. What percentage of MBAs fit that description, and what's the philosophy behind that exception?
A:Anywhere between 5% and 10% of our MBAs don't have an undergraduate degree. On average, these MBAs have 13 years of work experience.
Usually something happened in their lives [that prevented them from receiving their undergraduate degree], for instance a wonderful business opportunity. Some have run their own advertising companies, one person ran a taxi company, others run hotels. They have done very well, but then reach a ceiling where they realize that they need a degree. The benefit that they have is their extensive business experience. They have wisdom and maturity because of the battles they've been through in life.
Q: Those applicants still have to demonstrate quantitative skills, right?
A:We require that they all have at least three university-level courses with a B average, and that they've done well on the GMAT. A competitive GMAT score for this group would be a 600. They have to have at least seven years of work experience and three reference letters.
Our "special-admissions" group does very well because they are so highly motivated. This might be their last chance to get a university degree and they are focused when they come here. Ultimately, [the jobs] they get aren't any different than those that people with degrees land.
Q: It's less expensive to apply online than by paper. That lends some incentive to prospective MBAs to apply online.
A:You bet. We want applicants to apply online. It takes some of the guesswork out of the format of an application, because a lot of people were very concerned that they had to make an application look good when the content of the application was more important to us. It also helps us in the data input and lets us process applications faster.
A:The scholarships range from $2,000 to $5,000, with a few that are more than that. We also have arrangements with four Canadian banks that help the Canadian and landed immigrant students. We're still seeking appropriate funding for non-Canadian MBAs. Non-Canadians need to research financial aid through the Canadian embassy or other private lending agencies in their home countries. We don't offer graduate assistantships.
Q: How closely does the school scrutinize an applicant's undergraduate transcript?
A:Very closely. We look at all of the grades from the four years. However, the admission average is done on the last 10 courses. From those courses, anything that's comparable to a mid-B average -- adjusted to the grading system that an undergraduate institution uses -- is good. The average of admitted MBAs over those 10 courses is a B+, or a 3.3 grade-point average.
We look at trends in marks, and especially look to see if grades are consistent with GMAT scores. For example, we might see that somebody has an A-average but that their GMAT score might be low, around 560. If the quantitative score is low, we'll go back to the transcripts to see if the applicant took any quantitative courses in the past.
Q: Ivey requires applicants to write three essays. How closely does the school evaluate the essays, and what is the admissions committee looking for?
A:We want to see what the applicant wants from an MBA program and if that fits with the type of program we offer. For example, some MBA programs teach through the case method, and others use a lecture method. Most applicants are not going to have experienced cases, but we want them to understand that the demands of a case-method school are different than a lecture school, meaning they have got to have enough life and work experience to add to class discussions.
Ivey is a general management program. Some applicants don't see that we're not a two-year Master's in finance program and still express their interest in it. We have to contact them to ask, "Did you know that that's not what our program is?" We have finance courses, but we're not a two-year finance degree.
We also look to see that people have a realistic idea of what an MBA program can and cannot do. For example, sometimes people might say that they want a good job after the MBA, however they define "a good job." An MBA program can never guarantee everybody a job. We just want to give them more tools to help them with their career goals later on. We look for a sense of maturity and a sense of their readiness for an MBA. Sometimes people might only have two years of work experience, which we consider very little.
Q: An interview at Ivey isn't required, but it is recommended. Why does the school request an interview with applicants from time to time? And should applicants fret if they get a call for an interview, or is an interview a positive sign?
A:We may request an interview because there is something on the application we're not sure about. Sometimes, parts of the application are strong while others lack, so the interview is used to discuss somebody's background.
[Applicants] should not be worried if they get called. It's usually a sign that their application has been reviewed very favorably and we want to pursue it further.
Q: What can an interviewee expect?
A:The interview is not going to be like a job interview. I want to get to know them better, [including their] background and how they feel an MBA will fit in with their career goals. But I also expect them to have questions for me. It's important that they also choose a program that is going to be a good fit for the way that they like to learn, and also that the curriculum is going to be interesting for them, too.
Q: Ivey allows undergraduates to move seamlessly into its MBA program. How many students are enrolled every year?
A:Very few. Only 20 Ivey undergrads can enroll in our MBA program. We have a program called MBA 2 Direct that lets our undergraduate business students come back after at least three years of full-time work experience and start in the second-year of the MBA program. These students still have to apply to the graduate school as if they were starting their first year of an MBA. About 25 people apply for those spots.
Q: How does the increased class size impact the program's wait list?
A:Our waiting list has varied anywhere from 50 people to 200 people over the years. It will be much shorter now than it used to be. I don't know what percentage of applicants are eventually accepted. Once our class is full, then we start a waiting list, and that's typically sometime in April. That means the earlier you apply, the better [your chances of being admitted].
Q: No matter how many applicants are placed on the wait list, all are offered a space in the class that enrolls one year later?
A:That's correct. It means the application has been accepted and we are just waiting for a spot to open up in class.
Q: Across Canada, B-schools struggle with the same issue Ivey faces -- trying to equip MBAs that hail from other nations. They need funding, and they need jobs when they graduate. What's Ivey's strategy?
A:We have a fund-raising campaign to raise money to fund more scholarships. In August, we also offer a Pre-Ivey program that's designed for non-Canadian students. It's three weeks long and combines academic and social activities to help them acclimate to Canada. That has been quite successful since we started it in 1995.
The career office is also working really closely with non-Canadian students to help them find summer internships and full-time jobs. Since it's often harder for non-Canadians to find companies that let them work over the summer because of their visas, the school designed the MBA Step-Up Program especially for international students. They earn an academic credit when they complete the course in the summertime, between their first and second years. We link them with a local company, so that they get some job skills, but they also have to do a research paper or some other type of project at the end of the summer. So it's also to assist people to get some internship experience.
Q: What advice would you offer if you had all of Ivey's applicants together?
A:Research the MBA programs you apply to carefully, because all schools are different in the curriculum they offer and their teaching methodology. The environment of the school is important, too. We encourage applicants to visit campus, and to speak to alumni and students. Selecting an MBA is a big investment of time and money. The decision should be undertaken seriously and carefully.
By Mica Schneider in New York