Last year was the toughest ever to get into a top business school -- and admissions directors don't expect this year to be any easier. So we sought some early insights on applications season from Julia Min, assistant dean for MBA admissions at New York University's Stern School of Business (No. 13 on BusinessWeek's Top 30 B-Schools list).
Min fielded questions with Will Rockett, a student in NYU's part-time MBA program and a BusinessWeek Online MBA Journal writer, from audience members and from BusinessWeek Online's Brian Hindo during a live chat on July 31, 2002. Here are edited excerpts:
Q: Do you foresee a big increase in applicants this year from last year? If so, what's a good strategy for standing out in the pool of thousands applications?
Min:It is too early to predict how big an increase we'll have for this year. We'll have a better idea as we go on the recruiting trips this fall. There are many ways to stand out. The main strategy, I would say, is to be yourself. In addition, be prepared -- do your research ahead of time.
We, the admissions committee, can identify students who have prepared their applications well in advance and are thoughtful about their goals. Be specific about: Why Stern? Let us know why you're a good fit for us and why we're a good fit for you.
Q: Would a good post-graduate grade point average be helpful in getting into a good B-school, if the undergraduate GPA isn't that great?
Min:Because our application evaluation process is holistic, we look at the entire academic profile, which will include all work -- undergraduate, postgraduate, and even noncredit courses. We look at standardized test scores, too -- the GMAT as well as the TOEFL, if applicable.
Q: Will, why did you choose Stern?
Rockett:I was interested in going to school part time in New York and in keeping my current job, so that narrows it down a bit. The reputation and resources of Stern put it ahead of other options. Also, there's a beer blast every Thursday.
Q: I understand that admissions officers look for variety in applicants' job experiences. How are those with one job since college viewed? Are they considered narrow, or loyal? How much does that play into the overall application?
Min:We look at job progression, and not necessarily whether you stayed in one place. We look at the level of responsibility, and how much you have contributed to the organization. Work experience is one part of the application, which also will include recommendation letters, essays, etc. There's no formula for how job experience plays into the overall application.
Q: Julia, I've visited some B-schools this month in the USA, and many of them offer some kind of structure for students' family or spouses. What does Stern offer for a foreign-student family?
Min:We offer support for international students in various ways. NYU has a fantastic Office of International Students and Scholars. At Stern, we have International Student Groups, which offer student-to-student support in all areas -- academic, social, and cultural. We have consistently had more than 30% international-student representation, so we are well-equipped to assist with many issues.
Q: Is the part-time program good for career changers?
Min:Stern considers the Langone part-time MBA program to be for career enhancement. Because the curriculum doesn't include the summer internship, which is critical for most career changes, we recommend the full-time program if you're considering a career change.
Rockett: I'd agree that the summer internship is important for career changes, really seeing what it is this new industry is all about. I will say that you learn a lot from your classmates both in the full time and part-time programs. From a part-time perspective, business school is what you put into it. There's not a lot of [extra] time, as you constantly balance everything. That could interfere with your commitment to a new field. But if you have the energy you can still do it.
Q: Any advice for older applicants? What was the average age of the class of 2004?
Min:The average age for the class that came in last fall was around 27 or 28. Our advice to applicants would be to highlight how an MBA will help them get to that next position. We are looking for a certain level of work experience, and room for continued growth.
Q: Will, how diverse is the student body in the part-time program and what are the most common traits you have been able to identify in the student pool?
Rockett:Well, New York is a pretty diverse place. There are lots of people in a variety of fields. I was impressed with the diversity, and also with how many different types of jobs people had or have. I thought the class would be a lot more financial-based, but I've been pleasantly surprised.
Min: Stern also attracts people outside of the tristate area, as you can complete your MBA by going to classes on Saturdays and majoring in finance. So we see people coming from Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Chicago, and Boston. In addition, we see people coming from all industries, including nontraditional fields like entertainment, nonprofit, and government, which enhances your classroom experience.
Q: I've been unemployed for few a months. There aren't many jobs in my field. Will this have a negative impact on my application?
Min:We would like to see that you have kept yourself busy doing meaningful things. We have seen some applicants do project consulting or other part-time projects. And if you have any updates -- for example, a new job -- keep the admissions committee informed. Also, make a good self-assessment as to whether business school is the right choice for you at this time.
Q: Is the class of 2004 filled? If not, is there going to be any movement on the waitlist any time soon? If any?
Min:We are still in the process of filling both the full- and the part-time class. We will continue to review waitlisted candidates throughout August.
Q: Can you tell us about Stern's strategy to remain tops in the business school arena?
Min:We pride ourselves on being a leader in innovation, and we look to always improve our process and our curriculum to meet the needs and demands of the business world -- not only with faculty research, but also in how we interact with alumni, students, and business leaders. For instance, we've continued to establish partnerships with New York City.
For example, our first-year MBA students will analyze a case on the Metropolitan Opera, and take a backstage tour and see how the Met really works. This is just one example of our real-world approach to teaching.
Q: Will, how hard has it been managing a heavy course load with a full-time career? How do you find time for your social life?
Rockett:It has been ... tiring. The first couple of semesters were tough, but then you just get used to it -- no sleep becomes normal. Social life? Well, I have some great friends who take me out for beers all the time to help me keep a level head.
Q: What would your advice be for someone with a less than average GMAT score -- re-take the test or focus on other application materials, like essays?
Min:Again, our evaluation is holistic, and the GMAT is just one component of your application. However, the GMAT is an area where you can improve -- unlike your undergraduate GPA. We have seen many applicants retake their GMATs and improve their scores. While it's important to put your best foot forward, my suggestion is to not overemphasize one area, but to create a strong profile in all areas, including essays.
Q: How does admissions look at dual GMAT scores? I've heard that some schools use the better verbal and quantitative scores from each attempt.
Min:Stern will consider the highest GMAT score.
Q: What is the minimum number of years of work experience recommended for applying to NYU? I just graduated this May and am employed by a consulting firm. I would love to jump into B-school ASAP.
MIN: Stern's range is 2 to 10 years with the average being about 4.7. Because teamwork is so important in the classroom, we find that students who have had some work experience are able to contribute more effectively and are able to take away more as well. It's in your interest to establish more of a [work] record.
Q: Is it easier to get in to the part time program?
Min:The admissions committee for the full-time and the part-time programs is the same. Thus, we use the same criteria to evaluate candidates. We publish profiles of admitted students on our Web site, so that candidates can see the ranges of successful candidates.
Q: Can part-time students transfer into the full-time program? Min: Because the programs are so different, students aren't able to transfer from one program into another. So we recommend that candidates really research which program they would like to pursue before they apply, taking into account such issues as career enhancement vs. career changing.
Q: I have heard that Stern is only a finance school. What can you offer to a candidate with a nonfinance background?
Min:Stern is very strong in finance. However, we excel in all other areas, including management, operations, and marketing, to name a few. We also offer a diversified portfolio, so that you can contribute in any business. In addition to our core majors, we offer a variety of other initiatives. Students can take courses at the NYU law school, and at the entertainment, media, and technology cooperative, where we collaborate with the NYU Tisch School of the Arts.
Q: Will, do you find that part-time students interact with each other as much as full timers do, in terms of networking, etc?
Rockett:As a part-time student, you get out of the program what you put in. It's a lot easier as a full timer to be a part of student groups. All of these resources are available to part timers, but you don't usually have a lot of time outside of class. I have met some cool people, both full time and part time, but I credit that to my efforts -- not to circumstance.
Q: What advantages does NYU offer its students over Columbia? Min: Both programs offer a top-notch MBA education. I will speak to the strengths of the Stern MBA, as I'm more familiar with it. As I mentioned, NYU is located in the heart of New York City's Greenwich Village -- thus, we are a subway ride to Wall Street, as well as to Midtown and the hub of business. We are establishing closer ties to New York City and its business leaders. We have, for our first-year students, lunch with a business leader. This year we have Harvey Golub, the former CEO and chairman of American Express.
Our students also have opportunities to interact with other business leaders, whether it's through our CEO series or through our student group-sponsored events. But in my opinion, our best asset is the people at Stern -- and by that I mean students, alumni, faculty, and administrators who give back so much to Stern and create a community that fosters collaboration and cooperation. I am amazed every day at the support I receive from these folks, who are so genuinely excited and enthused about Stern.
Rockett: I attended a CEO series with Jack Welch and it was a great experience... . Also, the 1/9 train to 116th Street (i.e., to Columbia) will kill you at 6 p.m.
Q: What stands out as a really good admissions essay?
Min:One that speaks to who you really are. We are interested in getting to know the person who is writing that essay. We have a creative essay where we ask our candidates to describe themselves to their fellow classmates.
Q: Julia, what advice do you have for applicants who were waitlisted this year and asked to apply next year? Is your admissions team available to these students for feedback on how to make their applications stronger?
Min:We encourage people to reapply. However, we would like to see in your application some updates or improvements. One piece of advice: Don't use the same essays!
Because the application evaluation is holistic, we aren't able to give specific feedback. In addition, it's a comparative evaluation, so the criteria may change year to year. However, we do have daily information sessions Monday through Thursday at 4:30, where you will be able to interact with someone from our office.
Q: Do you anticipate admissions being tougher for the 2005 class because of the present economy?
Min:It's difficult to see what the economy will be like in December, when our first deadline approaches.
Q: Could Will or Julia expound on what distinguishes Stern's culture from that of other B-schools?
Min:At Stern, our full-time students are placed in blocks of around 60 to 65 students, which fosters teamwork and collaboration. Students really get to know each other in the blocks as they take their first-year core together. Many students describe it as their "immediate family," and many of our alums have kept in touch with their blockmates for years. Our students take an active part in helping us be innovative and to build our community on campus and beyond. They like each other and enjoy learning from each other. Will can speak about the part-time students' culture.
Rockett: We have something similar -- core groups -- in the part-time program. You wind up taking the same core classes together and it makes a difference having lots more familiar faces in your classes. It's easier to work with people you know and have had success with in past group projects. It's tough to have a community in a place that you go to six to eight hours a week. So the core program helps.
Q: Do either Will or Julia have anything to add before we go? Min: Yes. To close, I would like to thank everyone for taking part. This is a perfect time to start thinking about your application for next fall. I invite you to come and see for yourself what differentiates Stern. Starting in October, we will offer class visits, where you can attend classes taught by our top faculty and see for yourself how dynamic the curriculum and the students are. We will also be hosting admission presentations around the U.S. and the world, and we look forward to meeting many of you. Good luck!
Rockett: If anyone has any questions on full time vs. part time or Stern part-time waitlist tips, email me at email@example.com. Have a fun summer!