Nearly 1,400 people applied to HEC School of Management, Paris, No. 8 on BusinessWeek's 2004 list of top international MBA programs. The school accepted 22% of those applicants, and 65% of them enrolled. Isabelle Cota, admissions and student affairs director at HEC Paris, says that more American students are showing interest in the European MBA, which tends to be more global and fast-paced than its U.S. counterparts. She recently joined Joy Jaillon, an American student who plans to graduate from HEC Paris in the spring, to field questions from audience members and BusinessWeek Online's Francesca Di Meglio and Jack Dierdorff. Here's an edited transcript:
Q: I'm a 33-year-old Lebanese Canadian, AUB graduate in computer science who has worked in Lebanon, Canada, and the U.S. I speak Arabic, English, and French. How would I stand in your pool of applicants?
Cota:Obviously, strong international experience is an important part of the applicant profile. Our average age is 30, so 33 is definitely within the traditional range. A lot depends on your academic background and work experience, so it's hard to give a specific answer to the question.
HEC offers a unique service to potential candidates called the candidate profile. Someone can create an online account, tell us more about themselves, and request an evaluation of their profile before applying. You can do that at this link. We look at the GMAT and TOEFL as well.
Q: What sets HEC apart from other programs?
Cota:Definitely the international profile and global business vision. We have a bilingual program, which gives students the opportunity to look for jobs in Europe after graduation because it gets their foot in the door. If students don't speak French, they will be required to take it at HEC. (English is the only language required for admission.)
We have an emphasis on personal and professional development, which provides a long-term return on the MBA investment. Career building is built into the curriculum, and again certainly the small class size creates a very cooperative learning environment.
Jaillon: The smaller class size and the leadership, especially Dean [Valérie] Gauthier, are strengths of the program. It's a strong advantage for people looking to build careers in Europe.
Q: What sets HEC apart from other programs in Europe?
Cota:Europe is diverse. Looking at Britain, specifically, it's much more of an Anglo-Saxon environment, more similar to the U.S. than to Continental Europe. Afterward, [potential applicants] need to look at networks, individual aspects of the program, as they're comparing any program. Our greatest strength is our alumni network, which includes 24,000 people and is truly global. The length of the program is something else to consider.
Jaillon: The No. 1 benefit of attending the school is the alumni network. Although the school is based in France, it's extremely strong in Europe and it's a combined network of all of the school's graduates, not just MBAs. It's far-reaching and people are very helpful in reviewing CVs and providing contacts and advice.
Q: Do you require interviews? If so, do you have advice for students?
Cota:Yes. After a candidate has been pre-selected, he or she will be invited to interview. Students are encouraged to come to our campus for interviews and a tour. If that's not possible, students can interview with alumni who are stationed around the world. All students admitted to the program have been interviewed twice.
Q: What kind of work experience should typical applicants have?
Cota:There's no minimum length of work experience required, but the average is six years. In the selection process, we evaluate the level of responsibility of the position, and the contribution that experience will make to other participants. We're more interested in the quality of your experience as opposed to length.
Most of our applicants have an engineering and business-administration background. We do have people who come to the program from non-traditional business backgrounds – military personnel looking to change careers, lawyers, vets, even a professional tennis player. Since we value diversity in our student population, we don't have one facet we're looking for, as long as the person can make a contribution to the MBA program.
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