Reena Lichtenfeld has been the director of Graduate Admissions and Enrollment Management at the University of South Carolina Moore School of Business -- International MBA (third tier on BusinessWeek's 2004 list of top MBA programs) for over six years. Before that, Lichtenfeld served as assistant director of admissions at Keystone College in La Plume, Pa.
Lichtenfeld says she's more impressed by a creative essay that tells a story than an extremely polished one. She recently spoke with BusinessWeek Online reporter Jeffrey Gangemi. Edited excerpts of their conversation follow:
Q: Have applications been up or down recently?
A:We have been consistent with the national trend, and applications have been down. We expect application rates similar to last year. But we are expecting a bubble from 2006 to 2010, when the demographic of 25- to 29-year-olds will be increasing.
Q: How do you weigh GMAT scores?
A:Our average is 627 for the incoming class, with the middle range falling between 550 and 700. We figure the GMAT scores in with work experience, as well as success in undergraduate academics. In the admissions process, we're essentially asking two questions: Will this person succeed academically at the Moore School? How well will they do in the job search afterward?
The GMAT is a good indicator of how well a first-year student at business school will do. When you look at how well they'll do afterward, you look at their work experience, as well as the quality of their recommendations, essays, and interview.
Q: Are interviews required?
A:We invite all accepted students to interview, which is a requirement for enrolling. We don't have any set formula as to how we weigh the interview in the total admissions process. We don't expect students to be perfectly polished coming in, but at the same time, we expect students to be able to express what they want out of the program.
Q: What do you try to learn about students from their essays?
A:We have a statement of career objectives, which is consistent from year to year. Then we have an international questionnaire, where we ask the following questions: What kinds of international experience have you had? Describe a time when you helped to build enthusiasm in others. Describe a project or event on which you worked and are particularly proud.
I've seen some really creative answers to the one about building enthusiasm in others. We recently had an applicant who had just finished the Peace Corps. He described his placement community in Thailand where the women didn't express themselves openly. He was trying to improve the economy in the area, and he knew he had to bring these women out of their shells to get their participation. So, he organized a day of teamwork exercises, including three-legged races and the like.
He succeeded in creating an enthusiastic environment, and communication lines opened. Conversation gradually turned to the state of the local economy, and the women decided to use their local resources to manufacture soap. The volunteer helped them create a successful business. That was one of the best answers I've seen.
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