The University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business is shaking it up. They've created an independent applicant recruiting office to scout fresh talent throughout the year, and now the office of career management is handling all the business school interviews. LeAnne Dagnall, associate director of MBA admissions at the Smith School, says applicants should be especially clear about their long-term goals.
She recently spoke with BusinessWeek.com reporter Derek Thompson about the admissions process for Maryland's MBA. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation:
Are applications on an upward trend over the last few years?
We are definitely seeing applications rising this year. They have climbed over the past few years. I think this partly might be because of the recession, because this might be a good time to exit the workforce and come back when the economy is recovering a bit.
Are you happy with the number of international students and women in your program?
Absolutely. We love to have international students in the program. We've seen an increase in international applications as well. We're seeing applications on the rise from Asia, from Eastern Europe, and from Africa. It's nice to see continuing diversity. We used to have mostly Asian students, but in the past few years we've seen more international diversity, especially from African countries like Nigeria and Ghana.
Is the application process different for the part- and full-time programs?
The actual process is identical. The only additional requirement is an interview for full-time students. Otherwise the process is identical.
How has the application process changed recently?
Our office of career management has become very involved in the admissions process. Once an applicant's file is reviewed, we send it on to career management and they conduct the interview. The applications are read and reviewed by the interviewer first. So the questions are catered to the students. A gap in work experience might be explained, for example. But overall, it's just a conversation with the student so the students know what their career goals are and that we can support them. This has allowed the office of career management to be involved with the students even before they join the program. It's a more holistic approach to helping students land jobs. Students have responded well because they like to be in contact with the career service office before they even start the program.
You've also changed your applicant recruiting office by separating it from the admissions office. What has been the effect?
Traditionally, you'll find that the applicant recruiting team and admissions are lumped together. But we decided to make the two programs distinct. Now the recruiting team is separate at Smith. That means the recruiting team can be out recruiting 12 months, not just during the recruiting season. We don't have to stop recruiting. Then the admissions office takes the input from recruiting and we file it for later.
Do you have any tips for students' résumés?
I think that the biggest challenge is the résumés can sometimes be a bit technical. I encourage applicants to prepare their résumé for someone in high school, so the average Joe can read it. Another thing is, we like to hear not only about projects students were involved in but also the outcome of their project. Was it successful?
What essay questions do you include on the application?
There are three required essays. The first is, why an MBA and why now? And then we have three additional essays and students have to answer two of them. First: If they could run any organization, what would it be? Second: What do you see as your legacy to Smith? And third: If salary were not a factor, what would you choose to do and why? We've seen the last question is the most popular. I'm impressed, because a lot of people are very much interested in giving back to their community. We were thinking the answers might be more selfish.
We were surprised to see teaching and helping underrepresented populations turn up on a lot of student essays.
What kind of role does the alumni network play in the admissions process?
We're very pleased to have our alumni involved in the recruiting process as well. They are very helpful in the recruiting process, meeting us on the road and helping spread the word. We have a lot of alumni who come back to our mentor program who help current students through career services.
What kind of applicant really stands out to you in a positive way?
I think one of the traits we look for is passion in what they do. We see a real variety of applicants from both corporate and nonprofit work, so we're not looking for a specific type of background in school teaching or corporate finance. We're just looking to see the passion in what they're doing.
Do you require work experience?
It's certainly not a requirement for the program. The applicants who do have work experience tend to be a bit more competitive at times. They can talk about their career goals more. They have a better sense of what they're doing and how it's going to help them in the long run. By and large we've seen the more competitive applicants have more work experience.
What's the GMAT range for Smith's accepted applicants?
I think 650 is the median. In terms of range, most students probably scored around the low-to-mid 600s to low 700s. But an exact average was around the 650 range. That number will probably be similar this year. I think it's remained pretty steady for the past couple of years.
Do you work with students who fall on the lower end?
If scores are the factor in the admission decision, I would suggest them to retake the test. I would suggest them to contact us about why they didn't get in. If GMAT were a factor, we would ask them to retake the test.
Who do you see as your competitors?
Georgetown, just by the nature that we're in the Washington (D.C.) area. We see a lot of people applying to the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Indiana University and Emory are also in the running.
Who is the perfect Smith School student?
Again, there is no one perfect student, because we really like the diversity of the program. I think we just really want to see that passion. We do have a more intimate program, and we admit about 120 to 140 students each year. We encourage the students to get very involved. Passion for Smith is very important. Passion in your community should shine through.
Do you ever see students who you think are trying to cater to your expectations rather than staying true to their own passions?
I'm sure it does happen. I think when someone is catering their application toward what they think an admissions committee might want to hear, we can tell. I encourage applicants to be true to themselves. We want to get to know the real you and not just what you want us to hear. We want you to be as true as you can be with us. So don't cater your application to what we might want to hear.