Jay Bryant is the senior director of global recruitment at the Thunderbird School of Global Management. Prior to getting his Thunderbird MBA in 2004 and joining the admissions team, Bryant taught Spanish language and literature.
Bryant says successful applicants at Thunderbird must demonstrate an international focus to score a spot in the entering class. He recently spoke with BusinessWeek.com reporter Alina Dizik about admissions. Here is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Are there any major changes to the application process this year?
The only major change was that you could substitute the first essay with an interview.
Are you seeing more applications now than in the recent past?
Yes, 10% to 15% above last year.
What's the most unusual or difficult essay question on your application? What's your advice to students on how to answer it?
That would be our ethics-based essay question. They can take it two directions: One is if they've had a personal or professional ethical issue, the other is a global issue that they find important and why. People who choose their ethical issue from the past have a harder essay. We advise them to explain how they resolved the situation and what they learned. We want to make sure they are coming into it with a sense of ethics.
What do students tell you is the hardest part of the admissions process at your school?
The GMAT is a big obstacle for many people and choosing the right school for the applicant. We are very up front and clear with what we're looking for in our students.
How important is an applicant's quantitative GMAT score?
We like to see our students in the top 50 percentile in all areas. Obviously there are a few exceptions to that. We put just as much weight on the verbal and the qualitative because there are so many soft skills that we are looking for; communication skills are extremely important.
What do you look for in applicants' essays?
The most important thing is that we see they belong at the school and that they have a global mindset and are passionate about international business.
What's the typical amount of work experience you're looking for? How do you regard applicants with less business experience than that?
Average is five years. Less is O.K. as long as they have two. If they have less than two, we recommend they look at our master's programs.
What do you want to see in recommendation letters?
We need to see that they are definitely a fit for international business and that [recommenders] can speak toward their leadership experience and feel that they can do the work of a high-level program.
How do interviews work?
I would say the majority of applicants do interviews. They can be done over the phone, in person, or over Skype. We highly recommend that they interview and be prepared to know exactly what we are about and that we are focused on international business.
What financial aid opportunities are available to students?
We have merit-based scholarships and student loans for permanent residents and citizens.
How do you attract women and underrepresented minorities? Do you have any special programs to attract these students?
We have taken big strides toward that in the past few years. We have specific programs for women like the National Association of Women MBAs [chapter], and they also assist in the recruiting process—we came in at 33% this year. A couple of different underrepresented minority groups recently got together to have a couple sessions on diversity in the workplace.
Since you are an international business school, what special initiatives do you have when recruiting internationally?
We recruit in over 40 countries a year and are looking into how to extend our effort in the developing countries and Eastern Europe.
What are some common mistakes that candidates make in their applications?
Worst thing you can do is to mention another school in the essays. Have your essays reviewed by several people before you submit them. People will leave off the activities they did outside of work, but that's a huge thing because we want extremely active people. Sometimes all we see is a résumé and have no idea about their personality.
Can you describe one student at Thunderbird who was recently admitted but doesn't fit the traditional profile, someone you're taking a chance on?
That's a hard question because all of our students are so different. Right now we have a student from Africa, someone whose scores are lower than what we normally go with. We felt the student is going to be influential in developing the country after completing the MBA.
Are there any stereotypes about Thunderbird that you'd like to disprove?
Everyone at Thunderbird is incredibly different. There is a big belief that you must speak two languages before you get here because of our language requirement. But we'll teach you a language if you don't know one when you get here.