Michael Deotte couldn't stay away from the University of Connecticut for long. He worked for the school briefly after graduating from the School of Business (UConn Full-Time MBA Profile) in 1998, did a brief marketing stint at Sacred Heart University, and returned to UConn nine years ago as head of marketing and publicity. Last January, he became director of the full-time MBA program at UConn's Storrs campus.
While the economy may be a perfectly legitimate reason for someone to pursue an MBA, Deotte says, it's probably the last thing they should fess up to if they want to land a spot at UConn. Slumping job market or no slumping job market, Deotte says candidates need to be driven and have clear career goals. He doesn't want to hear applicants say, "It makes sense right now. I can't find a job."
In a conversation with BusinessWeek's Rachel Z. Arndt, Deotte reveals his student interview pet peeve and explains why UConn's hands-on learning initiatives set it apart from other MBA programs.
Have you seen any changes in the most recent application cycle, and were they expected? Absolutely. The number of applications is significantly higher than last year—we're up 26%. We pretty much assumed this would happen.
Why do you think applications are up? I think some people think that, with the economy down, now is a good time to return to school. That way they can wait out the job market a little bit and position themselves for when things get better. And, of course, there are people who, unfortunately, have been downsized or laid off—going back to school is a wonderful option for them.
Can you take me through the life of an application once it gets to you? We stay in contact with applicants throughout the process. They'll submit all the required materials: the application, the résumé, a personal letter of intent, two letters of professional recommendation, official transcripts, and GMAT scores. Once all of the information is in, the admissions review committee will look at the file and decide whether or not the person is a good fit for the program.
How does the interview process work? We set up the interviews with the applicants—though not everyone gets interviewed. We usually spend a half hour or hour with each applicant. We also try to set up meetings with alums or current students who can give applicants school tours and give them information from a different perspective.
Does everyone get an interview? Not everybody.
What are some common mistakes applicants make in interviews? They don't ask questions—that's one of my pet peeves. Sometimes it seems like they haven't done their research on the school.
How can candidates make themselves stand out in interviews? They can make themselves stand out by having a clear direction and focus of where they want to go in terms of their career after completing the MBA program. We like to see applicants with a focus on a certain company, industry, or location. It's nice to see that they have some sort of direction, that they're not just coming here because they think, "Oh, it makes sense right now, I can't find a job."
We also like to hear how they think our program can benefit them.
What do students say is the hardest part of the admissions process? There are some people who might hem and haw about having to take the GMAT, but, aside from that, there really doesn't seem to be too much that applicants dislike or that is too difficult for them.
What mistakes do applicants tend to make on their applications? There are no common pitfalls within the application itself or the process. And because we stay in touch with applicants throughout the process, they can always ask us questions and get more information on what we need to see from them.
Who would you consider the "right" candidate? We'd like to see someone with a strong academic background. I hate to use minimums, but we'd like to see someone with a GPA of 3.3 or higher and a GMAT score above 600. Applicants should have a couple of years of work experience—that's a must for our program.
Aside from those criteria, we'd like to see applicants who are driven, both professionally and academically. We like to see leadership experience and the ability to work in a team environment—that's crucial in our program. We also like to see communication skills.
We want to make sure that younger students, especially those without significant work experience, are mature enough.
How do you evaluate candidates with less work experience? We take a look at what their undergraduate academic experiences look like, how involved and engaged they were—not just academically but outside the classroom as well. We look for people who know where they want to go once they get their degrees. In general, we look for the quality of their experiences, their goals, and what they hope to achieve.
How important is an applicant's quantitative GMAT score vs. the verbal? It varies by applicant. In general, we look for equal scores on both. But, particularly for international students, we like to see that the verbal is just as strong as the quantitative. All applicants should have a high quantitative score because of the rigor of our program. We also require students to have completed a college-level calculus course before entering our MBA program.
What percentage of the student body is international? Historically, we've been around 35%. But this year, we're probably on the lower side of that, probably 30%. Right now we're hovering around 25%, but we will continue to recruit through July or so; some strong candidates are still coming into the pool, and if we can admit them into the program, we will.
Does UConn have any special initiatives for drawing in international students? We market in some of the various directories that are available, and we've been utilizing our alumni in countries overseas, such as India and France. We have alumni in foreign countries who attend fairs on our behalf and meet potential candidates. But we already have a pretty solid applicant pool coming from outside the U.S.
What percentage of the student body is minorities? About 10%.
What percentage of the student body is women? Until last year we had done really well, about 40% or so. Last year we took a little bit less than that, and right now we're at about 20%. But we're still climbing and hope to end up around 30% or 35% at the end of the recruiting cycle.
Does UConn have any special initiatives or programs for women and underrepresented minorities? Again, there are various directories that we market through. Last year we hosted the annual conference for the National Association of Women MBAs at our Stamford campus. We're also affiliated with the National Black MBA Assn. and the National Society of Hispanic MBAs. We're certainly looking to do better with minority recruiting.
Are there any different groups of students you're reaching out to? We like to target military folks. We're part of GMAC's military-friendly schools.
What industries do students tend to go into after graduating? There's a wide variety. Finance tends to be the largest industry, but with the collapse of the financial market I think there will be a shift. We're starting to advise our students to think about alternatives. Or, if they really are considering finance, we encourage them to think about how finance will be in a couple of years' time and to consider how many jobs will be available when the market rebounds.
Entrepreneurship is growing very quickly—it's very popular, probably the second-largest industry for our students.
What is the school doing to help students find jobs in a tough economy? Our Business Career Center has embarked on a number of different initiatives, from hiring additional staff to coming up with some unique job-finding tactics. We developed a new program, Opportunity Knocks, which reaches out to our alumni with the goal of generating 200 jobs by the end of this fiscal year. So far we've created 100 new jobs. We're really working our alumni connections. And we're branching out to also include a lot of international opportunities.
How does financial aid work? The business school offers some limited teaching assistantships and various scholarships. The teaching assistantships provide tuition waivers as well as stipends and health benefits. Aside from those opportunities, the university itself offers financial aid.
What would you say differentiates the University of Connecticut from other MBA programs of similar caliber? Our experiential learning initiatives and opportunities. Our longest-running one—edgelab, a partnership with General Electric—was started in 2000. Unlike internships or co-op programs, it allows students to work directly with GE executives and our business school faculty to solve real challenges that the company is facing. These are challenges that have educational merit, are without known solutions, and have a minimum of a $1 million impact on the bottom line in terms of revenue-enhancement, cost-cutting, or competitive advantage. It's a very intense model.
The other thing that separates us is our return on investment. Since we're a state institution, we can offer a high-quality education at an affordable value, even in these difficult economic times.
Is financial aid need- or merit-based? The merit-based awards from the business school are primarily based on undergraduate academic performance, GMAT scores, and work experience, which plays the most critical role.
You mentioned edgelab. Can you talk about the school's other experiential learning initiatives? On our Hartford campus, we have the SS&C Technologies Financial Accelerator. It's the same model as the GE edgelab, but instead of working with just one company, it works with multiple organizations, usually insurance or risk-management companies. The Innovation Accelerator is on our East Hartford campus. It deals primarily with new startup companies in Connecticut. Students and faculty work with these organizations to bring their business models to the point where the companies are ready to enter into the market.
Aside from that, we have the Student Managed Investment Fund, which is $2 million of real UConn foundation money that students manage throughout the year. At the end of the year, they report to an investment advisory board. Despite the economy, our students still outperform the S&P. So, while they lose money, they still do better than most. We have a new program that will be launched this fall. It's called SCOPE—Sustainable Community Outreach & Public Engagement. That model will work with nonprofit organizations and businesses that do work with nonprofit organizations. We already have a project lined up that has to do with veterans with disabilities and another that has to do with the Special Olympics.
What do students gain from working with these programs? The programs bridge the gap between theory and practice. Students add to what they're learning in their classes with experience in these rigorous environments. They really help students apply their pre-program experience and what they're learning in the classroom to real problems and challenges being faced by today's businesses.
We had something called the Integration Project, which was the capstone of our first year. It's being reevaluated right now and will be introduced this fall in a new package called the Application of Core Teaching project. Throughout their first year, students will work in their core classes with companies that have partnered with us. Students will work in teams and will spend the first semester poring over the companies' financials, annual reports, and the industry to really understand who the companies are and what they do. Then, at the end of the semester, students will present growth ideas and opportunities that would add value to the company. Over Christmas break, the companies will evaluate what the students have presented and select one or two ideas to work on during the spring semester. Then, students will develop solutions much like they would in our experiential learning initiatives. At the end of the semester, they'll give presentations to the company executives and the core faculty. It's really robust in terms of taking what you're learning in the classroom, what you've learned in your previous work experience, and really applying it in an meaningful way.
How would you describe the culture at UConn's School of Business? Very friendly. The camaraderie among the students is wonderful. It's a very tight-knit group. Business schools can be notoriously competitive, but the competition at UConn is friendly competition.
The Graduate Business Organization gives students opportunities for professional development, community service, networking, and clubs, both academic and social. This really helps round out the educational experience.
Are there any stereotypes about UConn that you'd like to disprove? It's hard to say it, but we're a public school. And we're a very good public school. Sometimes there's a perception that public is not as good as private. I think our track record shows that that's not the case.