Meet Michigan State's Admissions Director

A conversation with Randall Dean, director of MBA Admissions at Michigan State University's Eli Broad Graduate School of Management

Our guest on April 9, 2001, was Randall Dean, director of MBA Admissions at Michigan State University's Eli Broad Graduate School of Management, (No. 29 on BusinessWeek's 2000 Top 30 B-Schools List). A Michigan State MBA, he worked as a market-research supervisor for Procter & Gamble. Dean spoke with BusinessWeek Online's Mica Schneider . Following is an edited transcript of their discussion:

Q: Generally, what application trends did you notice this past year?


It has been an interesting year. We are definitely up overall, probably in the 15% to 20% range. The majority of the increase has probably been in our international student audience. Domestic applications are consistent with last year.

Q: If you were to layout all the components of an application, which piece holds the most weight?


The big four for me -- each one is a pretty critical lever for us to look at -- are the GMAT, work experience, undergraduate performance, and career and goal sets.

We can have a candidate with an outstanding GMAT and outstanding work experience but if their goal fits would be not good at all, we would probably discourage the candidate from coming into our program.

Q: What's a bad example of a goal set?


We don't have a whole lot of people walking out of here and going out to Wall Street. If we see a candidate whose total goal is [to get a job in] investment banking and they didn't show the flexibility to take a look at our other corporate opportunities, we may discourage this candidate from coming to the program.

Q: Seventy-two percent of Michigan State's applicants hailed from outside of the U.S. in 2000. Ultimately, the school accepted 13% of those applicants. What do international MBA applicants need to make the cut?


We try to look at every applicant holistically. We're going to take a look at their GMAT, undergraduate performance, work experience (both in terms of quantity and quality), and most important, the fit with the institution. By "fit," we mean, do their career goals fit with what we say we're good at? And are they personally the kind of candidate that fits well with our team-oriented ethic?

Q: Where do non-U.S. applicants go awry if so many are being ditched?


When we're looking at them on an overall competitive basis, we do have some stated minimum requirements. For instance, the minimum TOEFL [score] that we accept is 600, or 250 for the computer-based test. On the GMAT, we have stated minimums on both the verbal and the quantitative section. On the verbal section, the minimum raw score is 25, and the minimum raw quantitative percentile we're looking for is the 50th percentile. So right off the bat, we're losing anywhere from 40% to 50% of the international applicants on those requirements. Out of those [applicants making the first cut], we're probably knocking out another 20% in the interview process.

Q: All of Michigan State's accepted applicants complete an interview. Are those interviews conducted on campus or by alumni?


Not all of the people who apply are granted an interview. We encourage any candidate that can to come to campus to do an interview, but we also allow for candidates to interview via telephone.

Q: Does one interview carry more weight that the next?


Obviously, if somebody's willing to take the time and effort to visit our campus, that will have a little bit of additional emphasis when it comes to the review by the committee. It shows a slightly higher level of professionalism.

That said, we understand the difficulty of coordinating a trip from Beijing to Michigan, and we wouldn't necessarily expect that a candidate do that. So if you are a strongly qualified candidate, a telephone interview is not going to hurt you. At the same time, if you are a candidate that is not meeting our base level criteria, an on-campus interview probably won't help you either.

Q: What's the main reason applicants don't make it to the next round after an interview?


There's a sub-segment of that [failed interview] group where English skills are the primary issue.

Sometimes, we see significant team-skill issues. For instance, a candidate that has a much more individual orientation -- if we see some metrics in addition to that, things like letters of recommendation or the essays that also indicate [individual orientation], that could give us a cause for concern.

The biggest thing that would take somebody out at the interview phase would be if they state a set of career goals that we don't think we're well suited to provide.

Q: Teamwork is something Michigan State brochures mention often. How much time should an applicant devote to that topic in the application or interview?


We devote one of two [required] essays to teamwork. We assess not only whether they understand what causes a team to not work properly but also if they understand how to take a team that isn't working and move it into a positive direction.

We want to see if they understand the difference between being a team leader and a team member. Often, a lot of candidates applying to the program focus solely on being the team leader, and don't understand that sometimes it's all right to just be a team player. Either position can be effective, depending on the situation. We also dedicate up to a third of our interview on interactions, for instance personal interactions in a business setting, as well as team activities within a business setting.

Q: What are some examples of interview questions an applicant may face?


In general, [to get at team issues] we'll probably ask about how they dealt with a difficult coworker or a difficult or successful team setting. Maybe also the kinds of situations that they have been poorly equipped for, but have learned to adjust to.

Q: Not all Michigan State students come from traditional business backgrounds, and the B-school has done a fair amount of work recruiting prospective MBAs that aren't on Wall Street.


On a regular basis, we're probably getting only about 40% of our students from a core business background -- for instance, working in finance, accounting, or marketing.

Q: How does that make the MBA at Michigan State different from programs other B-schools offer?


In the classroom, you're going to get a lot of different points of view, personalities, and academic and work backgrounds. That creates a great level of unique ideas and view points in classroom discussions and subsequent team meetings.

Q: That doesn't mean that Michigan State turns a blind eye to B-school "poets," or students with a liberal-arts background. Do prospective MBAs need a certain type of course under their belt before they submit an application?


That's exactly why we have the minimum requirement of 50th percentile on the GMAT quantitative. But we also have prerequisite courses that all students have to compete by the time that they start the MBA classes -- in accounting, statistics, and mathematics.

When we're looking at an application, the last step that we take is to look at their transcripts to see if they've had course work in those areas. If they haven't, they'll get provisional admission.

Q: How does Michigan State view completing such course work online, rather than at a physical university?


With the statistics requirement, we're looking for either a community college or a local college course, or our two weeks statistics review that we do on campus. As for online courses, we really haven't had any of our prospective candidates request that as an option yet. That would drive us to take a serious look at it. We wouldn't be negative to it. We do have a bit of flexibility, though.

Q: What's significant about the new concentration in marketing technology, and what are Michigan State's other MBA concentrations?


We're trying to align our program with our faculty's strong and key interests. Previously, we had the same kind of marketing program that most of the schools had, [including] general marketing, brand management, and market research. But when we took a good look internally at our faculty strengths, we realized that we had some outstanding faculty in the areas of new product development, technology use, and data modeling.

We're best known for our supply-chain management program, which takes a comprehensive look at things like operations, production, logistics, fulfillment, and transportation. We also have a human-resource management program, which is quite strong, and a finance program, which has been probably our second most popular concentration. We require our students to concentrate on at least one of those four areas for the best job opportunities.

We do have a number of secondary concentrations students can choose in addition to the primary concentrations. They are international business, corporate accounting, business information systems, general management, hospitality business, and leadership and change management.

Q: When students look strong on paper, your office can choose them to be recipients of the Broad Scholarship. What is it that makes an applicant a Broad Scholar?


What we're looking at for Broad Scholars is basically the same criteria that we're looking at in admissions, but at a higher level. We're looking for those people with the outstanding GMAT scores and outstanding work experience, for example.

An outstanding GMAT score is one at the upper end of our GMAT score range. Most Broad Scholars are near a 720 or higher score. Outstanding work experience? Our average [amount of work experience] is four or five years. [Broad Scholars] usually have that or [more], and may have had additional promotions at a very early stage in their career. They also come from very strong undergraduate programs, are going to fit with what we think we're good at here at Michigan State, and [have shown good] leadership skills and potentials.

Q: Does your office also handle part-time admissions?


No. Our weekend MBA program is basically a full-time program that takes place on the weekends over 17 months, and they have their own complete admissions operation, which is separate from ours.

Q: Applicants can apply to Michigan State anywhere between December and June. But how many people does the school really accept in June?


Obviously, it's better to apply early. Once we get to the end of April, we are pretty much done with international candidates, and we are 75% to 80% done with our domestic season. But if you're a high quality domestic applicant still looking for a good home this fall, there's still a very good chance for consideration.

Q: How long does it take Michigan State to completely review and judge an application?


If they get their completed application in by Mar. 30, we're promising that they will get an answer by May 1.

Q: How many people does Michigan State place on its wait list?


Of all the people admitted, there's probably another 20% on top of that on the wait list. And last year, quite a few had an opportunity to come off the wait list. The majority of people on our wait list are non-U.S. applicants.

Q: How does the B-school notify applicants of admission? Do you send e-mail to students or personally call them? Does FedEx deliver a thick package?


We guarantee that everybody who gets a decision is going to get a letter by first-class mail, regardless of what their status is -- denied, wait-list, or admitted. If you are an admitted candidate to the program, we send that first letter out on its own, but then immediately following that we start our admitted students mailing series.

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