Down to Earth at MIT

The Sloan School offers a friendly environment and plenty of resources for self-starting students, says its admissions chief

Rod Garcia has been the director of Masters' Admissions at Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management since 1995. Garcia joined MIT Sloan in 1988 after leading admissions at the University of Chicago's Graduate School of Business.

Garcia says that a demonstrated pattern of achievement in an applicant's background can be as important in gaining admission to Sloan as extended work experience. He recently spoke with BusinessWeek Online reporter Jeffrey Gangemi. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation:

Q: How is application volume this year?


I would say we're just about flat from last year. In 2002, B-schools got a surge in applications, then there was a dip in 2003 and 2004. Now we're seeing the bottom of the dip, and that will mean more applications in the coming years.

We have always had two regular deadlines for the MBA pool, and in between, there is a separate deadline for our Leaders in Manufacturing program. It's a formal joint degree program with the school of engineering and the school of management. Those students enter in June, and the [program's] entire length is 24 months. The regular MBA program is 18 months.

Q: What makes an applicant stand out?


We look for two sets of core competencies. One is easily seen through past performance (work, grades, and GMAT scores), and we call that demonstrated success. The other attributes are harder to spot. You have to dig deeper. These are things like leadership, the ability to influence people and decisions, hunger, motivation, setting goals and achieving them, as well as innovation and creativity.

Q: How do you judge these sets of competencies?


We judge demonstrated success through the hard data, as well as recommendation letters coming from work. I often get requests from people who want to submit a third recommendation letter. While helpful, those recommendations don't demonstrate the data we're looking for.

We ask for specific data and examples -- like the impact the candidate has had on a person, group, or organization -- from the applicant's direct supervisor. Also, we ask for the characteristics they would like to change about the person. The more specific examples the recommender can provide, the more legitimacy we give to the letter.

We judge the softer competencies in the essays. One of the essay questions asks applicants to tell us about a time when they had a difficult interaction with a co-worker. The underlying principle here is that past behaviors are good indicators of the future. These personal attributes are the things people rarely change through education.

Q: As you review applications now, are soft skills more important than 10 years ago?


In the past, the traditional way of screening applications was to read an application with a blank sheet of paper, without any concrete set of criteria. Many times, admissions officials reference the mantra of "why MBA, why my school, and why now?" In the traditional screening method, people can tell you what you want to hear. We introduced a more competency-based method in 2001, and we use that for all assessment. We are now looking for a specific set of attributes, instead of just going by feel.

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