Applicants with "Fire in Their Bellies"

That's the kind of MBA student that Boston U. is seeking, says Assistant Dean of Graduate Admissions Hayden Estrada

Hayden Estrada has been the assistant dean of graduate admissions at Boston University School of Management since March, 2005. Before joining BU, he was the director of academic consulting at Productivity Management, a South Bend (Ind.)-based technology and consulting firm. He has also led the MBA admission efforts at the Universities of Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business, the University of Maryland's College Park Robert H. Smith School of Business, and Vanderbilt University's Owen Graduate School of Management.

He recently spoke with BusinessWeek Online reporter Jeffrey Gangemi. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation:

Q: Have applications been up or down in recent years?


Boston University experienced a couple of lean years after the bursting of the dot-com bubble. Over the last couple of years, however, things have turned around, and applications are up over 20% right now for the year to date.

We attribute much of the turnaround to increased interest in some of the innovative programs we have, including the MSMBA program. It's a joint program that couples strategic information systems and the MBA program. For applicants to the MSMBA, we look harder at a person's ability on the quantitative side because any weakness significantly diminishes their probability of success.

Q: What's your average GMAT score, and how flexible are you in considering lower scores?


Our average right now for admitted students is about 660. Our students have a wide range of GMAT scores -- from the 500s to about 780. We're really looking for management and leadership potential, and the GMAT gives us one piece of that. If the GMAT is an anomaly, we'll look at all the other factors and put more weight into those.

Q: How many recommendations do you require, and who are the best subjects?


What we're looking for are objective recommendations. We don't want any family members. Also, we generally discourage academic recommendations because professors probably won't remember too much about your specific performance.

If you don't pick someone who's objective, then you diminish the value of that recommendation, if it maintains any value at all. The direct supervisor is a great person to get a recommendation from.

Q: What do you hope to determine from the essays?


We have two required essays. In the first, we're asking the applicant to connect the dots between where they are and where they're looking to be -- what their career plan is for the next five years. The second essay is to give us some insight into the person's personality and thought process.

We're really trying to get people to differentiate themselves in a positive way. My advice is to not write what they think I want to hear. I want to hear their story -- what makes them different from other applicants from a very personal point-of-view. Applicants should try to decide what they're really passionate about and write about it. We want people in this program who have passion and fire in their bellies.

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