Penn State Seeks 'Leadership' and 'Focus'

The Smeal College of Business pursues a diverse class whose goals track with the school's vision and values, says admissions chief Carrie Marcinkevage

Carrie Marcinkevage is the MBA Program Admissions Director at Penn State's Smeal College of Business. Prior to joining Penn State in 2005 she worked in management and education consulting but made a career transition because she wanted to make a greater impact on students' development.

Marcinkevage recently shared some admissions advice with reporter Alina Dizik. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Are there any major changes to the application process this year?

We have a real focus on principled leadership and personal focus. Changes in our essay questions demonstrate the focus, and we're looking for that reflection as students apply to the program.

Are you seeing more applications?

There's been a steady upward turn (, 8/15/07) in the last couple of years. The GMAT takers in India have doubled, and we're 35% international.

Does this mean that you receive more international applications?

Yes, international volume outpaces domestic.

What are some of the more difficult essay questions that students see on this year's application?

Of our three essays, two of them are related to our values. It's important that someone take a look at the entirety of our vision and values and see how they align to it in their own goals. If there's alignment there, it's deemed a good fit.

How can students answer these essays?

Be genuine and recognize that this our best chance to really get to know you.

Since students apply to Penn State in three rounds, what are the benefits of applying in an earlier round?

Earlier is better because then we craft the class around the applicants. If someone applies later they are coming into a class that's already been composed. The first round also guarantees an admissions interview. The [second] February round is for all international students. All domestic candidates without specific interest in financial aid can apply in the third round. If you are waiting there's less likelihood of financial support.

Can you provide some examples of how you craft the class?

We start to look at the diversity and the breadth of the class, so we're looking for a good mix of all sorts of things. It's not just geographic—it's functional background, introverts vs. extroverts, NGO vs. corporate, and as many other kinds of applicants as we can bring in.

Since you review so many essays, could you address some common mistakes that applicants make?

The silly one is cutting and pasting and leaving the wrong school's name—it does happen. Another one is taking three pages to say what you could have said in one. Number three: if the question says to 'describe a great leader and show how you've demonstrated great leadership,' applicants use three-quarters to describe what they think and dedicate only a quarter of the page to show how they demonstrate it themselves. The answer says a lot about what you think but not a lot about what you do. We're interested in students giving both of them equal time, or they can even flip the priority.

How important is an applicant's quantitative GMAT score vs. the verbal?

We look at both…so I don't think that we necessarily...

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