Tips for Georgetown's MBA Applicants

The director of admissions for the McDonough School of Business' full-time MBA program discusses the application process

Georgetown's McDonough School of Business was ranked No. 22 in BusinessWeek's most recent rankings of full-time MBA programs. For prospective students, the school highlights its Washington (D.C.) location, the quality of its faculty and students, and its emphasis on international business.

Last year, Georgetown's full-time MBA program received 1,942 applications. Of those, 569 were admitted, and 256 attended. How'd they get in? By being motivated, well-balanced, and having a global mindset, says Kelly Wilson, Georgetown's recently-appointed director of full-time MBA admissions.

Wilson, who's fresh off a nine-year stint at the University of Pittsburgh, recently chatted with BusinessWeek's Dan Macsai about the Georgetown admissions process. Following are excerpts of their conversation:

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

No, nothing major.

What's the most unusual or difficult essay question on your application? And how should students answer it?

In one question, we ask candidates to provide an example of when they displayed the qualities of a leader—which is difficult, because it requires some time for introspection. I'd advise applicants to keep their answer focused. Be able to identify your own specific leadership qualities, but also identify areas where you have room for growth. We're looking for applicants to be a little critical of themselves, which is often difficult to do.

Do students apply in rounds?

Yes, we have three rounds: The first round ends Nov. 7, the second ends Jan. 16, and the third ends April 3.

Are there any benefits to being in an earlier round?

To be most competitive for scholarships, candidates have to apply before the second-round deadline. But in general, our advice is to apply as early as possible, so long as you're putting forth the best possible application. Our decisions aren't based on timing of receipt, so, if necessary, spending extra time is okay.

What sets your program apart?

Because Georgetown is a general management program, students can gain breadth across various academic areas or depth in one or two academic areas, depending on the goals they set. We also have a global mindset: This year, 51% of our class has international business or academic experience, and 91% has non-native language proficiency. And our leadership residency program allows students to learn more about their own leadership sills through self-assessment, a 360-degree evaluation, and other tools.

What do you look for in applicants' essays?

First and foremost, that essay has to address the question. Too often, I see essays that provide a lot of info but never get to the point of answering the specific question. We also look for the essays to reflect an applicant's experience and motivation to apply for our MBA program. Applicants who have researched our program should be able to weave that into their essay. We want to feel like there's a match between an applicant and Georgetown.

How important is an applicant's quantitative GMAT score?

We have a significant quantitative element to our program, and the GMAT score is one of the measures we can use to help us determine if a candidate will be successful here. But we also look at academic performance in quantitative courses. In terms of the GMAT score as a whole, my preference is to see balance between the quantitative and verbal. If there's an imbalance, we can dig into application and see if the other components—resume, transcript, essays, etc.—support or refute the imbalance.

What do you want to see in applicants' recommendation letters?

We definitely prefer professional recommendations. We want observations about an applicant in the workplace. We're looking for management potential, leadership skills, professionalism—the kinds of characteristics that define a future global leader.

How do interviews work?

In the fall, candidates can schedule an interview at Georgetown [or in various cities where representatives travel], so long as they submit their GMAT score and résumé beforehand. In the spring, we move to an invite-only format.

What are some of key mistakes that applicants make?

Too often, candidates don't seem prepared. My advice is to spend time thinking about articulating the information that's contained in your résumé, so you can refer to it when answering the interviewer's questions.

Another key mistake is treating an interview for the MBA program as if it were for an undergraduate program. This is a whole different ball game. We're offering a professional degree, and our expectation is that the candidate has a certain amount of professional experience and a certain level of business acumen. It's like an interview for a corporate job. Sometimes, applicants seem a little too relaxed.

How much experience looking for?

Our average is more than five years, and our minimum is two to three. It's not an automatic dismissal if you don't meet the minimum, but successful candidates usually have two to three years of experience.

What financial aid opportunities are available to students?

We have merit-based scholarship opportunities, which are included with our admission offers. Again, candidates have to apply before the second-round deadline to be eligible. This year, approximately 20% of our students received merit-based scholarships. On campus, paid graduate assistantships are also available.

How do you attract women and underrepresented minorities?

They're a very important part of the Georgetown community, and we host open houses for both: women in November and underrepresented minorities in December. We also partner with the Forté Foundation [for women business leaders] and Management Leadership for Tomorrow [for underrepresented minority leaders in business] during different stages of the recruiting process.

Do you have any special initiatives or procedures for international applicants?

Well, 30% of our students are non-U.S. citizens, and 34 countries are represented here, so we definitely have a strong international presence. Because international applicants find it difficult to come to campus, we send representatives all over the world to meet with them. Our travel schedule can be found on our Web site.

What are some common mistakes that candidates make in their applications?

Some applicants don't seem to have proofread their materials, and others appear to have rushed to complete the application—though I guess the former may be an indication of the latter. Either way, you should put together the best application you can. It should look professional, not sloppy.

In a nutshell, what kind of person would be a good fit?

Someone who is motivated, looking to be a global leader, and has soft skills and quantitative skills that can either be refined or further developed with a Georgetown MBA.

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