Emory Admissions Tips

Emory's Goizueta Business School (Goizueta Full-Time MBA Profile) has come a long way since its founding in 1909 when it offered classes in just three areas: economics, accounting, and business law. In 1925 the school had one faculty member and 145 students. But now, at its 90th anniversary, Goizueta's MBA program serves more than 350 students who are "strong academically and who want to make a difference—both in our community and the world," says associate dean and director of admissions Julie Barefoot.

After working as a commercial loan officer, Barefoot came to Emory in 1988 to serve as associate director of admissions. Goizueta, which placed 23rd in BusinessWeek's 2008 ranking of top full-time MBA programs, has an admissions process that can be long, and preparation is key, Barefoot says.

In an interview with BusinessWeek's Rachel Arndt, Julie Barefoot advises applicants to cram for the GMAT, prepare for the interview, and choose your recommenders wisely. An edited portion of the conversation follows.

Are you seeing more applicants now than in the recent past?

This year we haven't seen an increase in applications—we've just seen a change in the mix. What we've seen is an increase—a pretty big increase, actually—in domestic applications. Along with that, we've seen a decline in international applications. The total number of applications has been about flat, but there's been this shift. It's due to a couple of different things. Certainly the limitations on the H1B visa, for instance, has lowered the number of foreign applicants. Along with [problems] with international students' loans, international students have also been having a hard time getting jobs in the States.

What are you doing to attract international students, especially given that the number of international applicants has dropped?

For many years we've actively recruited international students, and we'll continue to do so. One of our missions is to recruit and educate principal leaders for global enterprise, so it's important that we have students with all different types of backgrounds in our program. Of course, that includes international students who represent all different parts of the world and global economy.

We are very engaged with our alumni, and they send us a lot of students. We provide merit-based aid for international students, which not all programs do, so we're very committed to that, and we'll continue to do that. We're going to continue to do all we can to have a broad range of international students enroll at Goizueta. Also, every year we enroll Fulbright scholars in our program.

What are you doing to recruit minority students, including women?

Diversity is one of our core values. We're a member of the Consortium, Management Leadership for Tomorrow, and MBA JumpStart. We also work with the Toigo Foundation.

Like most schools, we also host a minority weekend to give minority students a sense of our program, community, and academic experience. This year, as a host school for Management Leadership for Tomorrow, we held a weekend to bring together minority candidates. During that event, minority candidates from a lot of the top-tier programs came and spent the weekend with us. We also partner with the NSHMBA [National Society of Hispanic MBAs].

We participate in Forté events to recruit women. We have at least two to three Forté scholars in our program every year. We also host a special women's open house every year with a panel discussion to give women a chance to ask questions in a friendly environment. Women might have unique questions—they might want to know more about what the experience is like, for instance, or more about our expectations for their quantitative skills. We also have breakfasts just for women at the beginning of some of our on-campus recruiting events.

Are there any as-of-now untapped demographics that you'd like to attract?

I can't think of any off the top of my head. Because we have sought to have a diverse student body for many years, our applicant pool is now very diverse, thanks to, in some sense, a self-fulfilling prophecy—the good experience that minority students have at our school attracts more minority students. We are also fortunate to have such a diverse alumni base. That, too, helps recruit minority students to our program.

What's the most unusual or difficult question on the application?

Sometimes candidates miss the mark a little bit when writing about their most significant accomplishments. It's not that their responses aren't well-written—it's that candidates sometimes reflect on their whole lives and discuss things that happened a long time ago, but fail to bring it forward. They might, for instance, write about passing the CPA several years ago. That certainly is impressive, but students still don't bring it forward. We like to see a fairly current example. We're looking for what the candidate will add to the classroom.

What do students say is the hardest part of the application process?

I think sometimes candidates are surprised by how lengthy the whole process is. They may forget that the people they've asked to write recommendations for them are very busy and need time to turn in the letters. Students need to plan ahead.

I think also they're sometimes surprised by how important the interview is for us. We really want to get a good sense of who the applicant is. We try for the interview not to be a stressful experience, but it is, still, a very thorough experience. The interview can't be successful if we don't get a good sense that they know why they want the MBA, why this is a good time for them, and what their post-MBA plans are.

What is the interview process like?

It's a very open interview process through about Feb. 1. We are one of the very few schools that wants to interview candidates, particularly early on in the process. So from September all the way through Feb. 1, anyone who is on campus or in one of the cities where we conduct interviews can have an interview. We try to make the process very easy for people. Students can also interview at the four Saturday recruiting events we host. After Feb. 1, though, interviews are granted on an invitation-only basis.

We have a fairly simple screening process for international interviews. Students have to submit some test scores and résumés. But again, we really encourage everybody to interview. No one is offered a spot in our class without having had an interview with a member of the admissions committee.

What mistakes do applicants tend to make in the interviews?

There's a wide variety. Sometimes applicants haven't really thought through why they're getting the degree—they may be getting it just because it seems like the next step. But their stories and workplace progress should make sense and should logically point to the MBA as the next step. As an interviewer, I'm thinking about what a corporate recruiter would say. It's really important that the candidates show passion for their career interests, because, again, that's what recruiters expect and want to see.

I think another common mistake that people make is that they can't succinctly explain their work experience to the interviewer. We ask them about their experiences to find out what they would bring to the classroom and how their classmates would benefit from their experiences. But sometimes candidates spend so much time discussing their experiences that we don't have enough time for other questions.

Sometimes students haven't done any research on Goizueta. They think that looking at the Web site a few minutes before the interview is enough. Of course we want to tell them more during the interview, but hopefully they already know about, for example, our core values and our leadership program.

Do applicants apply in rounds?

No. We have a rolling admissions process.

Is there an advantage to applying earlier on?

Students will hear back sooner. We can be pretty consistent throughout the process because we know what we're looking for: We're looking for candidates who we think can perform well academically and who will be involved in our community. Because we work hard to be consistent through the process, there's not a huge advantage to applying earlier. But the class fills up towards the end of the process, so that can be a bit of a problem.

You need to submit your application when you're confident that you've put your best foot forward. Don't rush it.

What are you looking for in applicants' essays?

We want to make sure that people can communicate effectively in the English language. We also want to make sure they answer the question. Candidates have a choice in the personal questions they answer in their essays. For instance, they might write about interesting multicultural experiences.

We're looking for what the candidate would contribute to the class and community, and what they've learned through their experiences.

What mistakes do applicants tend to make in the essays?

I am surprised sometimes that people don't use spell check very carefully. That may sound simplistic, but in this day, I'm just shocked. It shows a lack of thoughtfulness.

We give the opportunity for students to add other comments, but sometimes they don't explain the connection between what they've written and how they'd do in our rigorous MBA program. One of the options for the extra essays gives applicants a chance to write about their undergraduate grades. A candidate might blame bad undergraduate grades on immaturity, for instance. But the candidate might leave it at that instead of saying, for instance, "Now I'm more mature because I've worked for several years and have been successful in my career."

Sometimes applicants write about significant accomplishments that we don't consider very significant. Someone might have a very good job, but write about planning his wedding. We want the significant event to be in a business setting so we can see something that would add to the classroom environment.

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

It's very important. I'm up front with candidates about this. We expect that candidates, at a minimum, score at least at the 50th percentile in the quantitative part of the GMAT, though our average is significantly more than that. The quantitative score is a success factor for performing well in our program academically. But there can always be exceptions. We also look at performance in quantitative undergraduate courses.

What's the typical amount of work experience for applicants?

The average is five years, with a range from about three to six. Very few people had fewer than two.

We don't hold joint-degree candidates [in the school of public health or law school] to that same standard. This is because joint-degree programs don't expect candidates to have work experience prior to enrollment. In most cases these applicants have strong internship experience. We require law school candidates to start law school first, so they can have the opportunity to have a full year of law school studies, and potentially internships, before starting business school.

How do you evaluate applicants whose work experience falls below the low end of the range?

We expect more. The first thing we look at is work experience. We look at whether they've gotten promotions or been given more responsibility. When we interview them, we probe them about how focused they are and whether this is the right time to pursue an MBA or whether it would be best to work another year or so. If we're unsure, we'll confer with our colleagues in the career management center to get feedback from the recruiting side. To me, successful students are not only those who do well academically, but also those who get the jobs their excited about.

What do you look for in applicants' letters of recommendation?

We want to be confident that the recommenders know the candidates well. Ideally, they've known them for more than a year, maybe a couple of years, and worked with them in a business or corporate setting. The recommender should know the quality of the applicant's work and results. We would like the recommender to compare the candidate to other MBA or graduate school candidates who are applying to competitive, rigorous programs. We want the recommender to speak clearly and in detail about what the candidate has done to make a difference in whatever organization they're affiliated with. Ideally, the best recommenders are those who will say positive things about the applicant as a contributor and team member. We also like to hear that candidates have strong analytical and communication skills and that they are pleasant to work with. It's particularly good if the recommender knows what the applicant wants and plans to do with the degree. We don't always see that, and that's o.k., but in an ideal situation, that's great, because that gives us a full picture of the candidate.

What type of person is a good fit?

Students who are strong academically and who want to make a difference, both in our community and the world. We admit candidates who have made differences in the workplace. We want them to be passionate. They're typically people who have been involved in nonprofits or were athletes in school. They are people who get involved to make a difference. They've worked in challenging work environments and can share their experience and what they've learned in the classroom.

What type of person is a bad fit?

Someone who we don't think can handle the coursework academically. A person without good study skills or without a strong quantitative background would not be a good fit. Someone who is difficult to work with would not be a good fit. You'd be surprised that we do receive letters of recommendation that raise red flags. And then, looking back at the interview, we'll realize that some of the same issues already came up. If that's the case, that candidate's not going to be a good fit for Goizueta.

Are there any stereotypes about Goizueta that you'd like to disprove?

We have a very strong community, which is both a stereotype and a reality. But Goizueta is also a very demanding, rigorous program. You can't equate a strong community with easy academics. I don't know if that's a stereotype—it's more just a comment.

What is the school doing to help students find jobs in a tough economy?

Over the past year our dean has added quite a few more resources. We have a career services center, and now we have individual coaches for each student by industry. We've partnered a tremendous amount with our alumni board. The dean sent students' résumés to our alumni and advisory boards. We've done a lot of outreach to both alumni and the corporate community to do all we can to give our students job opportunities. I think it's been very, very good. The alumni office has also been beefed up and provides added assistance for alumni who have been displaced.

How do this year's job-placement figures differ from those of years past?

The percentage of full-time placement is down. It's more significantly down for international students. I think other schools are seeing pretty much the same thing. The internships have actually been pretty healthy; we're about on par with where we were last year. We think that bodes very well for next year's class.

We're working to maintain the corporate relationships we already have, and we're also working to bring in new relationships. I think Atlanta—it's a major corporate city that's home to several Fortune 500 companies—is a huge advantage for our students.

In terms of job-placement numbers, we want to be where we were last year, and that's what we're working toward.

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