Manchester: Admissions Q&A

A funny thing happened at Manchester Business School (Manchester Full-Time MBA Profile) this year: far more applicants—14% more than last year—accepted the school's offer of admission. The result: a far larger class of 2011 that's more diverse than ever, with women comprising 29% of the class and 37 nationalities represented.

Regardless of class size, Helen Dowd, Manchester's director of MBA admissions, says the school is looking for applicants with good GMAT scores and a demonstrated career progression. But applicants shouldn't be intimidated. "Don't be afraid of the program," she adds. "We have a strong customer service approach to applicants. We're here to help."

Dowd recently spoke with BusinessWeek's Francesca Di Meglio about the Manchester application process, what the program has to offer, and how career placement is holding up during the downturn. What follows is an edited excerpt of their conversation:

Who is your ideal candidate?

We're looking for candidates who will fit well with the program. They'll be team-focused and have managerial leadership experience. We take a holistic view of the application, and the GMAT is one part of it. It is an indicator of a candidate's quantitative skills and potential for success in the program. They must demonstrate career progress, management and leadership skills, and a willingness and desire to be strong members of the MBA community. A good academic background and proof of good teamwork skills and competencies, international experience, creative and innovative thinking, and entrepreneurial skills are all pluses. We want candidates who will enhance the cultural and professional diversity of the class.

What can one expect from the application?

The application form includes basic information and essay questions that address a candidate's motivations, experience, and how he or she stands out. We're interested in candidates' career aspirations because we want to know if we can help them achieve their goals, and we want them to be a good fit for us, too. They also must share proof of their academic background, GMAT scores, and CV. In addition, we require two professional, work-related recommendations. If English is not their first language, they must take an English language exam, such as TOEFL, to prove they are proficient.

What is a common mistake applicants make?

The biggest mistake is to underestimate the value of the interview. Applicants give a certain amount of information in the application. The interview gives them an opportunity to tell us why they stand out compared to the other candidates. Preparation for the interview should not be taken lightly.

Think about why you want a Manchester MBA, your motivations, how you've progressed to date, and why you are unique. We want a bit of personality as well. It shouldn't seem as though you are reading your application form.

Is the interview required of all applicants?

Once applicants send in their application, we go through an initial review process. If we think he or she has potential, we will interview him or her. We prefer to interview candidates in person. Both sides get more out of face-to-face interviews, after all. But we can't always do that. We're traveling a lot, and sometimes we go to countries specifically to interview applicants. In other cases, we have alumni conduct interviews with candidates in their home regions. Sometimes, candidates travel to campus for a visit, and we interview them at the school.

Do any parts of your application have more weight than others? If so, which ones?

The CV and quality of a candidate's career progression are the most important part of their application.

How can a candidate stand out?

There are some amazing candidates, people who have strong career progression but are also balanced and are involved in other activities, such as charitable projects or sports. They're involved in other things, beyond their designated role, at work as well. Their personality comes across, and we can be sure that they have leadership skills and determination without being pushy.

For example, one of our incoming students is Mexican and applied to the program while working for a prestigious company in his home country. He thought about how he could get involved before he entered the program, and that came through. Now, he has already talked to the company for which he worked about offering students at our program internships and helping to work on case studies. He will be involved as a student and alumnus. He showed that he is socially responsible, a trait we value in applicants.

How would you describe the culture at your MBA program?

The program is 18 months, which gives students the opportunity to learn in class and apply what they learned in real projects in real companies. They spend lots of time working in teams, and there is a strong sense of community on campus. This continues as they become alumni. It's an interesting and dynamic program.

What makes your program unique?

Our applied learning approach is unique. The diversity of the class gives everyone the chance to come together, contribute, and learn from one another's experiences.

How has career placement been during the economic crisis?

In the last two years, career placement has been excellent. That's reflected in our placement in the various media rankings. Obviously, we're experiencing an economic downturn, and everyone's struggling in 2009. Of those who wanted an internship in 2009, 72% found one, compared to 76% in 2008. As of the end of July 2009, 56% of those who sought full-time employment had a job offer, compared to 54% at the same time in 2008. Within three months of graduation in 2008, the percentage rose to 94%.

The companies have been more risk averse and were offering more short-term contracts before making long-term commitments. But that's beginning to change, and things are looking more positive. The fact that our students take on internships is an advantage. It can lead to full-time offers and gives them experience and a larger network.

What advice do you have for applicants?

Take the time to really think about what you want to tell us, how you'll stand out. Think about how you'll fit in with the program's team approach and projects. How will you benefit from what we do here? Talk to current students and alumni. We put candidates in touch with alumni during the admissions process. You can feel their passion and belief in the program. You can see what they've accomplished. It's important because you need to feel as though you'll fit in here.

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