Chat Transcript: Wisconsin Admissions

The Wisconsin School of Business (Wisconsin Full-Time MBA Profile), a second-tier MBA program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, takes a nontraditional approach to teaching management. Students sign up to study career tracks rather than majors or concentrations. Brand management, applied securities, marketing research, and entrepreneurship are among the most popular specializations, says Erin L. C. Nickelsburg (ELCNickelsburg), director of admissions and recruitment for Wisconsin's full-time MBA program. Entrepreneurship recently got a boost because more students become interested in the area during an economic downturn, she adds.

While Nickelsburg says that having career tracks instead of majors gives Wisconsin an edge with recruiters during the economic crisis, the program is still only admitting about 125 students each year. The school, she says, wants to maintain its intimate, personalized feel, and becoming much bigger would change that dynamic.

Recently, Nickelsburg and second-year student Kyle Nel (KyleNel) fielded questions from the public and BusinessWeek reporter Francesca Di Meglio (FrancescaBW) during a live online chat. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation:

FrancescaBW: Kyle, please tell us what drew you to the MBA program at Wisconsin?

KyleNel: I was very much attracted to the specialization model of Wisconsin. I wanted to continue my career in marketing research, and Wisconsin has a very strong marketing research program. Above and beyond that, the culture of collaboration is wonderfully strong here. I felt very much at home, and I continue to feel that even more strongly.

FrancescaBW: Erin, how do you usually describe the campus culture to prospective students?

ELCNickelsburg: Each campus has a unique culture. The specialization model at Wisconsin brings us students who are driven toward a specific career path and goal. As a result, everyone is passionate about what [they're] doing and where [they're] headed. This translates into an overwhelming dedication and drive that can be seen in everything our MBA students are a part of.

WilliamChang: What is happening with student loans and scholarships?

ELCNickelsburg: There are student loans available that cover the full cost of the MBA program. We also offer substantial merit-based award packages. More than half of our incoming students can expect to receive at least a portion of their tuition covered by these merit-aid awards. The top students can expect a fellowship, which provides full tuition, full health insurance, and an almost $20,000 stipend paid over nine months. In addition, the full cost of two years of education at the Wisconsin School of Business is substantially lower than most programs.

Raunak: How important is the GMAT and in what ways can one counter a low GMAT score?

KyleNel: The GMAT is very important but Wisconsin takes a holistic approach to selecting applicants. The GMAT is just one part of that. I would say that if you are above the average (the 660 area), then it is a positive. If your score is lower it may be a hindrance. If you have a low GMAT score you may be able to counter it with strong work experience, GPA, or other experiences.

ScottM: Is any type of preference given to applicants who apply during one of the early deadline dates rather than the last one?

ELCNickelsburg: We encourage students to apply whenever they feel their application is ready. If this means the first round, great. Strategically you have to look at the rounds and know that in the first round every seat and all merit-based aid is available.

ScottM: Is Wisconsin's reach regional?

ELCNickelsburg: Scott, with 35,000 alumni spread all over the world we most definitely extend beyond the Madison and Milwaukee area. In fact, walk through most large cities with a Wisconsin jersey on and you will meet someone who knows someone who attended.

WilliamChang: I am a Canadian citizen. It is my understanding that I won't be eligible for Sallie Mae since it requires a U.S. co-signer. My only option would be applying for the Global Student Loan. Am I correct?

KyleNel: I am not sure about that exact loan, but there are many options available for international students. Yes, you would have to apply as a global student.

Raunak: Does a chartered financial analyst (CFA) candidate have any advantage over a non-CFA candidate in the admission process if he wants to major in the applied securities analysis program (ASAP)?

ELCNickelsburg: The majority of our top candidates in ASAP have already completed or are sitting for the CFA Level I.

HammadQadir: What are the eligibility criteria for teaching assistantships and project assistantships [scholarships]?

KyleNel: TAs and PAs are based on merit and opportunities available. These are also offered to international students.

FrancescaBW: We recently ran a story about succeeding at the admissions interview. What tips do you have for the interview? Is it required for entrants to your program?

ELCNickelsburg: An admissions interview is required for entrants to our program. Interviews are by invitation only. Offers for an interview will be extended once your application is received. Success in an interview is all about knowing the answer to these questions: Why do you want an MBA? Why do you want an MBA at the school with which you are interviewing? What is your passion? And what career path do you want that passion to take you on? If you can answer these questions with well thought-out, mature statements that reflect your true nature, you will be all set.

Remember to be yourself. When admissions officers see one person in an interview and then read your essays and see a disconnect, it is a huge red flag.

HammadQadir: What kind of previous academic training do you look for in candidates applying for the corporate finance and investment banking (CFIB) program?

KyleNel: Only one-third of our students have a background in business. It is not necessary to have finance experience before this program.

viet: I read on the Web site that the TOEFL score must be 100 or higher. Have you ever admitted a student with a score that is lower than 100 yet? And what is the acceptable range of scores?

ELCNickelsburg: TOEFL scores must be submitted to complete your application. Applying in the second round will mean that some of our merit dollars are already awarded but the majority will still be open.

KyleNel: One hundred is our minimum. We do not accept applications with below a 100 TOEFL.

ScottM: Outside of a high GMAT score and solid work experience, what can an applicant do to stand out?

KyleNel: Strong essays and [a strong] interview are also critical.

viet: My GPA is reported in a 10-point system. Do I need to convert it to a four-point system?

ELCNickelsburg: Yes, we would need it to be converted to a four-point system.

ScottM: What types of study abroad programs are offered at Wisconsin?

KyleNel: We do not currently offer full-semester study abroad opportunities but we do offer two-week international trips. In 2009-2010, we are offering South Africa and Argentina.

ElizabethMeyer: How can I schedule a campus visit?

KyleNel: The best way to schedule a campus visit is to sign up on the Wisconsin School of Business site.

Q: How has Wisconsin's career placement been affected by the economic crisis?

ELCNickelsburg: Overall, Wisconsin has an 83% placement rate with many of our specializations at or near 100%. What most people don't realize is that with the size of our program we currently have only 14 students who graduated last May or August who are still looking for a position. Most of our placement is on the West Coast, the East Coast, and in the Chicago metro area.

ELCNickelsburg: Our specialization model has helped to keep us insulated from the downturn because employers know that our students are experts in their fields.

ElizabethMeyer: What is your favorite part of living in Madison?

KyleNel: I love the Madison vibe. It has many of the perks of a big city, but it is very focused on all things green and holds onto that Midwestern charm. I am not from the Midwest, and I have truly loved it.

ElizabethMeyer: Does it matter if my campus visit occurs after I submit my application? I will be traveling on business near Chicago and would like to visit in mid-November (after the Nov. 4 application deadline).

KyleNel: No, it doesn't matter when you visit. We prefer that you interview as early as possible though.

FrancescaBW: Kyle, can you tell us something about the first-year workload?

KyleNel: The first-year workload is everything you hear about the first year of an MBA program—intense, exhilarating, a tad overwhelming, and exciting. It was a wonderfully intense experience. I never thought that I could learn and do so much, and I thought I was a hard worker before.

FrancescaBW: Kyle or Erin, what would you say makes your MBA program unique?

KyleNel: Our specialization model and our truly collaborative culture.

ELCNickelsburg: Wisconsin is unique in that we have chosen to strive to be the school of choice for those with a chosen career path. Our specialization model is truly a specialization in that each student takes almost 40 credits of work in that particular area while keeping the fundamentals of accounting, finance, etc.

FrancescaBW: Is the school addressing the economic crisis in the curriculum? If so, how?

ELCNickelsburg: There is no way to be a business school and not address the current economic crisis. We have integrated it into both our core and specialization curriculum and have also introduced it in our applied learning sessions.

ELCNickelsburg: In addition, the Wisconsin School of Business works to bring relevant topics with strong perspectives into the school. In the past year we have had pre-election Presidential economic debates, town hall forums, and presentations from numerous business leaders.

FrancescaBW: Any parting advice for applicants?

ELCNickelsburg: It can be tempting in this economic crisis not to visit the schools on your list. A visit is critical. Making the connections with current students, faculty, and admissions officers can affect your application in numerous ways. Assessing your fit is crucial and this can best be done with an on-campus visit.

KyleNel: Culture and fit of an MBA is very important. I would look not just at the stats of a program but also meet the students and faculty. That will tell you more about your fit with the program than anything else.

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