Admissions Q&A: NYU

Anika Davis Pratt has spent the past 10 years scrutinizing applicants at New York University's Stern School of Business (NYU Full-Time MBA Profile). That means Pratt, Stern's assistant dean for MBA admissions and financial aid, is well qualified to let people know what it takes to get into Stern. Pratt says Stern reviews all aspects of an individual's application, from the résumé to the recommendations, looking for students who are both highly intelligent and good team players. And if an applicant gets to the interview round, highly trained interviewers will be sure to dig in further.

Pratt recently spoke with Bloomberg Businessweek's Zachary Tracer about the kinds of people Stern is looking for and how the school has helped its graduates find jobs. An edited transcript of their conversation follows.

What makes an applicant a good fit for a Stern MBA?

We've always had a very holistic and very thorough approach to evaluating applicants across three main areas: academic, professional, and personal. While our academic program is certainly rigorous, and we certainly seek students who are bright and accomplished, intellectually curious, and who will excel in the classroom, we also place a very high value on emotional intelligence and strong interpersonal skills. We attract students who are forward-thinking and students who really want to have an impact right away.

Is there any minimum GMAT score or minimum years of work experience that students should be aware of?

Average years of work experience will be between 4 and 5 years. The 80 percent range for the GMAT will be likely, between a 680 and a 760. These are guidelines we give people to keep in mind as they apply, but there are really no minimums, and we [do not] want people to get too hung up on those things. Focus on [whether you] are ready to pursue an MBA. We have students in the program who have just a couple years of experience or less—a few with none—and people with much more experience than the average.

Your third essay question asks applicants to describe themselves creatively to their classmates. Any advice on how students should approach that question?

I think that when people see the word "creatively," they might think that they have to force themselves to be creative. Describe yourself in a way that's comfortable for you and in a format that allows you to be your own self. If you are thinking about doing some kind of artwork or something that you feel [is] creative that's not comfortable for you, then don't do that. Do whatever is comfortable for you. And if that's an essay, in writing, that's fine as well.

Stern interviews a relatively small percentage of people who apply, less than a quarter. Once someone has made it to the interview round, how should he or she prepare?

Go back and review your application. Become reacquainted with what you said about yourself and your goals and ask yourself if you think anything is missing or might need further explanation, because the person [who] interviews you at Stern will be very knowledgeable about the details of your application. When we interview somebody, we are going to be very focused on filling in any gaps. We're going to be zoning in on why it is that you want to pursue an MBA at this point in your career and why you've chosen Stern. I think if you treat the interview as a professional interview, you are prepared, you're genuine, and you're presenting your true self, you are going to do very well.

Getting into Stern is a tough process. Just 15 percent of applicants are accepted. What advice do you have for individuals who just don't get in?

We do have a number of reapplicants each year who are successful in being admitted, and we encourage students to evaluate their application and understand where they have strengths and weaknesses. There are quite a number of areas of the application that you still have a lot of influence over. You can take additional coursework, or you can prove yourself in other ways to demonstrate to the admissions committee that you have strengths in an area where you may not have done so well. You may not have chosen the recommenders as well as you could have. Your GMAT or GRE scores may not have been as strong as they could have been.

What makes a good recommender for a student?

We love to read recommendations from supervisors or managers who can provide details and really insightful commentary about an individual's professional experiences, their leadership potential, interpersonal skills, how an applicant has [affected] the organization they work for, and of course any commentary on the intelligence as well as the emotional intelligence [of the applicant] is very important for us. Make sure to prepare your recommenders. If these are individuals who have worked with you closely, you can take the time to sit down with them and let them know what your MBA plans are. Share your short-term and long-term goals with them, and that way they'll make sure to be supporting the things you'll be saying about yourself in the application. Sometimes sharing your essays with your recommender can be helpful as well.

Can you tell me about any mistakes you frequently see in applications?

A common mistake we see is applicants not presenting themselves genuinely, and you really feel that come through in an application. I'd say another mistake is when applicants rush the application process. Really set aside the time and make sure you have ample time to put together the best MBA application you can set forth. The essays take much longer than people think. Rushing your application means you may show a lack of commitment, a lack of research. Don't rush.

Are there any changes to the curriculum?

We recently added a luxury retail and marketing specialization. We have a growing number of students each year who are interested in working in the luxury industry, and it's great to be in New York City for students who are interested in that industry. On the co-curricular level, we are always adding new opportunities and programs, including a new program this past year, the Stern Board Fellows Program, which places students on the boards of prominent New York City nonprofit foundations for a nine-month fellowship.

It has been a tough job market for B-school students during the downturn. At Stern, 82 percent of the Class of 2009 got a job offer within 3 months of graduating, down from 92 percent a year earlier. What is Stern doing to help students find jobs?

We have the Office of Career Development [as well as] the Career Center for Working Professionals. In that downturn and in the wake of it, the career counselors really proactively reached out to displaced alumni and offered workshops, professional panels, and forums so our alumni and students could better understand how to navigate the market during the downturn. There were resources in place, a call that was put out to the entire Stern community worldwide—and that call really produced an outpouring of those within the Stern community [who] were willing to help.

What's a common misconception about Stern you'd like to dispel?

We still battle a bit of the perception of being a finance school. Certainly we are strong in finance, but there are great strengths here at Stern in other departments—in marketing, in management, and in strategy. And I'll give you an example: In the class of 2009, 18 percent secured full-time positions in consulting, and 17 percent went to work in marketing. In the marketing function, companies such as Estée Lauder (EL), Google (GOOG), Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), Kraft (KFT), L'Oréal, Microsoft (MSFT), Unilever (UN), among others, are actively recruiting our students each year.

Can you share a little-known fact about Stern?

The Stern Consulting Corps is one of the great hallmarks of the Stern experience for our MBAs. [It] is a great way of applying your MBA skills while you are here toward helping New York City nonprofits while being mentored by professionals from top consulting firms. We partner with some really amazing nonprofit organizations around the city.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.