Admissions Q&A: Maryland

Sam Kang says there are many reasons to pursue an MBA at the University of Maryland's Smith School of Business (Smith Full-Time MBA Profile). Kang, director of admissions and recruitment for Smith's full-time MBA program, points out that the school is located near Washington, a thriving metropolitan area. And he says that its small full-time MBA program—about 150 students per class—creates an atmosphere of collaboration among students.

Kang expects getting into Smith to become more difficult in the coming years as applications to the school continue to increase. Candidates who want to get into Maryland should think carefully about their career goals and how a Smith MBA could help achieve them, Kang told Bloomberg Businessweek's Zachary Tracer in a recent interview. In the interview, Kang discussed how applicants can put together a strong application and described changes to the school's Career Resources Center.

Here is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Are there any big changes or others things individuals should be aware of if they choose to apply to Smith?

We have not made a drastic change. We are predicting for next year that applications will go up; I think they are on an upward trend. We don't sit around and try to find [reasons] to deny people, but we really try to find in an applicant reasons to admit them. And I think from that principle [that] the students need to go about trying to [distinguish] themselves in every aspect of the application. Definitely, I think it will become more competitive.

Can you tell me about what makes someone a good fit for a Smith MBA?

First and foremost, we want to find someone who is hungry for an MBA degree in general and clearly knows what an MBA will do for their career. They are going from point A to point B and we want to really be that bridge. So I think they need to really convey to us [that] they are hungry for this degree. I think it's someone who is really passionate about what they are doing and how this relates to their studies here at the Smith School of Business.

Why should someone consider Maryland's Smith School?

One of the greatest assets that we have is that we are just outside of Washington—that entire area can be your classroom. Washington right now is one of the most diversified places in terms of job function. It's an area where corporate and government intersect, where for-profit and nonprofit intersect. Second is the tremendous research that the University of Maryland does. And [third] is the community that we create of students that [is] really collegial. The students are not cutthroat but really watch out for one another. I'm really proud of the community we have created here and I think that is one of the best assets in an MBA education because it is really learning about how to function in a team.

Does Smith have any set minimums for GMAT scores or years of work experience?

The bottom line is the student should understand when they should get an MBA. So I've had experiences where there is a student with 15 years of work experience and they feel like, "Oh, I'm ready." And when I interview them, he or she is still not ready. And then there are students with one year of work experience [who are] quite ready. In terms of the GMAT, again there is no minimum score but our average this year will be about 670. Eighty percent of our applications are [from] about a 610 to a 740. They should try to fall in that range.

Could you tell me a little bit about how interviews work at the Smith school?

When a candidate submits an application, we go through a first read. And then if you pass that, we will invite that candidate for an interview. Treat it like a job interview. Come prepared, come dressed business formal, really be yourself. We really want to know who you are because an interview is as important as submitting your application. Up until the interview we just know you on paper, but an interview could—let's say you're borderline—it could make or break [your acceptance].

Do you have any tips for students working on the application essays?

I cannot say it enough: Write what you are passionate about. That sounds really clichéd, but it is true. You should not write your essay thinking [about] what we want to hear. First, really understand your goals—why you want to get an MBA. Secondly, an essay is where you can do some minor things with maximum impact—submit an essay that has no spelling or grammatical errors. We are reading close to a thousand applications, and just imagine I come to your application on a Friday afternoon. I'm pretty much out the door at five o'clock and I come to your application at 4:30 and your essays have grammatical errors, spelling errors—that's just not good. I know many of the applicants are applying to more than one school. They try to fit one answer to several questions and [then] they don't answer the question. You have to answer the question.

How about letters of recommendation—do you have any advice for students as they go about choosing their recommenders?

First and foremost they need a person that really knows them. The best person is your direct boss. If you have the opportunity to tell the boss you are leaving and that situation is okay, you should sit down with your boss and say, "You know, I really want to get this degree and this is my career progression." There are situations where you cannot tell your boss because you don't want to jeopardize that relationship until you are sure you got into a school. Then maybe you want to go to your previous boss or a client. If that is not [possible], then maybe you have extracurricular activities. Maybe you work for Habitat for Humanity and you are under a great leader. We want to see a recommendation where someone will vouch for your character, your work ethic, how you work and things like that. I would not get it from a professor because we really want to see [you in] a professional setting.

Can you give me an example of a Smith student who is not a typical MBA?

This woman, she was a documentary filmmaker in New York. She was more on the creative side of things [and] she really wanted to get an MBA to get formal training in business and go into consulting. It was a jump, she worked very hard at it from the get-go through internships. Now she has been hired by Booz Allen and she's a management consultant.

What efforts have you made to recruit minorities and women into the program?

We do a slew of tours to attract people from diverse backgrounds. We have a diversity-at-Smith event. We utilize our student clubs, we have a Hispanic club, a Black MBA club, an LGBT club—and those are all interconnected. The bottom line is, when we craft a class, we want to give each student the best experience they can get within a class. For them to experience that, I think it is the admissions and recruitment team's responsibility to craft a class that is diverse in its female-male ratio, ethnic minorities, and international ratio.

Have there been any changes to the curriculum recently or are any coming soon?

We introduced a new curriculum two years ago, really settling upon the infrastructure of globalization, entrepreneurship, and technology. At that time, we cut down 14-week classes into seven-week classes so that people could take more classes. We are going to introduce an opt-in venture track now—[students] are going to be partnered with one of our centers for research and excellence and they will do research into a certain business area. They will have to take a global study trip and they have to be involved in a social responsibility nonprofit.

Can you tell me about any changes that the school is making to help students find jobs in light of the current economic situation?

The key word is diversification. Five, ten years ago, students came in pretty set on certain positions. [Now] you need to come with a plan B, maybe even a plan C. Maybe your dream job might not be within reach, but you could go to another job as a stepping-stone to your dream job. [Career services] is doing a major reorganization in terms of what we want to give to the students. Up until a year ago, we had general career coaches. But we figured recruiters are looking for more specific things, so we have hired many career advisers already and we are naming them as expert industry specialists. We have five expert industry career specialists and those are in consulting, finance, marketing and consumer goods, nonprofit marketing and so forth, and also in the technology sector. So if a student comes into our MBA program and they are interested in consulting, they will be matched up with our expert industry specialist in the consulting arena.

Are there any common misconceptions about the Smith School of Business that you'd like to dispel?

We were one of the premier schools with our tagline "leaders for the digital economy." And I think about 10 years ago when that happened, everybody thought that our MBA was kind of a techno-MBA. That wasn't the point. The point was, we realized technology could make a huge difference in many areas of an MBA education. The bottom line is how can technology help your business, your MBA.

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