Columbia Business School Hosts AIGAC!

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Clearly, character is as important as smarts in Columbia’s equation.

On May 30, Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants (AIGAC) conference attendees had the privilege and pleasure of learning firsthand from Columbia Business School admissions officials, professors, students, and administrators about latest developments at CBS.

One big takeaway for me – CBS admissions has become friendlier, more welcoming.  And more transparent.  (“More” relative not just to the past but to MBA adcoms generally.)

These changes reflect the idea that, ultimately, constructive success in business (and life) comes down to people, human beings.  It was reflected during the conference in multiple ways: the warm reception we received from the adcom members, plus their openness and frankness during discussions; the heightened emphasis in the program elements (structure, curriculum, extracurriculars, etc.) on developing individual students into responsive, responsible leaders; and the student representatives’ frequent and enthusiastic references to their supportive community.

This is not to say that Columbia doesn’t still require academic rigor.  Or is softening its high admission standard.  Or that math and analytics are out the window… They’re just important in a broader context.

The adcom reps report that they seek applicants who:

• Are or have the capacity and character to be knowledge creators
• Demonstrate strong commitment
• Go out and have an impact

Clearly, character is as important as smarts in Columbia’s equation.

And character is addressed immediately for incoming students.  A scintillating presentation by Kathy Phillips, Paul Calello Professor of Leadership and Ethics, gave us a taste of her 6-day LEAD block leadership course, People, Teams, Organizations.   This course heightens students’ self-awareness through activities and dialogue to become leaders who “elicit high commitment and productivity from people and groups.”  Professor Phillips notes that this course ends up influencing students’ subsequent course selections and perspectives.

Additional points of note:

• The January entry is not just for people with family businesses, but also for people who have solid enough networks and/or networking skills in their industry that they don’t need the summer internship.

• The career services – ACE – feature three dimensions: Advisors, Coaches, and Executives-in-residence.

• Many current students volunteer to email with prospective applicants to share their experiences and answer questions – use this resource to gain a student’s-eye-view of the program!  You can sign up on the Columbia website.

• Some things remain the same in Columbia admissions, e.g., in the goals essay, specific is good.  And they want to see applicants convey fit.  The adcom now has so many resources on the web that it’s easier to research Columbia Business School from a distance than previously.

• As someone who works with many applicants to top EMBA programs, I asked what the EMBA adcom learns from the GMAT – since some other top EMBA programs no longer require a standardized test and since the GMAT score need not be super-high (indeed, I’ve had Columbia EMBA applicants admitted who had GMATs in low to mid 600s). Their answer:  willingness to take this step shows proper mindset, commitment.  So if you’re interested in applying but are put off by this requirement, perhaps go ahead.

• The acceptance rate for Early Decision applicants and for Regular Decision applicants who apply early (i.e. before approximately December 15) is the same. However, the acceptance rate for Regular Decision applicants generally goes down with the passage of time and the approach of CBS’ April 15 deadline.

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Cindy Tokumitsu By , co-author of The Finance Professional’s Guide to MBA Admissions Success, and author of numerous ebooks, articles, and special reports. Cindy has advised hundreds of successful applicants in her last fifteen years with Accepted.


Click here to learn more about NYU Stern

About 70% of applicants who interview are admitted.

Not only did NYU Stern host the annual conference of Association of International Graduate Application Consultants – AIGAC – last week (along with Columbia Business School) – it also shared some valuable information about its program and applications process.  Here are several highlights.

• The admissions team characterized the Stern MBA program as “deep, diverse, and [reflecting] academic excellence.”  They cited particular strengths: finance, strategy, consulting, entertainment and media, marketing, entrepreneurship and innovation.  This array behooves applicants to define their own, unique path and approach to productively using Stern’s resources.

• Community is huge at NYU Stern – so EQ is as important as IQ and is sought by the adcom.  The value of community is even reflected in the program’s institutional resources, including the Center for Business and Human Rights established in 2013.

• Speaking of EQ, the adcom noted that applicants possessing this requisite quality will articulate fit with Stern in the application.

• It’s now the second year for the scholarship established in 2013 to “support exceptional college seniors”: William R. Berkley Scholarship Program covers full tuition and includes a housing stipend.  Scholarship winners are selected based on academic performance plus potential to contribute to society.

• Stern’s loan assistance program is open to all types of students: regular full-timers, Langone part-timers, and EMBAs.

• Fun fact: about 40% of Stern MBAs receive some kind of scholarship, including international students.

• Another fun fact: about 70% of applicants who are interviewed are admitted.

• Last but not least fun fact: the 80% GMAT range for Stern’s full-time MBA is 680-760, and for the Langone part-time program it is 620-730.

• The Berkley Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation is a particularly cherished resource at Stern – a nerve center of sorts – deeply integrated into the fabric of intellectual and professional life at the school.

 NYU’s presentation to AIGAC conference attendees also included two samples of successful video essays in response to the longstanding essay 3 asking applicants to describe themselves creatively to their classmates.  In one, the applicant showed different aspects of himself (friend, student, professional, sportsman, etc.) in little vignettes, each with a touch of humor.  None was highly unusual – one stood out because this presentation captured his charm and enthusiasm.  In the second, the applicant focused with warmth and wit on her specific passion: parks and public spaces.  So, two different approaches: one broad, one narrow.  Both fresh, expressive, confident.  Both brimming with EQ.  As I’ve told people many times, there is no one formula for doing this essay well.  And yes, it’s there again this year.

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Cindy Tokumitsu By , author and co-author of numerous ebooks, articles, and special reports, including Why MBA and Best MBA Programs: A Guide to Selecting the Right One. Cindy has advised hundreds of successful applicants in her last fifteen years with Accepted.

AIGAC MBA Applicant Survey

AIGAC_SurveyAIGAC published its annual MBA Applicant Survey, which evaluates the experiences and preferences of recent MBA applicants in the U.S. and abroad. Highlights from the survey include:

• In terms of sources of information applicants utilized during the admissions process, school/program websites ranked the highest, followed by school rankings, communication with school alumni/current students, school visits, and MBA resource websites. (These were the top 5 sources of information.)

• When choosing a program, men placed more importance on rankings than did women.

• In general, U.S. News was ranked as the most popular b-school ranking source, but among international applicants, Financial Times was ranked highest.

• 38% of U.S. applicants who completed at least one video essay/component felt that their final video represented them well. For international applicants, on the other hand, 50% felt that the video did not represent them well.

• 20% of this year’s applicants plan on starting their own businesses after graduating from b-school. (According to U.S. News, only 7% of recent graduates from top 10 U.S. b-schools are actually self-employed.)

• 51% of applicants showed an interest in going into consulting after receiving their MBAs. About 80% of foreign students want to work in the U.S. after graduating (that is, 20% want to work in the U.S. while 60% are open to numerous options, including working in the U.S.).

• Only 40% of U.S. students consider working outside of the U.S.

• Applicants reports that of all the b-schools, Dartmouth Tuck and Duke Fuqua “got to know them best” during the application process. (These were the top two schools in this category last year as well.). The schools that showed the greatest improvement in this category: Columbia and Kellogg.

Post-Conference Reflections on the 2014 AIGAC survey There were some interesting disconnects between student expectations, as revealed in this survey, and MBA behavior as reported in school employment reports and GMAC data.

1. More than 20% of applicants plan to start their own business or be self-employed after finishing their MBA. Yet of HBS, Stanford, Sloan, Wharton, LBS, Kellogg, Booth and NYU Stern grads, less than 7% were their own boss after earning their MBA.

2. 51% hope to work in consulting, but only 28% of grads from Stanford, Sloan, Wharton, HBS, Kellogg, Booth, and NYU Stern, Tuck, Haas, and Columbia went into consulting in 2013.

Do these disconnects reveal unrealistic expectation or very reasonable flexibility on the part of MBA students? Or perhaps a real change in what MBAs want to do – a trend in the offing? I suspect and hope it’s the reasonable flexibility. Time will tell.

The presentation of the survey results at last year’s conference at Wharton surprised many admissions directors because of the high percentage of applicants asked to write their own recommendation and the frustration applicants felt at asking their recommenders to write a separate letter for each school.

I am thrilled to report that several of the schools have cooperated and agreed to ask the same questions on their letter of recommendation forms. The grid may differ, but the questions that require writing are the same. Now there should be less and less reason for “You write it; I’ll sign it.” Your application will be stronger if your recommendations truly supplement – in voice, point of view and fact –the information you present about yourself.

I’m proud of AIGAC’s role in highlighting this issue to the schools and am pleased at the schools’ prompt response and attempt to lessen the burden on applicants. I can’t help but note with pride the results when consultants and schools work together to improve the admissions process. The survey also highlights the unpopularity of the video essay/interview among international applicants. I can certainly understand that it’s uncomfortable to talk to an inanimate camera with no affect or feedback. But the reality is that oral presentation is of growing importance, and so is YouTube.

My suggestion: Practice, practice, practice. Play back the practice videos to yourself in between rehearsals, and maybe for the first several shots have someone feeding the questions to you so there will be a human being to interact with. However, it is imperative that at some point you practice by yourself in front of the dumb webcam that you will be using for the real thing.

Finally, I must give a HUGE shout-out to Vince Ricci and Andrea Sparrey, who spearheaded the survey initiative this year for AIGAC, to Huron, which provided the statistical analysis, to the committee and to all members of AIGAC who helped to publicize the survey and ensure a statistically valid sample. Finally and most importantly, thank you to the applicants who took the time to share their experiences and thoughts.

More on the fantastic AIGAC conference that I attended last week will be forthcoming. I want to mull it over a little before I write.

See the 2014 AIGAC MBA Applicant Survey for more details on the survey.

How Will You Navigate the Admissions Maze to Top MBA Programs?

Linda Abraham

By , president and founder of and co-author of the new, definitive book on MBA admissions, MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools.

Do Your Part to Improve MBA Admissions – Win $500!

Share your opinions and get entered into a drawing to win $500!

Survey respondents will be entered into a drawing to win $500

AIGAC, the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants, is conducting a survey and would like YOUR participation! This is your chance to share your opinions of the MBA admissions experience with top MBA admissions committees.

In May, AIGAC will hold its annual conference in New York City where they will present anonymous data about MBA applicants to the top MBA programs. That data will come from these surveys, so the more responses, the better. You can read more about the survey here.

The survey closes at the end of February, so please respond ASAP!

What about the $500?

We saved the best part for last – survey respondents will be entered into a drawing to win $500 (via PayPal). Your email address would be used only for prize notifications.

Share your opinions with the top b-school adcoms!

What We Learned Visiting Wharton: Report from Day 2 of the AIGAC Conference

Wharton12Wharton generously hosted the second day of the AIGAC conference on campus. In addition to giving us a tour, we met admissions directors, program directors, professors and members of the career services staff, whose content-rich panels got us all up to speed on what’s new and notable in Wharton’s curriculum, community, programs and admissions.

By the end of the day, we were simply wowed by the depth and breadth of the school’s programs. Established in 1881 as the world’s first collegiate business school, Wharton is famously known as a “quant and finance” school, but in addition to its strengths in those areas, it offers a dizzying variety of academic specialties, dual degree programs, global modular courses, leadership treks, and much more. As founder and president Linda Abraham observed, “Wharton is dedicated to providing a premier program in all areas and dimensions, and the breadth of Wharton’s offerings is breath-taking.”

Here are some highlights from the panel discussions:

More Curriculum Flexibility

Director of MBA Program Frank Devecchis emphasized the increasing flexibility of Wharton’s curriculum, including a new structure that includes a core curriculum in management fundamentals, analytics and leadership. Notably, more than half the core curriculum provides flexibility within the requirements so that students can design a custom path to one of 18 majors, among them: business economics and public policy, environmental and risk management, legal studies and business ethics, multinational management, and real estate. Students can also create an individualized major as well.

Wharton’s new West Coast campus in San Francisco is also drawing more and more students who want to be near the technology hub of Silicon Valley. It is now the home of a West Coast EMBA program for Wharton, and offers a semester there for qualifying full-time MBA students.

Emphasis on Social Value

Wharton’s motto of being a “force for social good” is taken seriously, and one primary vehicle for this is the Wharton Social Impact Initiative, which offers courses in cross-functional management in a variety of disciplines: business and public policy, education, finance, social policy and practice, management, and more. The research, experience and student-centered programs of the WSII are geared to further the school’s commitment to this goal.

Dual Degree Programs: The Lauder Institute – for Internationally Focused Students

AIGAC members enjoyed an in-depth presentation about this Wharton program, open to applicants who are already fluent in a second language and motivated to work in the international arena. The Lauder Institute offers a joint Wharton MBA or Penn JD with an MA in International Studies, and is an extremely rigorous program that is designed for an intellectually charged group who want to explore the intersection of business, language, and social science. With approximately 70 students per class, the program offers a certain degree of intimacy, in addition to the breadth and richness of Wharton.

Program Director Mauro Guillen explained that the program is meant to teach students “how to operate across borders.” Toward that goal, students have an intensive summer immersion program abroad, devoted to adding language and cultural proficiency as well as business study. Students research businesses and interview business leaders and/or government officials, and write a research report. Lauder students have traveled to every continent in the world for this program, utilizing their language skills in Chinese, Russian, Spanish, Arabic, Portuguese, French, Hindi, German, and more.

While this program adds additional costs to the Wharton MBA, the Lauder Institute has a generous endowment that allows for financial aid for qualifying students. Dr. Guillen emphasized that lack of funds should never deter the highly motivated, intellectually curious student who wants the joint Wharton Lauder program.

The JD/MBA Program

In 2009, Wharton launched a 3-year JD/MBA program, and two classes have graduated so far. There is a joint admission process (one application, joint decision) and both GMAT/GRE and LSAT are required. Associate Director Colleen France emphasized that this is also a very demanding program, geared for students who want to work at intersection of law and business, not for those who just want to “pick up” an extra degree.

The prescribed curriculum begins with 1L at Penn Law, followed by a summer of additional classes. Students must complete both a pro bono requirement and an internship in law or business during the second summer. The third year is highlighted by a Capstone project, where students work with a law school advisor and an industry advisor. As with the Lauder program, students in the JD/MBA program must meet full requirements at both schools. Of the past two graduating classes, 75% graduated with honors, and enjoy a JD/MBA mentoring project during the program and dual alumni networks from both Wharton and Penn Law afterward.

Specialty Tracks of Note: Healthcare Management, Entrepreneurship, Real Estate, Retailing

Wharton’s program directors were eager to showcase the numerous specialty tracks and majors that people don’t often associate with the school, along with the considerable resources affiliated with each one.

For example, the healthcare management department began back in 1971, according to program director June Kinney, and covers many niche areas, including medical devices, government-managed care, and venture capital. Unlike other majors at Wharton, the health care management major must be declared at the time of application. It also helps students find summer internships and permanent positions in the health care sector, including consulting firms, biotechnology, pharmaceutical firms, hospitals, insurers, and government agencies. There are also dual degree options, including the MD/MBA, MBA/MB, and MBA/MSN.

Wharton’s Entrepreneurship program is not just about starting a business, but about increasing support for students who want to pursues positions in a company’s earliest stages, according to Emily Cieri, Managing Director in Wharton’s Entrepreneurship program. Students in this program can consult with the Wharton Small Business Development Center, develop ideas through the Business Plan Competition, participate in the Entrepreneur-in-Residence program, as well as apply for an Enprepreneurial Intern Fellowship, the Venture Initiation Program or Wharton Venture Award, a $10,000 summer grant.

The Jay H. Baker Retailing Center offers MBA students a curriculum that weaves retail theory and practice. Wharton is the only Ivy League School to offer a concentration in Retail, and the Center is led by Barbara Kahn, internationally recognized marketing scholar. Courses specific to retail include supply chain management, consumer behavior, store management, and merchandising. The Center works closely with Wharton’s MBA Retail Club, and some classes also focus on luxury retailing.

Peter Fader, Co-director of Wharton’s Customer Analytics Initiative Research Center, says that no other MBA program is producing students who have bona fide marketing science, and that recruiters are taking notice. Customer analytics courses at Wharton are rigorous and meaty, and a “real point of differentiation” between Wharton and other MBA programs. “Marketing professors grossly underestimate what students are capable of doing in marketing, and may think that people escape to marketing to avoid quantitative work,” he said. These elective courses are drawing students with broad business interests, including finance, ecommerce, and those heading toward tech start-ups. “They’ll be sitting on tons of data and as a result of our classes that teach hard analytics, they’ll know what to do with it.” Fader also noted that when he shows colleagues what his students are doing, they laugh because they can’t believe what they’ve done, but “I get the last laugh.”

The Real Estate concentration focuses on real estate law, development, and finance, while electives explore related issues such as real estate economics, urban fiscal policy, the relationship between government policy and private development, international real estate markets, and the aesthetic and technical considerations of architecture. In conjunction with the Samuel Zell & Robert Lurie Real Estate Center, MBA students with this focus can attend sponsored conferences, seminars, and other specialty programs in the field. Wharton’s real estate program has repeatedly ranked among the top in the nation by U.S. News and World Report. The Lurie Center also hosts a career fair, with more than 90 companies recruiting on campus.

Leadership: Get Ready for Teamwork

Jeffrey Klein, Director of The Wharton Leadership Program, recently wrote in The European Business Review, “At The Wharton School, our approach to leadership development begins with teams. MBA students can expect to join at least 15 teams throughout their 21 month tenure as graduate students.” These include Course teams, Wharton Leadership Program teams, fellowship teams, club teams, conference teams, and intramural sports teams. “Teams permeate the MBA experience in the same way that teams are a dominant social structure for businesses and organizations,” he added.
The pre-term Learning Team Retreat launches the week-long program, held at a rural camp, and culminates with “The Big Idea,” a learning team exercise in which students formulate an interdisciplinary approach to analyzing a compelling business or social issue. The MBA curriculum is heavy on leadership courses, including Foundations of Teamwork and Leadership, an immersive course that features the Wharton Teamwork and Leadership Simulation.

Additionally, Wharton’s Leadership offerings for MBAs include the Executive Coaching and Feedback Program, conferences, leadership ventures, fellowships, and other experiential programs. Notable authors, such as Daniel Pink and Mario Moussa, as well as major business leaders, address students through the authors@wharton and leaders@wharton speaker series.

What’s New in Wharton Admissions

Last year, editors fielded many questions from Wharton applicants who were nervous about the school’s new group interview process. Admissions director Ankur Kumar addressed that and other issues during a Q&A about the Wharton admissions process. Kumar said that what the applicants actually proposed was not as vital as the group dynamics. In other words, Wharton is looking for people who know how and when to listen, and how and when to speak. “We expect interviewees to self-regulate” their comments, she observed.

Answering other questions from AIGAC members, Kumar said that Wharton does not have a preference for the GMAT over GRE. Regarding the “goals” essay question, she acknowledged that stated career goals may not become reality, and that she is looking more for “thoughtfulness and awareness” in crafting an answer, knowing that goals can be fluid.
She also said that Wharton looks for diversity among students in the broadest sense: business background, geography, perspectives, and sense of identity. “Diverse perspectives contribute to innovation,” she said.

A calculus test is required for all admitted students, and a business math class is required if the student does not pass or passes at a low level.

Career Services

Shannon Connelly, senior associate director of Employer Services, said that Wharton helps students with their immediate post-MBA job searches from many angles. Primarily, she said their staff works to manage student expectations and keep them reasonable by assessing students’ goals, experience and risk-tolerance. Her office also teaches job search skills and actively promotes the Wharton MBA brand among prospective employers.

Notably, Wharton has “relationship managers” who work with companies across various industries, as well as student advisors. Overall, Wharton’s Employer Services office is in contact with up to 700 companies, and keeps up to speed with what they anticipate their hiring needs will be in the coming year, as well as what worked for them in previous years.

To read about the highlights of the first day of the conference, check out:

•  What’s New in MBA Admissions? A Report from the 6th Annual AIGAC Conference [Part 1] 

• Innovations in MBA Curriculum

• The Growth of Part-Time and Virtual MBA Programs

•  What’s New in MBA Admissions? A Report from the 6th Annual AIGAC Conference [Part 2]

Judy Gruen By , MBA admissions consultant since 1996 and author (with Linda Abraham) of MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools.