This week we welcome Christie St. John, Director of Admissions at Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management. Christie earned her PhD in French and Italian from Vanderbilt and worked at Vanderbilt as Director of International Relations before becoming the Senior Associate Director of Admissions at Tuck. Christie returned to Vanderbilt as Director of MBA admission in 2012.
Can you give an overview of the Vanderbilt 2-year MBA program with a focus on its distinctive elements? [1:54]
Two things make our program distinctive. First, we are on a modular system, instead of semester, so we have seven week mods. Students get through all core courses in the first year, and they also start taking electives during their second mods. Students have three required courses and one elective in Mod 2, two and two in Mod 3, and in Mod 4, one required course and three electives. Second, we have the Leadership Development Program, which is distinctive in that we use executive coaches who have worked with mid-level managers from Fortune 500 companies and we pair up the students with coaches in the fields they are planning to go into. For example, if you are interested in going into finance, you would be paired with someone who had worked with businesses on Wall Street. The coaching is included in the program, and strictly optional, but 80+ percent of students participate. Students also work on their own leadership development plan for the entire two years and also as alums. We have staff devoted to leadership development for each of our degree programs.
Vanderbilt also has several one-year programs including a Master of Management in Health Care, Master of Accounting, Master of Finance, and a Master of Marketing. Can you touch on these programs and how they differ from the MBA? [5:00]
The main difference is that those programs are for people just graduating from undergrad without much experience. The Master of Finance is quite competitive and they do look for internships and quant proficiency – the GMAT is required. The Master of Marketing is new as of last year and growing fast, and the Master of Accounting is also quite new. Each degree program has their own dedicated admissions person, faculty member and career service person, and for the last five years we have had 100% placement with the Master of Finance. The Master of Accounting also has 100% placement as we work with the Big Four accounting firms on projects and early placement. The Master of Marketing is so new we don’t have stats yet. Each program is one year long. Graduates of these programs can get experience and then come back to Vanderbilt and get their MBA in three semesters with a guaranteed scholarship.
One exception is the Master of Management in Health Care, which was launched several years ago for people in the industry with 8-10 years of experience.
What’s new at Vanderbilt? [8:07]
We have the Turner Family Center for Social Enterprise, which resulted from the Turner family having given us a large grant to pull all of our coursework and programs that relate to the non-profit industry under one umbrella. The person directing that is a graduate who started a minority business lending institution when graduating and finds projects all over the local area as well as internationally. Our students work with these organizations to find a business solution to a social problem. If students are interested in going into this area when they graduate, the director of the program, Mario Avila, will help them with their job search.
Project Pyramid is the international projects that we do. This is an interdisciplinary trans-university initiative, which means not just a business school project. We draw in grad students from nursing, engineering, law school, anthropology, etc. Students run projects with the help of Mario and faculty members, then go to the country at spring break for 10 days or more. They get two hour course credits for this, and have done projects in Africa, Nepal, Chile, Peru, etc., and they learn so much.
The Vanderbilt employment report for the Class of 2016 shows that 25% of the graduate went into consulting and a whopping 24% went into health care. That is a very high percentage. To what do you attribute that success? [12:17]
We say Nashville is the center of the healthcare industry. There are over 350 companies that employ over 335,000 people just here in Nashville. One of the larger organizations, the HCA Hospital Corporation of America, owns 165 hospitals and 115 small surgery centers in over 20 states and England, so people don’t just work here in Nashville but all over. Fresenius Medical Care, based here but with over 3,000 dialysis center locations around the world, is also a big employer. We have really close relationships with a lot of the healthcare organizations here.
Any advice for Vanderbilt’s essay? [14:54]
We don’t want people coming in saying they have no idea what they want to do and they’ll figure it out when they are here. Yes, the MBA program is a transformative experience and they in fact will figure it out when they are here, however they don’t have a lot of time, so the main things we are trying to get out of that essay are, Do you know what you are good at? What industries and functional areas you are interested in? We never hold anyone to what they say in the admissions essay – you only know what you know at the time you apply. Once you get here and listen to the companies that visit you learn a lot more and can figure out what you really want, and then we help with that.
The Career Management Office starts working with our students in April and all through the summer we provide podcasts and work with students on resumes so they are prepared for interviews, for the really early recruiting processes like the National Black MBA, Forte Leadership Conference, and MBA Veterans Conference that start in October. Most companies will be recruiting for first year internships in January, but for these early opportunities, students need to have thought about what they want.
We also use that essay for acceptance. If we see somebody who is just throwing something out there, like, “I want to go into PE,” but have no quant background, no finance background, and no appreciable network, that person really doesn’t know what that is, and needs to go out and do some soul searching and have a reality check. Sometimes folks in our office even call our applicants to ask why they are interested in what they are. We really don’t want students to be floundering.
What about the video essay? [19:08]
We started doing that last year. I know a lot of schools are doing them with case questions or “tell me what you want to do” questions. We decided to have a little bit of fun with it. The questions are not difficult, they rotate with each application round. They are random when you go online. If you don’t like the first question that comes up you can choose a second. If you don’t like that one you get one more chance and must answer that third question. You get about 90 seconds to prepare and 60 seconds to record. We just want to know what you can talk about extemporaneously. This helps us discern interpersonal skills, vocabulary, how articulate you are, see what you look like, and can be used by the admissions team to further an individual’s case for admission (“I think this person is great – look at the video. See what I mean?”).
Can you give us an example of some questions? [21:04]
Tell me what’s great about your hometown? If you invite me over for dinner what will you make?
What distinguishes applicants who get interview invitations from those who don’t other than stats? [21:54]
We are looking for what you think you want to do, what qualities you possess already, and why you think our MBA will get you there. We are looking for transferable skills.
What can those invited to interview expect on interview day? [22:59]
If they are coming to visit us they will have a student host that will first take them to class and then drop them back off in admissions, though sometimes the interview comes first depending on the class schedule of the day. The interview is more of a conversation. We don’t do case interviews, or ask about the stock exchange. We really want to know about you. Why you want an MBA, what you think you will get out of our program, what you are going to be involved in. We want people who will come and enrich our community and leave behind a legacy. There are so many ways to be involved here. We are a small program, so we do place a lot of value on interpersonal skills and a person’s collaborative nature. We are not a school for divas, and people can see that right away. We are small enough that we get to know our students, but big enough to attract a lot of great companies.
I understand that Nashville is a lovely city with great quality of life, but it’s not a business center like NYC, Chicago, or LA or a start-up hotbed like Silicon Valley or Boston. How would you respond to potential applicant concerns about Vanderbilt’s location? [26:07]
Nashville is the “it” city now. The Tennessee Economic Council has done so much outreach. In the state of Tennessee there are 51 public universities, 36 private universities and 27 different tech centers. We have a highly educated population. 82 people are moving here a day because of the job situation, and Forbes or a similar publication last year ranked Nashville as the #1 choice for recent graduates. Tennessee was just ranked #1 for foreign direct investment in IBM’s Global Location Trends Report. Bridgestone America, Hankook Tire, Nissan, Beretta, CKE Restaurant, ATC Automation, Volkswagen, all the healthcare organizations, UBS, AT&T, you name it, are all here. The economy is good here, and as far as being an entrepreneurial center, it is booming. What Silicon Valley and other places cannot offer we can, with an affordable cost of living and lack of congestion. We are two hours by plane from most major cities, with the international airport close by.
What’s an example of something entrepreneurial and really cool that a Vanderbilt student or alum is doing? [30:59]
One of our current students is working on a housing exchange platform. It’s an app that will allow students to swap apartments during internships and so on. The young man who pitched that idea just won a Firestarter Scholarship and is up for a Soar grant (we offer four $25K grants a year). There is a lot of help here if you have a good idea.
What are some work opportunities available for students while in school? [32:28]
We really believe in the practical application of what you are learning in business school, so whatever specialty you are going into there are possibilities for small consulting projects during the year. A lot of those are through the health care immersion program, the Turner Family Center with non-profits, some are with start-ups. Some students start working up to 20 hours a week and they learn so much.
What advice would you give to someone thinking ahead to a Fall 2018 application? [34:05]
Reach out to our students. Go to our website, and do a search for MBA Ambassadors. Bios are there, emails are there. Students are really good about responding.
Christie, thank you so much for joining me today. Where can listeners and potential applicants learn more about Vanderbilt’s MBA programs? [37:40]