What every applicant to Georgetown McDonough should know [Show summary]
Shelly Heinrich, Associate Dean of MBA Admissions at Georgetown McDonough, explores what’s new with the school’s full-time and flex MBA programs and how applicants can stand out to the admissions committee.
Make your application to Georgetown McDonough shine! [Show notes]
Interested in an MBA focused on international business with rigorous academics and a supportive collaborative culture? Pull up a chair. Today’s guest is the Dean of Admissions at Georgetown McDonough’s MBA program, and it fits your bill perfectly.
Shelly Heinrich is Associate Dean of MBA Admissions and Director of Marketing at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business. Shelly has been leading Georgetown’s admissions efforts since 2014 and became Associate Dean in 2017. She earned her BBA from Texas Christian University, her master’s in educational administration from UT Austin, and her executive MBA from Georgetown McDonough.
Can you give us an overview of Georgetown’s full-time and flex MBA programs for those listeners who aren’t that familiar with these programs, and focus on their more distinctive elements? [2:13]
The great thing about our full-time and flex program is that they are both 54-credit degrees, and they both follow the same exact curriculum. You have the same access to the career center, which is unique sometimes for a part-time MBA, the same access to professors and the global consulting experience. The real difference is the timing and the format. The full-time MBA is a standard full-time MBA. It’s 20 months with an internship the summer between year one and year two. Our flex MBA program, you can complete in two and a half to five years, really crafting your own schedule. If you want to take two to three classes at a time, you can speed it up. If you want to stretch it out, taking maybe one or two classes at a time, you can do that as well. With the flex MBA, you also have different course delivery options in order to make it more flexible. You can choose between electives that are on Saturday, that are in the evening, that are hybrid and also do more of our intensive learning experiences, the intense one-week electives to get an entire credit knocked out. You do have a little bit more flexibility. But in general, both are standard MBAs and when you graduate, your degree says “MBA.”
What’s new at McDonough, other than the pandemic and the new reality that we’re all dealing with? [3:35]
What I love so much about Georgetown and our Dean Almeida is his energy. Even while we were dealing with the pandemic, we were still continuing to forge ahead and launch the new initiatives that we had wanted to launch and then even launch some new ones. We launched in December our MBA advanced access program, which is our deferral program. We launched an MBA mentorship program, which is a mentorship program between alumni and MBA students to get professional mentorship and guidance. Our students launched a McDonough Talks podcast to give you the real story of what it’s like to be a student.
Then, because of the pandemic, we launched operation cura personalis. We have the academics, you have the career, and then you have the community aspect of an MBA. Operation cura personalis is true to our Jesuit roots and focuses on cura personalis, which is “care of the whole person,” and looks at programming that we could bring to our students to develop the mind, body, and spirit. What is it that makes you a successful leader? Yes, it’s functional intelligence and certainly career aspiration and motivation, but you also have to have the rest of yourself that you develop as a leader so that you can be an effective leader of your team. A lot’s been launched over the last year, which is really exciting and just one of the great things I love about McDonough.
What are some of the elements of cura personalis? [5:05]
We realized shortly after a few months into the pandemic that, yes, we’ve always embodied the care of the whole person, the cura personalis. To be an effective leader, you have to understand how to lead people with empathy and to take care of them as a person and to make sure their mental health, their wellbeing, their spiritual wellbeing, if they have a spiritual wellbeing, that you’re thinking about and taking care of that, because ultimately that will lead you to be a more resilient and a more effective leader. We’ve brought in diverse programming, everything from sleep seminars, recognizing that sleep has a great output on your effectiveness, to things like yoga, things like meditation, comedy shows, different speakers coming in to talk about different ways that you can improve yourself as a person.
The way I think of it is, yes, right now you may be in the middle level of your career or maybe the entry level of your career. But one day you might be managing 300 people or 20 people or 500 people or thousands of people, and to get the most out of your people, you should reflect back on those things that make them strong personally and that allow them to take care of their staff and employees. It’s been great, and they’ve opened it up not just as students but to staff and faculty. And because of the success we had at McDonough, other parts of the university are implementing it as well. That is something that we will actually take into next year, post-pandemic. We realized students really appreciate it.
How have the pandemic restrictions affected the MBA experience and program at Georgetown McDonough? [6:49]
Every week has been exciting and has changed, and we’ve had to problem-solve. Maybe “exciting” is not the right word, but change is. Right now, any MBA student that wants to be on campus, who has met the COVID testing protocol of the university, is able to be on campus. Now, not every professor is teaching on campus at this point, but any student that wants to be can. That’s where we are now. When we started a year ago, we were very much virtual. This time last year and in the spring, we were very much virtual. We went into the fall in a hybrid model, with international students being on campus. It really wasn’t until the spring semester that domestic students who met COVID protocols could be on campus. The president has just announced in the fall that we will be back in person. We’re really excited and planning towards that. He’s also announced an in-person graduation, so that’s exciting. He just announced it a couple of weeks ago. What that looks like, we’re still figuring out, but we will be in person.
There are certainly students who this year decided to stay at home, to stay in their home state or home country. Not every student is physically living in DC because the changes were announced mid-semester, but the students that want to be are.
Students can have casual interactions? The cafeteria is open, the lounges are open, the clubs are meeting, etc., for those people who are on campus? Or are there still restrictions in that regard? [8:34]
A lot of the social activities are still, at least those that are sponsored by Georgetown, very restricted. Those are still virtual. Any type of club activities, career activities, anything like that is still virtual. The focus has really been on the classes.
What don’t people know about Georgetown McDonough that you would like them to know? What’s a common misconception or myth that you’d like to puncture? [9:09]
Every year we try to dispel these myths, but I think they continue to be here. There’s three, really. One is that because we’re in Washington DC, we’re more of a public policy-focused MBA program, which is so far from the truth. The highest percentage of our graduates still go into finance and consulting and technology. Yes, we do have perhaps a larger percentage than other schools that will pursue social impact or nonprofit, but it’s a small sliver, typically 3% or 4%. At our core, we are an MBA program.
Related to that, people assume, and maybe this is the case for all MBA programs, but they assume that most of our alumni go to work in DC after graduation. But we are a global program. Our alumni go all over the world, where employers and jobs take them. We’re very much a global alumni program.
And then the third: People are interested to learn, “What does Jesuit education mean? If I’m not Catholic, if I’m Hindu or Muslim or not practicing a faith, what does that mean?” Jesuit education is focused on the learning and the care of the whole person. We have people of all different faiths. Our deans, our faculty, our students, and staff come from all different backgrounds. It’s a very welcoming, inclusive environment that focuses on the teaching and the well-roundedness versus the religious aspect.
Typically, at this time of year, you’d be traveling the world, engaging with prospective students, and some Hoyas would probably accompany you. How can prospective students engage with the McDonough community if you can’t go to them and they can’t go to you? [10:55]
I know. I miss 12-hour flights to Asia, to be very honest. I cannot wait to get back on it. We have had to turn our events virtual. We are hosting all of our information sessions virtually, our coffee chats virtually, our signature events virtually. And while you can never replace the in person experience, what has been fascinating is our ability to reach more people than we ever have. I can remember last May when we hosted our first monthly information session virtually. When we do it in person, we typically get about 100-120 people that would attend. Our first one had over 500 people registered and I thought, wow, maybe we’ve been doing this wrong all along. Think about all the people from different countries who weren’t going to fly in for a one-hour session, but now were able to experience McDonough. So yes, people can meet with us virtually. They can set a time to chat with us. Then, hopefully by the end of the summer and into the fall, we will be back to allowing visitors on campus.
Do you see yourself, in terms of recruiting applicants, continuing with a mix of virtual and in person? Or do you see yourself staying virtual? [12:16]
It will be a mix. I think we’ve learned a lot this year. We’ve had a lot of success with being virtual. But nothing can replace getting to chat with someone over coffee, especially in their home state or home country and really interviewing them face to face. So I think it’ll be a mix, but it’s been great to learn that we can have success in both modes, virtual and in person.
Has the success in terms of reaching out to people virtually translated to an increase in applications? [12:51]
Yes. It’s an interesting year, one like one we haven’t experienced in a while. We have passed three rounds of our MBA applications. Our full-time is up 26%. Our flex is up 11%. To drill that down, we just had round three, which typically is a very small round. Not a lot of people apply in round three. Our round three applications for full-time are up 83%. Very interesting. Coming out of round one, our deposits were up almost 50% year over year, and that was pre-pandemic. Round one deposits come in the beginning of February. It has been a very interesting year.
Is some of that round three increase from people who got rejected from programs that they thought they might’ve gotten into in previous years? [13:48]
We typically, for round three and round four, see a mix of applications. We see people who didn’t really realize that if they want to apply for an MBA, they should have started in the fall. I think people from their undergraduate experience don’t really realize round ones are in September. But then we also get a good mix of very highly qualified people that are applying to the top five programs and unfortunately don’t receive a spot. Then, they start to research great programs like Georgetown and realize, wow, I can achieve the same career goals or very similar career goals and be in a smaller class size in the heart of Washington DC, and maybe this is a good path for me. We typically see a lot of highly qualified applicants in round three and round four.
Let’s turn to the application itself. What is the purpose of the different elements of the Georgetown application, specifically the essays, the resume, and the recommendation? [15:05]
In those three elements (the essays, the resume, and recommendation), we want to understand who you are outside of your GPA, your test score, or your years of work experience. It allows us to really understand your character, your leadership ability, and what you’ll bring to the classroom. In our essays, we’re fairly unique at Georgetown. We provide three essay prompts. You only have to choose one. It allows you to determine what your value proposition is as a person and leader and then choose the essay that allows you to sell it the best, so you’re not forced into a box of an essay that maybe doesn’t really highlight your strengths.
Then we have a video essay, which I know causes anxiety with students, but honestly, it’s one of my favorite parts of the application because we get to really see them and who they are. Only one person gets to interview you on the admissions committee. But with the video essay, everyone on the admissions committee gets a chance to see you. And you can rerecord it as many times as you want until you get it right, whereas in an interview, you go in and you get one shot. I think it’s a strength for applicants in their application process.
The resume also provides more context into what you do, what your accomplishments are and your career progression, as well as how you’re involved outside of employment. Then the recommendation is something that I typically leave till the very end. By the time I’ve read your entire application, I have an idea in my head, perhaps, of what type of student you are or what your experience has been. And then interestingly, often when I read the recommendation, it confirms what I was already thinking. I love that. The recommendation typically just rounds out your application. It’s not typically make-or-break. Very few people will have a negative recommendation letter. I love that.
What about the test? McDonough gives applicants a choice between the GMAT, the GRE, and the executive assessment. Any plans to provide waivers and make the test optional? Where is Georgetown on that? [17:25]
There’s no preference among the three. I think the old adage is, if you’re thinking about the top consulting firms or investment banking, it’s probably preferable to choose the GMAT. However, I’ve heard that some companies are being more flexible. But other than that, there’s no preference. Research the test, figure out which one you’re going to do the best at, and then submit, and be sure to take it more than once. That’s what I always recommend to applicants. Take it more than once because you’re typically going to do better the second time. We see it all the time.
In terms of waivers, last year was different. But moving into this year, while most countries and states have resumed accessibility for in-person testing and still have online options, we do realize that there are some countries where there is still limited accessibility. So we have provided each round an opportunity for people to apply for a test waiver if they don’t have access to take the test, and then if they don’t have access, they also have to have met certain academic eligibility criteria. It is very selective.
We don’t know what we’re going to do moving forward with tests. I think it’s important to have tools by which to assess candidates and how they’re going to be successful in the classroom. There are people who don’t test well, but there are people who really test well and it offsets a low GPA. I can think of many applicants who maybe had a 2.7 or 2.8 GPA because they were doing intercollegiate athletics. Maybe they were supporting their family. They were working 40 or 50 hours a week. Maybe they were immature. But then two or three years after college, they go take a test and they do really, really well. And for international applicants, without a standardized test, how would we compare transcripts from Mongolia, to Ecuador, to India, to China, to Los Angeles, to San Francisco? How would we assess all of those and do it well? That’s one of the reasons why a standardized test can be helpful, but we’re really trying to dig through and think about assessments and what to do with them moving forward.
You’ve obviously been looking at a lot of applications over the last seven years at Georgetown. What are some of the most common mistakes applicants make that you’ve seen? [19:50]
The common mistakes that stand out are, first of all, just sloppiness. It seems silly, but lower-casing your first name and last name on applications and not putting in the right school, which sounds so simple. But every round, there are multiple people that do it and say, “I look forward to applying to XYZ school,” and it’s not Georgetown. Even when I was previously working at GW in admissions, the same thing.
Then, assuming that we know about the career progressions that they’ve had. To provide an example, I was interviewing a student one time and simultaneously looking at their resume. They mentioned, “When I received that promotion at Deloitte, I was then doing XYZ.” I was looking at their resume and I said, “I don’t see that promotion. You didn’t indicate that promotion on your resume.” And the person said, “Well, I wanted to get it down to one page so I decided to remove that.” And I said, “Oh no. Don’t. A key element of your candidacy is that you’ve been promoted. We look for that.” That was another “mistake” and was not strategic.
Another thing is not having attended any type of event or met with any type of alumni or current student. When I ask someone, “How have you learned about Georgetown?” the successful applicants will say, “Well, I attended this event,” or, “I know an alumnus of your university I spoke with.” Then they’ll talk about how that conversation or that event has led them to be more interested in Georgetown. Especially in this virtual environment, when all of our events are virtual, there is almost no excuse for not having attended an event. In years past, maybe if you were international, you might not have been able to attend, but this round, this cycle, you should definitely be attending virtual events.
In light of the pandemic and the crazy end to last year’s admission cycle, are you going to evaluate applications slightly differently, perhaps looking for or weighing different attributes more or less? [21:56]
What the pandemic really further highlighted is our true commitment to cura personalis, which is care of the whole person, and empathy. We, last summer, took an approach of saying, “We’re going to have individual conversations with every person that’s struggling. Maybe this isn’t the right year for them and we’re going to hear their stories.” If you think about that, 30 minutes per student times hundreds, it was a lot of students, but we said, “This is true to our values and we want to feel right about how we’re handling this. This feels right to do.” I think that’s continued to bleed into this year, that care and true perspective on each individual person. For top MBA programs that are receiving thousands of applications, but also receiving tens of thousands of inquiries, before this, while we tried to pay as much attention as possible, sometimes it physically wasn’t possible. What the pandemic has shown is we change our processes to make the time because it is important. That’s something different.
There are candidates out there who are worried that if they got laid off or if they were furloughed or if they were an entrepreneur and their business went under, that event somehow is going to tarnish their application. That is so far from the truth. We are receiving so many applications from people in those exact circumstances and from a human perspective, we understand. We get it. We were watching the news. We understand what’s happened over the last year. For those people, it’s a great time to come back to an MBA program. Don’t be ashamed of it. Don’t think of that as a barrier because of which you should not apply, because there are a lot of people in your situation.
Would it be an exaggeration to say that talking about what they learned from the experience could actually strengthen their application? Or that what they learned about being involved in an ultimately unsuccessful business could also strengthen their application? Would you agree with that? [23:46]
Definitely. Even prior to the pandemic, when people had more than a three-month employment gap or were laid off, we would ask them to tell us, “What did you do in that time?” The same holds true now. Did you go online and do certificates? How did you improve your skills? Maybe you had to take care of family members, but through that you learned different qualities about yourself that you never knew. How did you use your time and how does it make you a better person and leader?
I know some applicants have specific elements in their background that give them grave concern. How do you view applicants who had a dip in grades or a gap in their employment due to depression or emotional issues? That’s one category, and the other category is applicants who had an academic infraction as an undergraduate or perhaps a misdemeanor like a DUI on their record. [24:35]
We want to understand and learn more. No one is perfect. No one’s background, their prior personal or professional experiences, are completely perfect, and sometimes mistakes happen. In the case that you mentioned of a DUI, it was a one-time thing. You were young, and you were maybe not as mature as you are now, eight years later. We understand and realize that. And then in the case of depression or mental illness, we realize that there’s an increase in that, not only due to the COVID pandemic, but even prior to that. We were seeing more of that in undergraduate institutions. If people feel comfortable sharing it, then share it. We’re all human. We all understand that we have to deal with things. Sometimes young students have to bear a lot more responsibility than maybe they used to and there’s a lot more pressure on them.
Share it, but then also, how have you overcome? What skills have you put into place to forge into the next stage of your life? And then if it was a mistake like a DUI, did you learn from it? Did you take responsibility for it? Did you not have any more? We look at all of that, and that’s what the optional essay is for, to really explain those types of things. Don’t be ashamed of it. Again, we’re all human. We’re all people at the end.
What would you say to applicants who want to apply but are concerned that some deferrals from last year will have shrunk the number of available seats. Certainly for this year, that’s a concern, and there has been a spike in applications. Maybe they’re concerned about increased competition. [26:29]
A lot of students over the last few months have come to me and tried to analyze their probability of success. You can tell it’s angsting them. What I tell them is, “Look, the number of applications we’re getting now was similar to what it was three or four years ago. There was a dip in the market for a while, as the economy was really strong. The situation you’re entering is very much similar to the one people three or four or five years ago were entering. Don’t try to analyze your probability of success. Every applicant is different. There’s not necessarily a metric for whom we admit, and if this is the right time for you, then apply. And in a worst-case scenario where we are not able to admit you, then come back to us and say, ‘I wasn’t admitted this year. Can I have a conversation with you about how I can improve for next year?'” We love re-applicants. In fact, we admit about 50% of our re-applicants. We admit them especially if they’ve taken steps to improve their application. We love that.
Do you also provide feedback to people who are considering reapplying? [27:52]
We do at Georgetown. I can’t say other schools do. We’ll be honest with people and say, “Look, this is how you can improve for next year.” Just apply. Don’t stress. If for whatever reason it doesn’t work out, then reapply the following year and make your application more competitive.
Can you touch for a moment on the MBA Advanced Access Program? Whom is it for? And how can one get in? [28:15]
I love this. We launched it in December, and the application deadline is April 26th for this year. It is a deferral program for people in their final year of undergraduate or their final year of graduate school. If they went straight from undergrad to grad school, they may apply to then defer for two, three, or four years later. People applying now would be deferring into fall 2023, 2024, or 2025 into the full-time MBA program. I like it because of two reasons. One, there’s so much pressure placed on undergraduate students to figure out their dream job post-undergrad. Everyone asks them, “What are you doing? What do you do? Do you have a job yet?” There’s so much pressure. The reality is, people may or may not like that job. And that’s fine. You change careers six, seven times over the course of your career. By doing the deferral program, you are able to take that job knowing full well that if you like it, well then great, you can continue. If you don’t like it, you can land in a top MBA program and switch careers because 84% of our students switch functions or industries coming out of the Georgetown MBA. It gives you this fallback plan. You don’t have to have that pressure.
The other reason I like it is that by applying to the MAAP program, you’re going to be competing against a smaller pool of applicants for a seat two, three, or four years from now. If you wait and apply to the regular program, you’re applying against a few thousand applications. Your probability of success is perhaps greater applying to the MAAP program, because if you apply into a full-time MBA with only two years of work experience, while you still can be admitted, you’re competing against people with five or six years of work experience. That’s the two reasons why I believe the MAAP program and a deferral program is something to think about.
What advice would you give someone thinking ahead and planning to apply in fall 2021 for the 2022 entering class? They have about six months to nine months to go before they hit those first two deadlines, which are generally the more popular ones. [30:12]
Three things. Visit virtually. Before we all start coming back to in-person events, take advantage of everything being virtual now, and just go ahead and do it. You can always come visit us in-person later, but do the virtual visits now. Start speaking with other people that have MBA degrees, because you do want to make sure that this is the right degree for you, or maybe there’s another graduate business degree that is of interest to you. The more people you speak with (employers, hiring managers, your friends), the further you’ll know if this is the right path for you. Third, start preparing for the things in the application that do take a while. Typically preparing for the test takes a little bit of time. Make sure you know who your recommenders are. Get them lined up so that you give them at least a month to write the letter of recommendation. If you’re going to prep for the September deadlines, those are the three things I would say to do.
What would you have liked me to ask you? [31:29]
What do I personally love about Georgetown? I’ve worked at four different business schools and they were all great. They were all great experiences, but Georgetown is the one I’ve been the longest at. I’ve been here almost seven years, and it was the first school where I decided to go back and do my MBA, because I did have potential options to apply at other schools. I may not have been admitted, but I had other options to apply. This is the first school where I said, “I want to be a Hoya.” It was because of my interactions with alum and students and the senior leadership and constantly talking about and hearing these experiences in my day to day job. I said, “I want that. I want that for myself.” I truly believe in the further direction of the school and where it’s headed. So I was really excited to apply, and it was a phenomenal experience. I don’t regret it one minute and wish, frankly, I was back there sometimes doing the program.
How was it juggling the MBA and a full-time job? [32:27]
One of the reasons why I almost didn’t apply was because I was scared about the work-life balance. I also had a four year-old at the time, and my husband was in grad school at the time. I thought, is this a good decision? Should I actually do this? But I talked with another woman who had had two kids while in the MBA program and also a demanding job. I thought, okay, if this woman can do it, then I can do it. If all of these other people that have had kids have done it before me, then it’s possible. I just have to figure out the best path for me. It was definitely a decision factor, but it’s one that I don’t regret and I still feel, reflecting back, that I was able to equally give time to my family, my career, and my studies, and I was able to somehow manage it.
Where can listeners and potential applicants learn more about Georgetown’s MBA program? [33:42]
Please visit choosegeorgetown.com.
- Georgetown McDonough’s website
- Leadership in Admissions, a free guide
- Georgetown McDonough MBA Essay Tips & Deadlines [2020 – 2021]
- Accepted’s MBA Admissions Consulting Services
- What’s New at MIT Sloan’s Competitive Full-Time MBA
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