Are you aiming for an MBA from CMU Tepper? Here’s how to make that dream a reality. [Show summary]
Kelly Wilson, Executive Director of Masters Admissions at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business discusses Tepper’s MBA programs, which are focused on analytics, leadership and technology advancement.
With full-time, part-time and hybrid options, Tepper offers an MBA program to fit any schedule [Show notes]
Welcome to the 425th episode of Admissions Straight Talk Accepted Podcast. Thanks for tuning in.
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It gives me great pleasure to have on Admissions Straight Talk Kelly Wilson, who is the Executive Director of Masters Admissions at the Carnegie Mellon University Tepper School of Business. Kelly earned her Bachelor’s at Grove City College and three Master’s degrees: an MBA from George Mason and a MS and MIS from the University of Pittsburgh Joseph Katz Graduate School of Business.
After working for several years in business, she began her career in admissions at Katz in 1999. In 2008, she became Assistant Dean and Director of MBA Admissions at Georgetown’s McDonough School, where she served for four years and which is where I think I first had the pleasure of meeting Kelly. She then returned to Pittsburgh and became Executive Director of Masters Admissions at CMU Tepper, and has been working in that capacity for the last almost nine years. Kelly, welcome to Admissions Straight Talk.
How many master’s programs are you overseeing and what are they? [1:40]
We have our MBA program in three different formats: the Full-Time two-year program, our Part-Time Online Hybrid program, and our Part-Time Flex MBA. In addition, we have the MS in Product Management and then MS in Business Analytics. We will be launching a couple of master’s programs in the near future. So keep an eye out for that information.
What is the difference between the three MBA programs? [2:15]
So the Part-Time Online Hybrid is our online program; there is an in-person component to it which is why it’s hybrid. The way that it works is the part-time students will come to campus about every six and a half, seven weeks between mini semesters where they’ll do a weekend together on campus.
The Part-Time Flex was our traditional Pittsburgh-based, part-time program. The really cool thing now is that our part-time students in both programs will spend the first year together in that Part-Time Online Hybrid format, giving flexibility to both groups of students, and then the Part-Time Flex students from the Pittsburgh region can choose to take more traditional evening classes if they’d like, or they can continue on the Online Hybrid format.
Can you give an overview of the CMU Tepper full-time MBA programs, focusing on the more distinctive elements? [3:24]
Absolutely. It’s hard not to bring in the part-time options when we’re talking about the full-time program, because in fact they are the same MBA taught by the same faculty. And one of the few MBA programs that allow students to transfer between programs after year one.
For our MBAs, what really sets Tepper apart is the combination of leadership development and analytics skills that the students get in the program. If we first talk about analytics within the core of our program, which is a fairly robust core, you will see that in addition to the typical business classes, we’ve got three specific classes that focus on developing those analytical skills.
It’s a probability and statistics course and optimization course, and a statistical decision-making course where students will learn optimization, modeling skills, as well as the business fundamentals in the core. And then throughout the electives, they’ll apply those tools (both the business fundamentals and the analytical skills) throughout the rest of the curriculum.
And those three analytical courses that are part of the core are required for all students? [4:55]
They are. For both full-time and part-time. And then all of our students will work with our Accelerate Leadership Center. So we have a leadership development component that’s part of the core curriculum as well. Our executive coaches who previously worked in corporate roles are staff on the Accelerate Leadership Center team. They focus on development plans for each of our students, these plans are tailored for each individual, based on the experience and expertise of each student as they come in.
Whether a student is full-time or part-time, their work with Accelerate begins with an assessment tool that will give them a sense of the leadership skills that they may want to focus on during their time in the program and the leadership skills they may want to leverage while they’re in the program. This is on top of, of course, some courses that our faculty deliver within leadership as well.
I also noticed Tepper has a rather distinctive approach to concentrations and tracks in its curriculum. Can you go over that for our listeners? [6:04]
Students at Tepper are required to take at least one concentration. Many of our students will have multiple concentrations. So in an MBA program, it’s typical that three classes will give you a concentration. That’s true at Tepper as well, but often you’ll see Tepper students have two, three, and sometimes four concentrations.
It really depends on what skills they’re trying to develop while they’re in the program. The breadth of electives provides them an opportunity to gain different concentrations across the skills that they’re looking to develop. And then our tracks are a little bit of a deeper dive than a concentration. They are a pre-described set of courses that gives students a depth of study in a particular area, whether it’s Business Analytics, Technology Strategy and Product Management, Energy Business, Entrepreneurship, or Management of Innovation and Product Development.
Those are the tracks that we offer, and they’re usually eight to ten electives that make up the track, and it’s a much deeper dive into that area. Then they will have a capstone as part of their track as well, to fulfill the capstone requirement for the program.
Is everybody required to pursue a track? [7:37]
No, it’s absolutely up to the desire of the student. Everyone must do a concentration. The tracks are available and there are some tracks that students must apply to become part of them.
How many concentrations are there, and how many tracks are there? [7:54]
So there are 13 concentrations and 15 tracks at this point. You would see the functional areas on the concentrations and then the tracks may be broader than a functional area. So Energy Business for example will have broad courses in it, but will give the students a very specific skill set.
What are some of the tracks? [8:36]
They’re Business Analytics, Technology Strategy and Product Management, Energy Business, Entrepreneurship, or Management of Innovation and Product Development.
How have pandemic restrictions affected the MBA experience in program at CMU Tepper? And perhaps, since we’re all hopeful that the pandemic is more and more in the rear view mirror, what of the adaptations that CMU Tepper made due to the pandemic do you think it’s going to keep? [9:03]
I think it’s important for us as we’ve gone through this just unbelievable situation globally, that we do focus on the positives, which are the innovations, right? So whether it’s from an admissions standpoint or from an experience standpoint, our students had to think about how do we build community in a way that’s very different from what we’ve done before?
And they were very creative in that regard. One of the things that I liked best about it is, well, I guess there are two things. One, there was much more interaction between our full-time students and our part-time students because the activities were virtual. It really allowed for the students to participate in activities that they might not have been able to before, whether it was a corporate speaker or alumni coming in to talk with a club. And that’s the segue to the second favorite thing which is just access to alumni and corporate representatives. If you think about it, no longer did people have to come to campus instead they were a Zoom call away, and really made themselves available. Our alumni were fantastic making themselves available for different activities because frankly, it wasn’t as heavy a lift. They didn’t have to travel, and it really made for a robust experience for the group.
I think that engagement is one of the things that we’ll be able to hold on to.
What don’t people know about CMU Tepper that you would like them to know? What’s a common misconception that you would like to dispel? [11:30]
This is a question that I think is really interesting. As I think about it, there’s a misperception that a candidate must have a heavy tech or quant background to attend and do well at Tepper. The reality is candidates really only need to demonstrate the aptitude and we’ll teach them the rest.
I was thinking about some feedback we got from our diversity weekend. A student said that they were previously intimidated by Tepper’s reputation of being tech and quant heavy, and thought that the experience in connecting with the community would be a very rigid and dry experience. But the reality was, people were warm and reassuring and this person walked away understanding that there’s a place for students of all backgrounds. That to me is a testament of someone that came to visit and that saw that difference, which I think is really exciting.
Obviously students have to have the aptitude and a desire to learn. Are you looking for a high quant score on the GMAT and GRE? Are you looking for high grades in quant classes previously? How else can somebody demonstrate their aptitude? [12:42]
Through their work experience and work that they’re doing, I would encourage candidates to share that type of information. The application of those skills is something that we think about as well. It may also happen outside of work through an entrepreneurial endeavor, or just something they’re interested in outside of work. You’re right, it is important that there’s foundation, whether it’s through demonstrated coursework or a test score, but there is a broader way to share information about those skills as well.
Is Calc 1 required? [13:44]
We still have a calculus requirement. I think the change over the past couple of years is that if a candidate does not have a Calculus and it’s not necessarily Calc 1, it’s a Calculus course. So a Business Calculus class is a requirement as well. If a student does not have Calculus, per se, once they’re admitted, we’ve developed a Calculus Fundamentals course. Our faculty have developed it to allow for people that may not have taken it yet to fulfill their requirement that way before they matriculate.
Is CMU Tepper planning to continue offering test waivers? What percentage of applicants who applied for a waiver were granted a waiver last year? [14:19]
We do plan to continue to offer test waivers. It’s an interesting opportunity to consider candidates that may not otherwise have applied or that really lean into other parts of their application, specifically the academic work. For us, the percentage of applicants where test waivers were granted is about half of the students who applied for a test waiver.
If someone is not granted a waiver, we would encourage them to consider taking some time and if they still desire to take the test they can apply. So it’s not a denial of admission, it’s just a decision about the test waiver.
I assume you want the tests for them to show aptitude, whether it’s verbal skills or quantitative skills? [15:32]
That’s right. I think for different candidates, those two components of the test may come into play a little bit differently so it’s important for a candidate to reflect on their application. For someone that may not have as many quantitative courses, the test may help them in that regard. So to kind of step back and reflect might be helpful. Of course, we will offer application workshops where we’ll take a deep dive into that with candidates.
Now, Tepper, last year had one essay question which was:
“The Tepper community is dynamic and unique. Each community members’ individual journey has shaped them into classmates who are collaborative, supportive, and inclusive. Describe how you have overcome adversity during your journey. What did you learn about yourself and how has that shaped who you are?”
Are you planning to ask the same question or are you planning any changes to the application? [16:36]
We are going to ask the same question. I was super excited and the admissions committee in general was excited about the types of essays that we were able to read and the information we were able to learn about candidates. For us, community is important. Being a contributing member of the community is important, and I think the things that we go through in life do shape us.
Grit is one of those words that is becoming a little bit cliché maybe, but the idea of being able to face something that’s really hard and could for some people stop them where they are, but being able to just face that and overcome it and then grow from it is something I think that contributes to who we are as contributors and to our communities and we think that’s important.
What are the most common mistakes that you see applicants make on their applications? [18:29]
In those I would include not proofreading or not using your search and replace when you’re using a core essay to then develop for another school. To get a different school’s name in the application that you’re reading for your school, that raises an eyebrow.
I think another mistake that we see is for applicants who apply without really getting to know the community. The application is a chance, and again, I’m going back to community and how it’s important for us.
The application process is a chance for people to get to know the community and to engage with students, faculty staff, alumni, in a variety of different ways, and then demonstrate in the application convey, not just that they’ve done these things, but what they’ve learned from these things. We’re not just looking to understand that an applicant has spoken to three current students and two alumni, but what about those conversations resonated? What excites you about what that might mean for your future as a Tepper student, and how has that impacted your desire to attend Tepper? I think for someone to miss that opportunity to me is a mistake that’s avoidable, and one that I think is easily corrected.
In light of the pandemic, are you meeting applications with a slightly different perspective? I mean, you mentioned that grit and resilience are increasingly important. Are you weighing certain qualities more than you did before 2020? [20:15]
I suspect we all will to a certain extent. You mentioned grit and resilience and those are always characteristics that we’ve paid attention to and last year’s essay has really focused on that. I suspect for all of us, our empathy has grown given the challenging times that we’ve lived through. COVID didn’t happen in a place far away, it happened to all of us, it happened in our own communities and our own families.
I think our abilities to put ourselves in the position of others who have gone through challenging times is enhanced. And I suspect that may be the adjustment. I don’t know that there’s anything specific that we’ll be looking for that would be different. In the end, we want to make sure that we’re admitting candidates that we believe will be successful in the programs. But I suspect that we’re going to have a robust set of essays as we read through applications this year.
Can you touch on the deferred admissions for college seniors program? Is it only for college seniors or is it for people getting their master’s who haven’t worked full-time? How can one get in? [21:51]
Sure, absolutely. We will consider those who are completing a master’s degree so this has been a little bit of a soft launch given all that was happening with COVID. Our focus initially has been with outreach to undergrads. I think that will expand in terms of our outreach and the work we’re doing will be a bit more broad, but certainly, the focus really is on those who haven’t yet entered the workforce.
As we’re looking at those candidates, we have one of our staff members, Gina Cecchetti, who is the Admissions officer on our team, who’s really been the champion for this effort. We encourage anyone who’s interested to contact her. Anyone that’s interested and meets the requirements of attending a US program, she will help you navigate the admission process. For some people a guide would be helpful, and Gina is the perfect person to do that.
We’re looking for candidates who in two to five years will come and be part of the full-time program. So the academic curriculum that these folks have undertaken is important. We’ll look at their internships, to what extent they have been engaged in their undergrad experience, and then they’ll interview as part of the admissions process now.
When they plan to matriculate, that’s the point that we will consider them for scholarship. And so, again, it’s a process that we will help candidates navigate.We’re looking forward to welcoming our first group in a couple of years since we just admitted the group this year.
What percentage of the class do you anticipate coming from the deferment program? [23:51]
We do have some room to expand the class, I’m not sure we’ve settled on exactly to what extent but this group will, at least at this point, augment the traditional size of the class.
We’re a relatively small program. So given that we’ve moved into our new space, we no longer have the same constraints that we had a few years ago, and so we have a little bit of flexibility.
Some applicants have specific elements of their background that give them grave concern. How do you view applicants who had a dip in grades or perhaps a period of unemployment due to depression or emotional issues? [24:35]
Life happens, and I think we’re just now as a society becoming more open to what that might mean. I think context is key. Life is sometimes messy and the more that we can understand, not that a candidate should give all of the details about what has happened, but giving enough information using the optional essay to add some context for the admissions committee can be helpful.
I think now that we’ve made some advancements as a society, mental health issues are something that aren’t as protected in terms of just what we want to disclose to people. Again, not necessarily to share all the details, but context is super helpful.
I’m going to guess that if somebody is in the midst of a depressive episode that could give pause, but if somebody five years ago had a dip in grades because of a depressive episode, that’s not going to be an issue in and of itself, is that correct? [25:42]
Not necessarily, because we can see what they’ve done after that. I think what the context allows us to do is to understand that moment in time or that period of time. And then hopefully what we see is someone regaining their footing.
How about somebody who has an academic infraction as an undergrad or a misdemeanor like a DUI, for example, on their record? [26:29]
Our approach to those is that we would like to see the candidate owning the situation, whether it’s an infraction or a misdemeanor. Sometimes we talk about, did the person give a newspaper account, or did they kind of give us a little bit more, again, context in terms of what happened? What did you learn, and how have you moved on and done better? There are some parallels to the question we were answering before. We all understand not one of us is perfect and things happen in life. And we’re looking to really learn more about the impact that’s had and where people have grown.
What advice would you give someone planning to apply for the fall 2022 matriculating class? [27:58]
My advice would be to learn as much as you can. Different programs offer different things. There’s not one right program for an individual. There’s probably a group of programs where people would thrive. And so to do the work, to understand which schools could be a good fit for you, does take work.
We’ve developed a tool called Chart Your Path, and it’s on the website, it’s a series of steps that candidates take. There’s a little bit of gamification because at the end if you complete the steps, you earn an application fee waiver. It allows us to offer candidates a way for them to understand, here’s the first group of activities that you should undertake and then once you’ve done that, the next step would be this group of activities. It really leaves you from the standpoint of making sure you have your hands on the view book or eyes on the view book and read through and understand down through the process of, now is the right time to reach out to current students and understand how their experience or what their experience has been through the process of applying.
The last process is preparing for the interview. We’re literally walking people through the steps that we believe will set them up for success in terms of being prepared for our admissions process.
What would you have liked me to ask you? [30:00]
I love this question because one could get pretty creative, but as I was thinking about just advice in general, the question would be, “In the summer months prior to joining an MBA program, what’s your advice to incoming students?” Understand that this is really for the next group of students, but very timely for anyone that might hear this advice now. To answer the question, my advice would be rest, enjoy yourself and take some time to take care of yourself because you’re making a shift from working to student life again.
I talk to student after student who says, “I’ve worked really hard for the three and a half, four years that I’ve been in the corporate world,” as an example, “And student life is going to be a breeze.” And in some ways, it’s going to be harder than you think. The pace of what you need to do is different, the skills and just when you need to do what is a bit different.
In some ways, it could be a bit harder, but it’s absolutely going to be one of the best and most rewarding experiences of their lives. So take some time before you’re jumping into all of that to really put yourself in a position where you’re ready for that.
Where can listeners learn more and listeners of potential applicants learn more about CMU Tepper’s MBA programs and the other master’s programs for that matter? [31:45]
The best place to start is on the website at tepper.cmu.edu.
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