Last week I had the pleasure of speaking with Rod Garcia, Director of Admissions at the MIT Sloan School of Business. He was kind enough to provide an update on MIT Sloan admissions, and insight into Sloan’s evaluation process.
Accepted.com: What’s new at MIT Sloan? Is there anything new in MIT admissions?
RG: We offer a relatively new specialized Masters in Finance, which is now in its second year. It started out with 25 students; this year that number has more than doubled with 59 matriculated students. The program has attracted star faculty members, including Nobel Prize winner Bob Merton, who recently retired from Harvard Business School.
This year MIT Sloan also offers a new EMBA program. Jonathan Lehrich is heading up the program, and he’s already received over 200 applications. There are currently no other top players in this region in the EMBA market, and we are filling a real need in this area.
Another recent development is our new building. The goal is to bring the entire faculty into one place, though it will also have some classrooms. Furthermore, the building was designed to accommodate interaction, so it will become the locus of activity at Sloan. Officially, the building will have a soft opening September 16th, but the real inauguration will be next year during the 150th anniversary of MIT.
Accepted.com: What do you anticipate in terms of application volume this year and in terms of hiring for the Class of 2011? How is your crystal ball looking?
RG: I have been saying for several years that application volume should decline, and fortunately I’ve been wrong. Application volume at MIT Sloan has increased cumulatively 57% over the last three years. It was up last year too. I told the deputy dean not to expect increases this year, and that we’ve already seen the high water mark.
We received just under 5000 applications last year. I’ve been at MIT for 22 years and have never seen anything like it. I do still think that the number of applications will start to decline for all schools.
Regarding hiring: This year was better than last year, and I anticipate continued improvement. Now people know what’s ahead. There are no false illusions of MBAs making hundreds of thousands upon graduation. I think the financial crisis acted as a reset button, resetting expectations of MBA applicants. Not bad at all.
Right after ‘87’s steep stock drop, we still saw people applying for degrees in finance. Then, and now, it’s the people who REALLY want the field and the industry. They’re not just going for it because it’s “sexy” or because they are dazzled by visions of large salaries. The last two years saw a similar resetting of expectations and weeding out of the peripherally interested.
And the students now know they have to work harder for their jobs. They know they need to do their share. Days of easy, multiple offers and big signing bonuses are over. People need to be (and are) much more realistic.
Accepted.com: MIT’s Sloan Fellows program and its new EMBA program are both geared toward middle managers who want to move into senior management, usually people with more than 10 years of work experience. Does MIT Sloan prefer that candidates with more than 10 years of full-time work experience apply to one of these programs and not to the full-time program?
RG: Not necessarily. We do have people with 10+ years of experience apply to the full-time MBA program. One difference between the Fellows program and the full-time program is that many Fellows are sponsored. The Sloan Fellows program has a relationship with companies/sponsors who still frequently sponsor students.
Accepted.com: What if you have a 35-year-old who is not sponsored, where should he or she apply?
RG: An MBA is better for career switchers. The Fellows program doesn’t have the same career services. If they want a broader, longer program, then they should apply for an MBA. If they want an intensive program with peers, then the Fellows program is more appropriate.
Accepted.com: In an interview with MBA Podcaster you emphasized the importance of above-average career progression relative to one’s peers. How can an applicant show career progression when in a flat organization or self-employed?
RG: Through the essays and recommendations. When we evaluate work experience, we look at work success relative to peers. Are you ahead or behind the curve? We want ahead of the curve. A good resume should show progression through increased responsibilities.
Recommendations show it too and are important. The application is not just what a candidate is asserting; we need assertions to be backed up by recommendations. We want to see growth and ideally a comparison to peers, like “In top 2% of peers” or a similar comment.
Length of experience doesn’t make someone more competitive if that person has stagnated.
How can early career applicants show that kind of progress?
Early career applicants are encouraged to apply. MIT Sloan has admitted a handful of applicants straight from college. Really outstanding applicants. We look at internships, community service, and activities at school. You can see the path. They have sought opportunities and internships. They have been really involved, sometimes entrepreneurial. They are academically outstanding and also outstanding in the opportunities they have sought.
Accepted.com: How do you read an MBA application? What do you look at first and then how do you go through it?
RG: There’s no hard rule for this. Some do a quick scan of hard numbers: GMAT, grades, work, the resume. Some like to start with the recommendations. Some like to start with the cover letter. Some read resumes from the bottom.
I personally do a quick scan to get an idea of who the person is. Then I like to read the recommendations because it gives me an idea of the candidate before he gets to paint his or her own portrayal.
Sometimes it’s frustrating when a recommender does a great job of describing the candidate and then the applicant does a poor job of describing himself or herself. After reading the recommendation, I have a level of expectation and it’s disappointing when they fall flat. After the recommendations, I read the cover letter, resume, and essays.
Message: Don’t take things for granted. An application has to be consistently good. You don’t know what the adcoms are going to pick up first or what they’ll end with.
Also, coach your recommenders. Educate them as to why you are applying so they can do a better job.
Accepted.com: What makes an applicant come alive for you through his or her application?
RG: We had one international applicant who had graduated from a liberal arts U.S. college and was working as an analyst for a large corporation. He left his job and went back to his under-developed home country to work in a social enterprise entity. That entity combined his hobby, his passion for helping the poor make a living, and his knowledge of business. Then he applied to Sloan, and he stood out by virtue of his initiative and entrepreneurship, and willingness to take a well-analyzed risk, pursue his hobby, do something he loves, and help the poor. His passion, energy, and commitment really stood out.
People need to follow their passion. This guy did, and got in.
Accepted.com: What is a real turn-off in an application or in applicant behavior?
RG: Turn-off in applications: People recycling essays from other schools, especially when they haven’t proofed their essays and you see other schools’ names. It’s just laziness.
Also, a lot of people don’t know how to write letters—no date, no address, no closing. They don’t know how to use a professional format. Career development folks say such details still count.
Turn-off in behavior: Some applicants are very rude on the phone or they’re discourteous to secretaries or receptionists. That is unacceptable behavior. They don’t seem to be aware.
Accepted.com: What is the one program at MIT that you wish more people knew about?
RG: I wish they knew more about the work we’re doing in distributed leadership, especially the work of Deborah Ancona. She’s the head of MIT’s Leadership Center. For example, today we hosted 30 students from Norway, part of a BU program. Someone asked about teams—what kinds of people should you seek on a team? Deborah Ancona teaches that there are four key areas of leadership: visioning, relating, sense making, and inventing. If you are strong in one area, you want team members who are strong in the areas that you are weak in. Distributed leadership implies that leadership is important at all levels, not just for the person on top. In fact, the success of the person on top is built on the successes of people on the bottom and everywhere in between.
People load up on courses in finance, econ, and strategy while pursuing the MBA. They leave and move up the corporate ladder. Then they realize they didn’t take any soft courses. I hear constantly from the alumni who wish they had taken the soft management courses like leadership, negotiation, etc.
Accepted.com: What is the one attribute of the MIT Sloan community that people tend to appreciate only after they arrive?
RG: The down–to-earth nature of the student body, the faculty, and the deans. People are really surprised by that when they come here. People are generally a little intimidated by MIT, but it is really a very friendly place. I remember walking down the street, and saw someone ask a faculty member for directions. If only the asker had known that the person he had stopped was a Nobel Prize winner…. People at MIT take the time to help. I know that once someone visits, they will choose to attend if accepted.
Interested in more information about MIT Sloan, check out Accepted’s MIT Sloan Bschool Zone.