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What makes the Cambridge Judge MBA experience unique? [Show summary]
Charlotte Russell-Green, Head of MBA Recruitment and Admissions at Cambridge Judge Business School, explores the one-of-a-kind experience students can expect from the full-time MBA program at Cambridge Judge’s historic campus.
What Cambridge Judge is looking for… and what it can offer YOU [Show notes]
Are you intrigued by the innovative and venerated Cambridge Judge Business School? Interested in an immersive one-year MBA in the UK? The Cambridge Judge Head of MBA Recruitment and Admissions is our guest today.
Charlotte Russell-Green earned her bachelor’s in Drama and Theater Arts from the University of London. In only a couple of years, she was working in the MBA admissions world, first as a senior marketing executive for QS World MBA in North America and then in MBA admissions for Cambridge Judge. She became Head of Recruitment and Admissions for the MBA roughly five years ago.
Can you give us an overview of the Cambridge Judge MBA program and focus on its more distinctive elements? [2:03]
The Cambridge MBA is a one-year full-time MBA program, run out of the University of Cambridge, which is in the UK, which is in Europe. The great thing about the Cambridge MBA is it really is experiential. The curriculum has been designed to take you on a micro to macro journey, but with each term, there is a key learning milestone: a practical project where you’re working with a real life client. There are two live consulting projects that run alongside your studies, as well as the global consulting project, which is where you work with an international client on site as a consultant, as well as an internship opportunity in the summer. So it’s really experiential, and it’s really, really collaborative.
We have a class size of circa 200, which we find is optimal for us and the learning environment that we have, because you can build meaningful relationships with your classmates. It’s broad enough and diverse enough to build a far-reaching network, but you’re really going to get to know everyone in the class. You’re also set amongst the University of Cambridge, so you are a member of one of the famous Cambridge colleges, and you get to have the Harry Potter-style dining experience. It’s a fantastic opportunity and a great life experience.
Over the summer term, you can do an internship. We keep the summer term quite flexible because people can be at quite different journeys of their career path. Some people want to do an internship. Some people choose to do another consulting project, or some even choose to do a research paper.
Do the students have any difficulty changing career direction or returning to their home country if they aren’t from the UK? I know most Cambridge Judge students are not. [4:02]
Usually around 90% of the class is international. A really good thing to look at, which perhaps we can link to later, is the employment report, which is a great way of seeing where our students go after the MBA. Particularly if you’re coming from the US and you’re used to the two-year standard MBA model, you might feel a bit anxious about the one-year program and it being so fast-paced and over in a flash. But actually we have over 90% of the class switch function sector or location, and actually, over 40% of the class achieve all three. So within that one year, people are able to really change up their career and achieve a lot. Good thing to do would be to look at the report and drill down, but we get people who work in the UK and we get people who go to work internationally in another country.
But we do also get people who return to their home country. It’s something that our students do achieve. But what I would say, if you are someone from the US who is looking to work in the US after your MBA, then unless it is your goal to gain that international experience and get that one year internationally and broaden your network internationally (because the European programs do tend to be more international with the cohort numbers), if your goal is to work in the US, then I would say, quite honestly, to stick within the location that you’re in because you’re going to be able to build your network there and nurture the existing network that you have.
How open is the UK these days to MBA grads staying and working for a few years in the UK? [6:01]
The UK government announced last year that they would introduce the graduate route, which is where if you are a postgraduate student and you graduate, you can work in the UK for two years after graduating. Previously, it was three months, and then there was a pilot that extended it to six months. But now it’s going to be two years where people can stay and work in the UK. They don’t have to be sponsored by an employer. It’s really, really good because we’ve got so many international students. It’s a fantastic thing for the government to do for us.
In 2018, 16 of the Cambridge Judge grads started their own venture immediately after graduation. Given Cambridge Judge’s small size, that’s about 7% of the class. What does Cambridge Judge offer would-be entrepreneurs? That’s a pretty high percentage of students going directly into entrepreneurship! [6:43]
In Cambridge, we have what’s called the Silicon Fen, which is Europe’s equivalent of Silicon Valley. We have the highest investment per capita in Europe, five times that of London. Entrepreneurship is massive here. If you’re somebody that’s looking to go into entrepreneurship or starting your own venture, or even going into something like venture capital, then Cambridge is a real hub for that sort of activity. At the business school itself, we have an incubator called Accelerate, which our students have to apply to when they finish the MBA. We have many people going through that route. In the MBA itself, we have entrepreneurship as a core module, as well as a concentration. The first consulting project is usually with a local startup.
The university actually has an entrepreneurship society, which is the largest society at the university. It brings together people who potentially are academics, they have a fantastic product or idea or theory, but they don’t have the skills to market it. They don’t have that business acumen. Our students obviously have that business acumen, and people often meet their business partners at these networking events for the entrepreneurship society. There’s so much to offer at Cambridge.
My image of Cambridge is a place steeped in tradition, but it’s also apparently very much embracing initiative and innovation. Am I correct in that? [8:33]
You’re 100% right. Walking around the city center, you would feel like you are in a quaint English village. The architecture is beautiful. We have cows and sheep walking around the parks. It’s really safe and beautiful. Great places to eat and drink. It feels just so quaint and beautiful and historic. Within 50 miles, we’ve got over 900 tech firms generating an annual revenue of 12 billion, but you wouldn’t know that walking around the city center.
What don’t people know about Cambridge Judge that you would like them to know? [9:30]
I think there’s a common misconception about the University of Cambridge. Don’t get me wrong, it is academically excellent and does have some of the brightest minds in the world. It’s a fantastic place for innovation and critical thinking. But I think because of that, people can be quite intimidated by it. And actually, when you come to Cambridge and you come to the business school, and if you are invited to interview and you have the experience of coming here, you’ll see that it’s a professional atmosphere, but it’s actually really, really relaxed. It’s very much focused around collaboration rather than competition. Healthy competition, more about helping each other out and making each other be the best. I think people are quite surprised by the culture at the business school because of that intimidation of the academic excellence that goes back hundreds of years.
How have the coronavirus restrictions affected the MBA experience and program at Cambridge Judge? [10:40]
I can’t deny the fact that COVID has really impacted everybody. Absolutely everybody. It has been very, very unforgiving in that sense. But what it has done in a positive way for us is it has accelerated some innovation within the program. There were always plans to make some of the core modules be online so that students could study the lectures at their own pace. We’d always had feedback that the first term was particularly intense, because there are lots of core modules to get through on a one-year MBA program. What it’s done is it’s accelerated that because we didn’t have any choice. We had to move some things online. That’s been really positive, and we’ve genuinely had feedback from our students that that’s really positive, because the lecture part is done online, remotely at their own pace, and they can wind things back. If they miss something, they can go back and listen to it again, which you can’t do when you’re in a lecture theater. When you’re learning about corporate finance, if you’re a newbie, it’s a fantastic way to learn to be able to do that.
The actual in-person sessions that we had, because we were restricted by social distancing, had to be in groups of 20 or 30. The conversation was really, really engaging and everybody was able to contribute. We’ve had some really positive feedback about that and things that we can take forward into the future classes. But lockdown has not been fun for anybody, and it’s a shame. But we’re thinking positive for the next term.
What is the purpose of the different elements in Judge’s application? You have four essays, one reference, and the interview. I know that there’s a reason behind every single element. Can you go into that? [12:45]
The reason behind one reference for us was some MBA programs ask for an academic reference, as well as a supervisor reference. We ask for a minimum of three years work experience. That can be quite unfair for people, especially when the class average is six. It’s challenging to go back and ask for an academic reference, and we ask for a supervisor reference only. I do get asked about the essays a lot, and it’s hard to not give too much away because we’re looking at how the person responds to the questions that we’re asking. It gives away, potentially, the way that they behave, aspects of their personality, and how they respond in certain situations, and whether they have resilience. These are the kinds of things that we’re looking for.
With the questions that we ask in particular, that’s what we’re looking at. We’re looking at, how do they work with other people? What are they like in a team? How do they take instruction? Are they always looking to be the leader? Those are the things that we look for in the essays. I know it causes so much anxiety because people worry about how to answer it and what sort of answer to give, whether it’s personal or professional. But what I tend to say is give an answer that isn’t too personal, but answers the question in the best possible way and shows a true reflection of how you respond in situations and respond to that sort of situation around that question.
For the one reference, you obviously want professional references. Is that to get a different perspective on the candidate? [14:42]
Some people may think getting the CEO of their company is a really great thing to do, but actually, it’s more important that we get somebody that knows you, knows how you work, and can comment really honestly on what you’ve achieved during your time working with them.
What about the interview? What is it like, and what role does it play? [15:09]
The thing about the University of Cambridge is anybody that has studied here has to be interviewed by a member of faculty. It’s traditional, it’s historic, and it’s something that we get positive feedback on about our interview process. It’s more of a two-way conversation, the interview. It gives you the opportunity to get a feel for the culture, get your questions answered as well as the faculty being able to find out about you as well. It does play an important part because the interview recommendation, obviously, is what makes a difference to the decision that’s going to be made. I say, prepare for it as you would a job interview, but also be prepared for two-way conversation, a professional conversation. I think people are quite surprised by that.
The faculty interview is indicative of what the culture is here. It’s a very, very collaborative culture. One of the things that I like to tell people is, every day at 11 o’clock pre-COVID, everyone from the business school would come together in the common room and have coffee. 11 o’clock every day. Staff, faculty, students, everyone has coffee. It really gives you a feel for just how collaborative it is, how connected it really is. You can speak to the faculty. They are approachable. They take a genuine interest in the students that we have here. That kind of relationship is built from the interview process onwards.
What do you think is the most common mistake that applicants make in their applications to Cambridge Judge? [16:55]
This is a challenging one, because it’s difficult to put your finger on why an essay isn’t right. But I would say people may give an answer that they think is going to be impressive as opposed to an answer that genuinely answers the question. That’s a common mistake that we find, because we’re not necessarily looking for the most impressive answer. We’re looking for the most honest answer that shows critical reflection on the situation and shows how they’ve responded and how they’ve thought about it since and what they’ve learned from it. That’s what we’re looking for in the essays. I think people, because of the pressure of the application, understandably want to impress us and give us answers that maybe show them in the best light as opposed to answering the question.
Then you’ve got the general housekeeping errors where people mention another business school in one of their essays, or the CV, or the resume that they’ve uploaded has another business school’s name on the file. Simple things like that. We know you’re applying to another school, but check those sorts of things before you click submit.
In light of the pandemic and the crazy end to last year’s admission cycle, are you going to read applications with a slightly different perspective? Maybe weighing somewhat different qualities and attributes than you did in proceeding application cycles? [18:10]
We have always looked for skills and personality traits like resilience. That’s always been really important. Self-awareness, critical reflection. I think that this pandemic has really tested people’s resilience this year. If anything, it’s really going to benefit the applicant, because if you’ve been able to get through this year, you’ve got a lot to be able to offer in your application with regards to resilience and self-awareness.
With regards to reviewing them differently, it’s a difficult one. It will probably be similar to the way that we are, but if people’s jobs circumstances change as a result of the pandemic, redundancies or anything like that, then obviously we’re going to take that into consideration for career breaks and things like that.
Do you have any plans to go test-optional? [19:16]
It’s not something that we’re going to do, simply because it’s an opportunity for students who have not done so well in their undergraduate academics to compensate. If we were to make it optional, it would potentially take away the level playing field for everybody. It’s not something that we would be doing. We would always require a GMAT or GRE.
Do you have any preference between the GMAT and the GRE? [19:48]
No. We accept both. We accept both GMAT and GRE. No preference. But we’re quite stringent on the minimum of a 2.1 requirement on the UK scale, which I think works out for 3.5 GPA on the US scale. The GMAT or the GRE offers people an opportunity to compensate. So it’s actually quite a positive thing for our applicants.
What would you say to applicants who want to apply this year but are concerned about competing in the midst of an application surge? Also, you might’ve had a higher number of deferrals from last year because of COVID, or they may be concerned about graduating into a weak economy. What would you say to those applicants? [20:44]
It’s an understandable concern. With regards to the application surge, we have seen a surge in applications. But with applications surges, not everyone is a top candidate. So if you’re a strong person and you’re coming with a good application, a good profile, then I would encourage you to apply, because we would want you on the program. You would most likely be invited to interview and made an offer. The numbers do get less and less as you go throughout the year. We are just about to interview for round three. But unlike the US programs, we don’t just fill up from rounds one and two, we take people from all five application rounds. The last application round is towards the end of April. So it’s a valid concern, but I would say if you’re the right person for the program, and you’ve looked at the program and you’re genuinely interested in it, and it’s the right program for you, then I would encourage you to apply and get in touch with us, because we make space for the people that we want here.
With regards to the weak economy, again, it’s a really valid concern. And an MBA program is a big investment. You’re investing a lot in yourself and the ROI is incredibly important. The job you get afterwards is incredibly important. You’re paying off loans. It’s understandable. But there is a lot of opportunity in a weak economy. There are industries that are falling, but there are industries that are surging and doing incredibly well. The tech industry, the e-commerce industry. There is so much opportunity for innovation at the moment. So although there are potential risks with doing an MBA right now, there are also real opportunities for it. Who knows where we’ll be this time next year, at this time in 18 months? Valuable and understandable concerns, but again, lots of room for opportunity.
The kind of people looking to do an MBA are people that are probably not going to be too risk averse. They’re also going to be the kind of people that are problem-solvers, people that are looking to take on opportunities. Even the UK banking sector has really innovated very quickly because they’ve had to: the online chat services — you can close accounts now online which you couldn’t do, so many things that you had to do bureaucratically, that you’d have to go in branch to do or fill out paperwork. You don’t have to do that anymore. It’s brilliant.
Cambridge’s last deadline for September 2021 matriculants is April 26th. There’s also one on March 8th. What advice would you give to someone in the midst of preparing for an application for this cycle? [24:18]
I imagine that people looking to apply now have already taken their GMAT or GRE, and hopefully they’ve got those things out the way. I would say, take your time over the essays. If you’re applying to the program, there’s obviously something about it that interested you. Think about why we’re asking the questions that we’re asking, and answer in an honest way. Take your time over them. Potentially get somebody that you trust who’s going to be objective and read it over and get feedback and really put together a really, really solid answer for your essays, especially your careers essay as well. But also, if you haven’t already, get in touch with us. If you’re looking to apply in the next two rounds, get in touch with us, attend one of our events, talk to us, because that’s always great, if we can get to know people before they apply.
What advice would you give to someone thinking ahead to a fall 2021 or later, for matriculation in 2022 or later? [25:55]
Good for you. You’re really prepared by listening to this podcast. You’re doing all the right things by listening to things like this, doing your research, attending events. We’ve got lots of events coming up over the next year or so. Everything’s virtual now. A real positive thing is, you don’t have to be located in the UK or in one of the countries that we visit or cities that we visit to attend. You can attend any time. Get in touch with us. Prepare for the GMAT or the GRE. And if you’re not sure about your score, feel free to email us as well. We’re happy to give feedback if you’re not sure about whether the school is competitive with the rest of your profile. We’re happy to give feedback on that. But you’ve got plenty of time. Good luck with GMAT and GRE prep. Connect with us and find out more about us. We’d love to find out more about you.
Is there anything you would have liked me to ask you? [26:53]
Well, it’s Friday night here, so a glass of wine would have been amazing! You’ve asked some really good questions, but I think a question about the college experience would have been brilliant. It’s quite unique to the UK. It’s quite unique even within the UK. There are only two universities in the UK that have this collegiate system. What happens when you come on the Cambridge MBA is you don’t just have the network within the MBA program and the business school. You don’t just have your MBA. You are a member of one of the famous Cambridge colleges. That’s where you live, that’s where you dine, that’s where you socialize. Each college has the same bar. You can join the rowing team. Cambridge is massive on rowing. Any sort of sporting team. We have people playing for varsity rugby at Twickenham. We have people joining the debate team or the cheese and wine society. Any extracurricular activity that you want to do, you can do at one of the Cambridge colleges. It gives that extra life experience when you join Cambridge MBA, because you have the professional experience of the MBA, the network and the societies and the extracurriculars within the MBA, but then you have this little life within the Cambridge university. The dining rooms, when I say Harry Potter, they’re just like Harry Potter. That’s what Harry Potter was based on. Cambridge’s famous dining rooms. It’s a really magical historical experience that you get to be a part of.
Where can listeners and potential applicants learn more about Cambridge Judge’s full-time MBA program? [28:53]
The website is jbs.cam.ac.uk/programs/mba/.
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