Need-to-know information about MIT Sloan [Show summary]
Dawna Levenson, Assistant Dean of Admissions at MIT Sloan School of Management, shares the latest from the school’s full-time MBA program, including why it’s chosen to go test-optional and how the pandemic is shaping the classroom experience.
Do you see yourself at MIT Sloan? Read on for the inside admissions scoop. [Show notes]
This is one of the most competitive MBA application cycles in memory. Today, I’m interviewing the Assistant Dean of Admissions at one of the most competitive MBA programs, MIT Sloan.
Dawna Levenson is Assistant Dean at MIT Sloan School of Management. Dawna earned her bachelor’s and master’s in Management Science at MIT Sloan, became a partner at Accenture, and then returned to MIT Sloan in 2007 as Associate Director of Academic Programs. She moved into admissions in 2012 and became Director of Admissions in 2013, and Assistant Dean in 2018.
Can you give an overview of MIT Sloan’s full-time MBA program for those listeners who aren’t that familiar with it? [1:52]
We have a two-year MBA, we have a one-semester core, and then three semesters to really shape the curriculum to meet your interests. We have three tracks. We have one in finance, one in entrepreneurship and innovation, and a third in enterprise management. Think of those as templates or maps for particular areas of concentration. We also have three certificates: one in business analytics, one in healthcare, and a third in sustainability. These have been designed so that people are able to actually do one of each, if they’re interested. You could imagine that you may do the finance track, but then want to apply it to healthcare.
One other distinction I want to make is that, while the tracks are very specific to our two-year MBAs, the certificates are actually open to not only our MBAs and the entire Sloan community, but actually the entire MIT community. We are, in fact, MIT School of Management. That can mean as much as you want it to mean. As an MBA student, you are able to get involved in classes and clubs and conferences throughout the Institute to really help compliment your MBA experience. You can take some of your electives throughout the Institute. You can actually, also, take classes at several of the Harvard schools as well.
What’s new at MIT Sloan, other than a lockdown and a pandemic? [3:18]
It’s hard to ignore the pandemic, and we absolutely should not. What I think has come out of that is lots of really interesting conversations in the classroom, as well as lots of very interesting projects. Many of our courses, which are, in fact, project-based, have taken the opportunity to refocus on different aspects of the pandemic and COVID-19. Whether it be from a healthcare standpoint or whether it be infrastructure and the impact there, or if you just think about it from a global perspective, so many things have been impacted. This has really, I think, shifted the conversation an awful lot. And again, at MIT and MIT Sloan, we’re really all about identifying and solving the world’s biggest problems. There were those who said we’ve been built for this time. I think we’re trying to do everything we can to really make a difference.
Can you give a couple of examples? [4:20]
Last spring, when the pandemic hit, one of our courses is called USA Lab. And for that lab class, all of the projects, which had been defined very differently early on, shifted focus to be very much focused on helping the companies that we’re working with figure out how to survive through the pandemic. This fall, all of our action learning lab classes have become virtual, which has become very, very helpful to their sponsoring companies all over the world. Because as I mentioned, companies have been impacted tremendously. As part of the actual learning experience in the past, there’s been a travel component tied to that that has been funded by the company. To the extent that the company itself is struggling a bit to still get the knowledge and expertise of our students, to not have to worry about that has actually been quite a relief for many of these companies, a welcome change.
How have pandemic restrictions affected the MBA experience and program at MIT Sloan? [5:25]
Let’s start with last fall. I think it’s important to note, and we’re not alone in this, but really the number one constraint that helps to define and shape the experience is the number of people who can physically be in a room at any point in time, and that is state of Massachusetts regulations. This past fall, that was 25 people. That includes a faculty member, a teaching assistant, an AV assistant, and therefore, 22 students. Understanding that, we opened the campus in the fall to any students who wanted to come on campus, anyone who was able to get there from around the globe was able to come. The number of in-person classes they had though was very much driven by what I was just describing here.
In the simplest of terms, many classes are a Monday, Wednesday class. We would have a group of students in the classroom on Monday and also a second group of students being virtual. And then on Wednesday, we would have a different group of 22 students in the classroom. Now, the number of those who could be online would vary very much actually by faculty, and what they were willing to do, because they could, in fact, have students who were only online. This isn’t necessarily for your first year core experience, but just in general, you could actually register for a class either in person, which would put you in one of those one-day/ 22 student classes, or online only. Many of our faculty were really generous with what those numbers would look like.
The spring, from an academic standpoint, is going to be very similar. What I think we need to figure out how to continue to do better is all of the co-curricular activities. They also were all virtual, and we’re hoping that this spring we’ll be able to have some of those in-person, following similar guidelines with regard to the number of people who could potentially be in the room. But students, all of our students, really crave in-person experience and being together, and so we’re trying to think of creative ways to be able to address that.
What don’t people know about MIT Sloan that you would like them to know, or what is a common misconception about MIT Sloan that you’d like to get rid of? [7:49]
I often think perhaps the caliber and quality of our finance ecosystem gets overlooked. I know that when people are thinking of applying to business school to pursue a career in finance, we may not be at the top of their list. I think people are pleasantly surprised when they arrive and see the outstanding faculty we have, the ecosystem that we’ve built around courses and clubs and competitions in the field of finance. I think that’s actually a bit of a surprise to people.
How can prospective students engage with the Sloan community if you and your students can’t go to them and can’t get together with them? [8:45]
We have migrated to a 100% virtual recruiting engine, which includes a variety of different events. Quite frankly, some are actually more effective and have a wider reach than in the past when we did travel. There are some benefits and definitely some lessons learned here. We host traditional info sessions online. We have a faculty lecture series that we’re continuing to add to, where we have faculty speaking. You can either watch the original, or we have it recorded, and you can watch the faculty recordings. We’re doing a tremendous number of coffee chats, which is a much smaller group of people, maybe 15 or 20, with someone from admissions and potentially a student or an alum to engage in conversations like you and I are having right now. Those have seemed to be very, very effective.
Sloan has a fairly distinctive MBA application with lots of different components. Can you go through the purpose of these different elements? [9:53]
We completely understand that in the application, you’re not going to tell us everything there is to know about you, but you’re going to tell us enough for us to want to know more. You’re going to give us enough information for us to have a good sense of whether or not you are, from a capability standpoint, capable of doing the work. If you think about the cover letter, the resume and the video together, I think of that as a package to tell your story. The resume is your work history. The video is who you are personally. What gets you up in the morning? What excites you? And the cover letter is really meant to tie it all together. Why MIT Sloan? Think of those three things together, and look at those three items together.
The one required letter of recommendation is, quite frankly, our desire that if you’re only asking one person for a letter of recommendation, you’re going to spend the time really thinking about who that person might be, and you’re going to invest the time sitting down with him or her explaining what your interests are. We want to get from them a meaningful letter of recommendation.
The two references are, to the extent that we have additional questions that we may want to find out or ask about you, for if we have other people for whom we can call and contact. And it would never be a cold call. People worry about that. We would obviously email them and ask them if we could speak with them at a mutually convenient time. It’s important to let your references know about it, but I think manage their expectations in terms of how we might or might not get in touch with them.
The org chart, truth be told, we’ve actually borrowed from our Sloan Fellows MBA program, which is a program for more senior individuals. It helps give us a visual around where you stand within the organization. It is not meant to be a traditional org chart. It is not meant to be, if you work for a large company, the org chart that sits on their website. It’s almost like a relationship map. Put yourself in the middle of the page, and then, to whom do you report? Who reports to you? With whom do you interact? It helps give us a better sense of that.
We have two pre-interview questions this year, and the first one is around the mission of the school, which is to develop principled and innovative leaders who can improve the world, and to advance management practices along the way. An important element of that is to create a diverse environment, and so we’re asking you to share with us a time when you contributed to the diversity of an organization or a group.
The second essay is asking you to submit a one-page data visualization, either one that you’ve seen that has attracted your eye and your attention or one that you have created on your own to share it with us. And then in the interview, it’s actually a great icebreaker, we ask you to tell us, why did you pick this? Why is it important to you? And what do you want to make sure I get out of this? It really helps us in assessing your overall communication skills. Again, what is important to you? Depending on what you choose, it’s a really nice icebreaker.
What do you think is the most common applicant mistake that you see? [13:55]
I think an applicant’s mistake is not following directions. We ask for one letter of recommendation, and you send us 10. We have word limits on the cover letter, and it’s three times that. If it’s five words over, that’s fine. If it’s 500 words over it, that’s a bit of a flag, so really pay attention. I also think, perhaps, not thinking through the recommender carefully enough in picking somebody. We are not assessing the recommender; we are assessing the applicant. Therefore, we, quite frankly, don’t care about the recommender’s title. If you have bumped into the CEO of your company in an elevator once and think that you’re comfortable now asking him or her to write your recommendation, but they really can’t say much about the impact you have made, then that is a waste of a recommendation. What we want for recommendations is really somebody who can speak to the impact that you have made on an organization or a group or a team of people.
The other mistake that people make is not about applicants; it’s about people who choose not to apply, who feel that you don’t have a chance of getting in, and it could be for one single reason that you just think is a hurdle that you cannot overcome. What I would really like to say to people is give it a shot. You never know. There’s a lot of misconceptions out there, I think, across the MBA landscape, if certain things will outweigh others. A perfect example might be a GMAT score. Everybody wants to put their best foot forward. I completely understand that. But I think that you should not let one specific attribute or element about yourself discourage you from applying.
In light of the pandemic and the crazy end to last year’s admission cycle, are you reading applications with a slightly different perspective, looking or weighing certain attributes more or less than you did before the pandemic? [16:20]
Where that probably comes into play the most is around people’s work history, and the fact that we completely understand that many people may have been laid off early on, especially during the pandemic, and the challenges with finding another job. We are very understanding of that. I think it’s interesting to see how people have chosen to spend their time, if, in fact, it’s not in a traditional job. There’s definitely data. But again, I don’t think people should suddenly feel like they’re a knockout if they’ve been impacted by the pandemic from a work history standpoint.
One of the biggest pieces of news, which we’ve kind of danced around, is that MIT is test-optional this year. Are you missing the test score as you evaluate some applicants? Do you plan to continue with test optional? [17:16]
The honest answer is, it’s too soon to tell. I can tell you that a large percentage of people still submitted a test score, whether that be GMAT or GRE. I can tell you that we modified our application to make it very easy and to encourage people to share additional information with us that would help assess their ability to be successful in a Sloan classroom, whether that might be a CFA certification or online classes that they have taken, or other certifications that they’ve done. That’s been very, very helpful for us. I think we’ve just sort of fully completed round one. Deposits were due this week, and we’re now in the process of reading round two and identifying who to interview. We don’t feel like we’re at a disadvantage because everybody does not necessarily have a test score.
Can you touch on MIT Sloan’s Early Admission program? Whom is it for, and how can one get in? [18:21]
We are in our third year of this cycle. MBA Early Admission is targeted at undergrads and grad students who have not yet worked full-time. So, if you’ve been in a situation where you’ve pursued your undergrad and then went immediately onto graduate school, you are eligible, as long as you haven’t had full-time work experience. For MIT students who may be listening, there’s actually an MIT application deadline in November. For all non-MIT students, that application deadline is in the spring; it’s sometime early April. It’s for the most part, very comparable to the actual MBA application itself, because we’re looking to assess very similar qualities. It does include an interview. If admitted, we asked for a pretty small deposit of $750 dollars, and you then have two to five years to actually matriculate. You can go off into the world work, and we will reach out to you every year and say, is next year the time? We do it in round one, so we have a good sense of how many people will be doing it, to let us know how many seats we have available. For people who are college seniors who think that an MBA is in their future, it is really a great thing to do to apply now. Just to have that security, to know that you actually have a seat in an MBA class when the time is right for you.
Approximately how many people have these acceptances per year? [19:58]
It’s just too soon to tell. We are again in year three. If I was 10 years out or even five years, I might be more comfortable sharing. It’s just too new for us. This fall, 11 people have expressed their plans to matriculate. I think what’s important to note is that this is a separate channel to be admitted to the MBA program. Once you actually matriculate, in that year, you’re just an MBA student. There’s not a separate track for MBA Early and there’s not special programming or anything. You don’t wear a big label that says “I was admitted MBA Early.” You are part of the MBA class, who happened to have been admitted through a slightly different channel.
Are there any requirements in terms of what they have to do in the two to five years? [20:51]
Ideally, people are working professionally and gaining experience that would be relevant in the MBA classroom. That could perhaps be your own venture. It could be working for a traditional firm. We have a process set up by which, when you express your interests, we have a conversation to make sure that we agree that this is the right time for you. So it’s pretty loose.
Applicants have expressed the following concerns about applying this year. They’re concerned about, A, graduating into a weak economy, or B, applying when deferrals may have shrunk the number of available seats and when there’s been a spike in applications. How would you address those two concerns? [21:22]
I think people shouldn’t overthink this. I think if this is the right time for you to apply for personal reasons and professional reasons, you should go for it, and you should apply, and you should put your best application forward. We are a school who welcomes reapplicants. We don’t necessarily hold that against you at all. In fact, we think that’s a sign of persistence, which we like. To the extent that you apply and you don’t necessarily get in this year, and you apply again next year, you’re more familiar with the process and you can build on the experience that you had. I’m not saying that everything you described is not true, because yes, application volumes have increased. And yes, the number of people who requested a deferral last year was significantly more than previous years. But also, again, don’t overthink this. Not everybody who requested a deferral last year is, in fact, matriculating this year.
Sloan’s round three deadline for a September 21, 2021 matriculation is April 12. Is there a difference in the way you evaluate a round three application from a round one and a round two application? Do you have any last minute tips for applicants applying in round three? [22:59]
We don’t assess people any differently. The reality is we have much fewer seats to fill by the time we get to round three. But in terms of the qualities that we’re looking for, it’s all the same. A lot of people who apply in round three are perhaps people who an MBA was not on their radar necessarily, or they were going to think about applying next year, and then something happened that accelerated that process. The caliber of people apply in round three, I don’t think there’s a huge differential there either. I think it’s all very legitimate experiences and reasons for doing so. Put your best application forward, and again, if you don’t get in this year, you can reapply next year.
What advice would you give to someone thinking ahead to a round one or a round two an application in fall 2021, planning to matriculate in 2022? [24:00]
To the extent that you’re now thinking about applying next year, apply as early as you possibly can. The reason is not because we have quotas; it’s because we don’t have quotas. It’s not like we say, “We’re going to admit half the class in round one, and 25% in round two, and 25% in round three.” At any point in time, we are looking to admit the best qualified people for our program. Then, depending on what the acceptance rate is in terms of them accepting our offer, I guarantee you, we will have less seats in the next round.
In addition, if you apply in round one and you’re waitlisted, you will be considered as part of the round two pool, not after the round two pools. If you apply in round one and for some reason you don’t get in and you get waitlisted, you have a very good chance of being seriously considered in round two.
Is there anything you would have liked me to ask you? [25:10]
“Is now the right time to pursue an MBA?” Because a lot of people will ask that, and I think I probably covered bits and pieces of it as we were chatting, but maybe to just bring it all together: A lot has happened in the world in the last year. A lot of things have to be fixed as a result of this. I think pursuing an MBA now, the discussions that are happening in the MBA classroom, the opportunities that will be available to people once they complete… The world needs principled, innovative leaders now more than ever. To pursue your MBA now, all other things lining up, I think is a perfect time.
Where can listeners and potential applicants learn more about MIT’s full-time MBA program?
Go online to sloan.mit.edu.
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