2011 Columbia MBA Admissions Q&A with Michael Robinson

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2011 Columbia MBA Admissions Q&A with Michael Robinson

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Linda Abraham: Hello. My name is Linda Abraham. I am the founder of Accepted.com and the moderator of today’s chat. First I want to welcome all applicants to the Q&A today, and I want to congratulate you for taking the time to learn more about Columbia Business School. It is critical to your decision making process and your admission chances that you know as much as you can about the schools you are applying to. Being here today allows you to ask experts about this top business school. I also want to give a special welcome to Michael Robinson, Associate Director of MBA Admissions at Columbia, and also a Columbia Business School alum. Thanks to everyone for joining. I am going to take advantage of my position as moderator and ask the first question. Michael, what's new at Columbia?

Michael Robinson: First of all, thank you for the opportunity to speak to the audience today, and hopefully we'll have a very engaging conversation. In terms of what's new at Columbia, probably the biggest news for us is the story of Todd Combs. Ten years ago, he was a Columbia student. For those of you who spend time in the business press like the Wall Street Journal, the NY Times, and so on, he is now slated to be the heir apparent to Warren Buffett. Todd, ten years ago, was someone who was twenty-nine years old in our Value Investment Program. When he graduated he started up a $35 million hedge fund which now has about $400 million in assets, and they adhere to the Value Investment principles. He had a series of meetings with Charlie Munger, who is Warren Buffett's right hand man. And Todd, in Warren Buffett's opinion, has the same kind of character and integrity that he wants to see in the person that replaces him. Literally within ten years, Combs has become someone who is going to replace the most successful financial investor of all times. So one of the key things that I want the listeners to take away from that story is that we expect that the people we bring into our program are going to have the potential to do great things within our relatively short window. And that is key to us.

Linda Abraham: That's a great story. Let's turn to some of the applicants' questions. Danash ask, "What is CBS's response time for someone who finished the interview and has his application marked "Interview Complete"?"

Michael Robinson: We've changed our format a bit so right now an interview can happen at any point in the process. It could happen at the very beginning of the process. So I wouldn't really focus too much on the interview portion as to when that happens. But typically in terms of when someone applies for our full-time August start date, they should get a final decision within 10-12 weeks of us getting a complete application. And the interview can actually happen at any point in that process; at the very beginning, or at the very end. So focus on the total window instead of just the interview window.

Linda Abraham: Shalimar asks, "All the Ivy League schools have a TOEFL waiver for international students that have completed their undergraduate education in a college in which English is the only medium of instruction. Does Columbia provide this TOEFL waiver for Columbia MBA international applicants?"

Michael Robinson: It depends. If somebody studied in a school where the main language of instruction was English, and they studied in a country where English is the official language of that country, then yes. But we have made exceptions on a case by case basis, where the person actually reached out to us and asked for a TOEFL waiver, and we've been very open to granting exceptions to the rule. But the key thing for us is that we want to make sure that everyone we bring into the program can communicate in English very well.

Linda Abraham: Ben asks, "What advice would you give to applicants who are active in social media--LinkedIn, Facebook, etc?"

Michael Robinson: In terms of what?

Linda Abraham: I'm going to guess that the question is really, do you Google applicants? Do you look up their social media?

Michael Robinson: We don't spend time looking at Facebook profiles of applicants, but we do use Google as a search tool when we see someone who started a company that we are not familiar with, or went to a school that we are not familiar with, and so we use search engines to get answers. But we don't spend time looking at Facebook profiles for applicants.

Linda Abraham: What would you do if Google brought you to an applicant's Facebook page, or if there was something that you found in the social media that was less than flattering?

Michael Robinson: I've been working for Columbia for eight years, and that hasn't happened to me so I can't speak specifically on that one. But we have had applicants in the past who have said one thing on paper in the application, for example that they work for this company, and then our independent research proves that the person was not telling the truth. That would have a negative impact on the application. I'm not the dean of admissions so I can't speak for Mary Miller, but I believe that there is some semblance of privacy when people actually post online, even though Facebook is very public. I think people sometimes post those things on chat floors with the expectation of privacy, so I don't think it is fair to use that against an applicant. Again, this is just Michael Robinson's opinion. But if someone says that they work for this company, and they say that their company bought this thing or bought another company, and we find that is not the truth, I think that is fair game. But what you do in your private time, I think people should have some modicum of privacy.

Linda Abraham: Jim asks, "How important are the test scores, GMAT and TOEFL? Do they override a somewhat average undergraduate performance?" And I assume the underlying assumption there is that the GMAT and TOEFL are above average.

Michael Robinson: One of the things at MBA Admissions is that you can never speak in absolute.

Linda Abraham: Everything depends.

Michael Robinson: Exactly. But there is a key important question that we need to have answered: Can this person handle what is a very demanding and rigorous academic curriculum? And if the person is international, given that the instruction is English, we expect them to write at a very high level of English. Can this person communicate very well in English in the classroom? I will be honest. If someone has very low test scores and a very low GPA, it's going to be difficult for that person to be admitted because that person hasn't demonstrated anywhere in the college years or on the tests that he/she has some evidence of demonstrative academic excellence. There are some folks who don't test well, but in the classroom, they did very well. So you have to have some kind of either-or. At some point in the process, prove to us that yes, you can handle the work. And that is the key question that we want to have answered.

Linda Abraham: When we talk about low GMAT or low GPA, are we talking about it relative to let's say the average, or the 75% range at Columbia? Because let's say for example, a 3.0 for GPA on the American scale is not really a low GPA. It is low relative to typically accepted applicants at Columbia, and the same applies for the 650 on the GMAT.

Michael Robinson: Exactly. So you are right, but then again you are talking about schools and programs that consider themselves very elite, and schools that only admit between 10%-15% of the applicant pool. So it's sometimes difficult to make the case when you are only admitting one in every ten people. Well, what is the norm? So literally, we always find people who for whatever reason are outside our typical admit range. But only 10% of the class will have a GMAT test score below a 670 or a 680 on average. Only 10% of the class will have a GPA below 3.0. So the sweet spot tends to be about a 700 for the GMAT, and about a 3.4 as the median or average for the GPA.

But having said that though, given that our class that starts in the fall will have about 550 people, it means that there are about 55 very special people. And one of the things that I have found, and I haven't done any scientific study on this, is that the folks in our program who become the most dynamic leaders tend to be those who score in the bottom third on grades and test scores.

We are actually going to have a new building in a few years, and the lead donor is Henry Kravis; he donated a hundred million dollars to Columbia. He was the most successful private equity professional in the history of private equity. When he was at Columbia, his grades were mostly Cs and Ds. He is a billionaire several times over. No one today will ask Henry Kravis what his grades were, but according to what ran in the Wall Street Journal in the last few weeks when we had the announcement, he was not a top student. But you can't make the case that he is not a very successful alum. But if you look at his life, what you see are great examples of intellectual curiosity.

You're talking to someone who loves Winston Churchill, and Churchill was a horrible student. But in terms of leadership potential and what he did, I think he embodies leadership better than anyone in the history of MBAs, and we've had MBAs for a hundred years. If I would compare the leadership ability and potential of Winston Churchill to anyone with an MBA, I think that Churchill would come out ahead. But if Churchill took the GMAT, I think he'd score less than 600. But what are we trying to do? Essentially what we are trying to do is decide who will make the best use of this opportunity. Who do we think has the potential to be a real leader of impact, and really make a difference in his/her space? It could be something in non-profit, it could be in finance, whatever it is, but will this person be "a game changer" in the space that he/she wants to occupy? And sometimes we look for that. So that is a key question that we ask as well.

So the key questions we ask are: Do we think that the person can handle the work? Do we think that this person has potential to become someone of impact in his/her space? And then the third piece which I haven't mentioned before is, is this person truly multiple dimensional? Does this person have passion outside of work, outside of school? If I was stuck with them in an airport for five hours, would I want to pull out what little hair I have on my head, or would we be able to have a very engaging conversation? Is this person someone who reads a lot of books? Is this a person that really embraces diversity in all its forms? If you are from Eastern Europe, the applicant that we tend to admit is that Russian student who is not going to have only with other Russian students or people from Eastern Europe, but tries to expand his/her network all across the world. It's the person who always wants to go to different restaurants to get a sense of different cultures. Their passport tends to have many countries listed in it. They embrace people. We think people who are curious become better investors, they become better leaders, and they become better managers because they are open to different perspectives. That is what we are looking for.

Linda Abraham: I really hope the applicants here are listening to the breadth of criteria that come to play. It doesn't mean that academics don't count. That was Michael's first point: will you succeed and thrive in a demanding academic environment? But a school like Columbia receives 8-10 applications for every spot, and I'm going to bet that of those ten applicants, probably eight are admissible.

Michael Robinson: Yes. What I tell people is that I do my ten-seven, three-one rule. For ten applications, seven out of ten would be totally fine in the program in terms of academics and the professional profile, and they would definitely get a good job post-graduation. But of those seven, we have a very strong interest in three of them. But unfortunately, we only have space for one. So literally we always are saying 'no' to people that we'd like to admit, but literally don't have space for. So if you like 1,500 people but have a class of 550, you can't put 1,500 people in the space of 550. So we're turning down very qualified people all the time. And for us, it's not just looking at the average GPA or the average GMAT score. We don't just say that a person with a 760 is more qualified than a person with a 710; we don't think that is the case at all.

Linda Abraham: Jennifer asks, "The website states that the interviews are by invitation. Does that mean interviews are required?"

Michael Robinson: I would say yes, because we are not completely there yet, but we want to be in a place where one hundred percent of those that we admitted were interviewed. I think we are at like 99% now. So being asked to interview is a positive development in your application. We will probably interview anywhere from 35%-40% of the applicant pool.

Linda Abraham: Saravana asks, "This is an E-MBA question. Is the GMAT required for an E-MBA?"

Michael Robinson: Yes it is. Because we see our Executive MBA program and our full-time MBA program as the same program. And again, the same questions apply-- Can this person handle a rigorous and demanding curriculum? So we need the GMAT to help gauge that. And everything else is the same except that they are going to school only twice a month or maybe through our Saturday Only program which we just launched. But in essence, we see it as the same Columbia program MBA. It's not a distinct program for us. And that person's MBA when they graduate doesn't say Columbia E-MBA, it just says Columbia MBA. So we want to make sure that anyone who wears our brand deserves to wear our brand, and the GMAT is one aspect of that.

Linda Abraham: So if someone is willing to go either part-time or full-time for the MBA or the E-MBA, how would that person know that the E-MBA is more appropriate or vice versa?

Michael Robinson: That's a very personal decision. About twice a month we have what we call, "Which MBA?" If you are thinking about the E-MBA, those folks are slightly older, and very often they are in jobs where if they step away for two years, they may lose the opportunity to head back in. So we find people in hedge funds who just don't want to step away from their job for two years coming in. We find folks who have family businesses who just don't want to step away. We have folks who are already in the job that they think is the perfect job for them, and they just don't want to do anything that would slow down their career growth. So that tends to be the profile. I would say on average, they are probably about three years older; 28 in the full-time program and about 31-32 for the Executive MBA program, even though the range is wider within the Executive MBA program.

Linda Abraham: Abraham asks, "What was the total placement ratio in 2010 for finance grads? Especially given Columbia's prominence in finance and its proximity to Wall Street, how were things for 2010 grads?"

Michael Robinson: I don't have the statistic breakdown for finance grads, but based on conversations that I've had with our Director of Career Management, the overall number three months after graduation was about 87%. But for those who were doing finance it was higher than that. If you actually go six months out, the percentage is in the mid-nineties. What we are finding is that our graduates are doing well in terms of getting jobs, but what I will say though is that we still are in an environment of economic uncertainty. So if you compare the current rate to what happened five years ago, then when people were graduating they had four or five offers, and now they have like two. So that is a change. And then someone may find that they just didn't get that "dream job", but they are happy with what they have. It's just tougher now; I'm not going to sugarcoat it at all.

I think that was a great question because it leads me into the next point which is that I think this is the important component for the application process as well, because in times of economic uncertainty, placement becomes much more important than in times of economic growth. So we look really closely at the goals that you put on paper, and we ask ourselves if these goals are realistic, achievable, and plausible. Can this person make this happen? Because right now hiring managers are making safer choices, so the easy thing to do if you are in banking is just to hire someone who was an analyst for the past three years, as opposed to someone who wants to transition into that new space. So right now all transitions are tougher. And even more so for the tough fields like venture capital, private equity, and so on, which have always been more niche field in terms of jobs even when times are good. I'll give you some real context. Warren Buffett controls firms that hire about 250,000 people, but Warren Buffett's Berkshire, his "firm", has twenty-five people. The same is true for Henry Kravis with KKR. These are relatively small firms in terms of what they need. They control huge firms with hundreds of thousands of people under their watch, but the number of folks at the private equity company is tiny. So those jobs have always been difficult to get. So if someone says that they were in Teach For America for the past three years, and they want to go straight into private equity, in this environment, that is really difficult.

Linda Abraham: And it is really unrealistic.

Michael Robinson: We teach this as well, but in terms of the application process, it's something that we are going to look for. There is something to be said for social and emotional intelligence. If you go to Columbia, we are going to put you in a room with hiring managers in whatever field you are interested in. But the key thing is what happens when you get into that room. Think back to the way I started with Todd Combs, who is probably going to replace Warren Buffett. He didn't have a big name; he had never been profiled in the Wall Street Journal, and so on. But a few months ago, he was in the room with Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger, the folks that could make a difference in his life, and he had the social and emotional intelligence to say-- I have the ability to replace you. So what do you do when you get in the room? Are you the kind of person that has a history of being able to close the deal when you get an opportunity? In times like these, we are looking for that more and more. And I wanted to say one thing which might be funny to some folks. Resilience in tough times is important. As the great poet and pugilist Mike Tyson once said, "Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face." And right now lots of people are getting hit in the face, and sometimes people just don't know what to do. Business schools right now are looking for people who know how to get up when they get hit back down. They know how to get up. Do you have that in your DNA? Do you have that resilience where you know how to create opportunities for yourself? One of our superstars is a young man named Michael Pages who was an educator, and he wanted to transition. So he spent his summer at Goldman Sachs, and he got an offer. And he is going back there in private wealth management. That transition is tough, but Michael Pages has the kind of personality where all you need to do is put him in the room. If he's in the room with them, he knows how to close a deal. He can convince people to give him a chance. And he did that. And that's the key. So for anyone who wants to transition into any tough space, do you have that social and emotional intelligence where you have a history of making opportunities for yourself?

Linda Abraham: How do you demonstrate that in an application?

Michael Robinson: It's tough because we don't want to just have someone talk about it, but show us. Where are their examples? The folks that "have it" can point to examples in their workplace where there was a problem and they led a team to fix it. Or there was an opportunity that the company was not taking advantage of, and they found that opportunity and executed. So they just have that in their history so to speak. Sometimes we see applicants who say admit me, and then I will be the next Warren Buffett. The thing is that Warren Buffett was Warren Buffett before he was Warren Buffett. And by that I mean that when Warren Buffett was seven years old he was reading books about a bond. When Warren Buffett was ten years old, he could say, this is my favorite book about bonds. Think about this for a second. How many ten year olds or seven year olds do you know who talk about books about bonds? How many people at fifteen-sixteen years old, in high school, made more money than all their teachers?! But he was that person. So he was already knee-deep and intellectually invested in finance from an early age. And for those who are cynical, there is a 700 page biography about Warren Buffett called "Snowball" which is a great book and it really gives you a sense of what makes that man tick. But if you spoke to Warren Buffett at seven years old, ten years old, fourteen, fifteen, twenty-one or twenty five, before he was famous, people who met him knew that this person is going to be something special. So it's almost like, this is how my DNA is constructed.

Linda Abraham: I went to a show last night about Leonard Bernstein, and it's called "Maestro". It's a one man show, and in the show the character playing Bernstein talks about the work that he did on the West Side Story. He quotes Sondheim saying, "I want to write a love song without mentioning the word "love"." And then he went on and he started playing "Maria" and some of the other songs from West Side Story which is of course a beautiful love story. And I immediately made the connection to application essays, and the tendency of applicants to talk about passion by spamming the word "passion" in an essay, or the word "leadership", or the word "innovation", or whatever buzz word is out there, as opposed to telling a story or singing a song or a poem or whatever. You don't have to do the song and the poem stuff, but the song "Maria", "Tonight", or any of those songs from West Side Story are love songs, and yet the word "love" is not necessarily in the song. Conversely, you have the song "Show Me" from My Fair Lady where she complains that he is coming with all these platitudes about love, and she says to demonstrate it; it's not a time for talk. I'm trying to bring down what you were saying in terms of demonstrating passion or showing that you have the kind of EQ that the student you were talking about before has; to say that you are going to deliver, and to show how you have done it in the past. What have you committed to in the past? Where have you shown that resilience in the past, that kind of magnetism and charisma in the past? And Michael, I hope you agree with those comments that that is how applicants are going to reveal that they are going to be a Warren Buffett, even if perhaps their grades don't show it.

Michael Robinson: And you don't have to "say that" in the application, but you need to have real examples of demonstrating excellence academically, professionally, and personally. This is what you've done; point to it. One of my colleagues and a person I respect and admire a great deal is the Admissions Director at Stanford, Derrick Bolton. And one of the things he likes to talk about is that he looks at this process as an accounting exercise, not a marketing exercise. So some people, when they think about the MBA admissions process, they think that what they need to do is market themselves in the best possible way as opposed to telling people, this is what I've done. It's almost like-- show me, show me, show me, as opposed to hype, hype, hype.

Linda Abraham: I actually disagree with Derrick slightly because I think it is both an accounting and a marketing exercise. But you can't market unless you've done the accounting first. Then after you do that accounting, after you do the self reflection, after you've done the self evaluation, then you decide what you feel is most important to present, and you present it well.

Michael Robinson: I agree, but the point I want to make as well is that it's kind of like what another colleague who is Director at HBS, Dee Leopold, has said. She says that this is not an essay writing contest. Very often we see essays that are wonderfully written. The marketing aspect is perfect, but sometimes that person doesn't have real examples of what they've done, or the "if I'm in the room, I could have a really serious impact". And sometimes we've seen folks whose essays are just almost matter of fact, but if you look at what they've done and the kind of impact that they've had on the firm or organizations that they've been a part of, they have done some amazing things. And that person will get admitted over someone who has the better essays, but hasn't really done anything.

Linda Abraham: Agreed. Makes sense to me. Biazmin writes, "The second essay is asking us to describe ourselves. Are you expecting the response to be a typical essay, or would you value more creative answers, PowerPoint presentations, etc.?"

Michael Robinson: For us, no PowerPoints. Essays. I know that there are some schools that ask for a PowerPoint, but we are not one of those schools. In essence, there are two things that we want to do with our essays. One is to just get a clear sense of whether the person has a very clear sense of what he/she wants to do in the short-term and in the long-term. And do they understand Columbia Business School, and why they would be a good fit for our program. And then with the second essay, it's more about who you are. What makes you tick? That is key for us. People are more than what they write in terms of short-term and long-term goals. What drives you? Sometimes people talk about their families. Sometimes people talk about the things they do at work. We see a whole range of answers, but you know what is important to you. Help us get to know you.

Linda Abraham: That's great advice. There's a question here from Srikahn. "What is the application procedure for applying to the Heilbrunn Center for Graham & Dodd Investing- Security Analysis Program?"

Michael Robinson: In essence that is what we call the Value Investing Program, and those are the principles that Warren Buffett has used to become the investor that he has become today. The program is competitive. They probably have about 120 applications for a class that is going to be about forty people. Essentially, you analyze a company, and you make them a stock pitch. And for them, they are looking for people who they think would actually fit into the culture of Value Investing. I actually heard one of the administrators in the program speak before, and she said that the true value investor is someone who would actually walk ten blocks to save forty cents on a pair of socks. They are always looking where the real value is; what the real deal is. They are looking for a great deal of intellectual curiosity, and people who literally love to sit down with 10Ks and company reports, and read those things all day long. It's a certain kind of person. If you give Warren Buffett a room full of 10Ks, he'd love that stuff. It's like puzzles to him; where is the real value in this company? So the folks who do well in that program tend to be folks like that. It's a different skill set. But if you are not one of those forty lucky people, there are ways to get it in. There are classes that one can attend to learn the Value Investment principles. They have a number of panel discussions and seminars that are open to a wide group of people. Because sometimes we've had folks who applied to the program and didn't get it, but they still were able to get a huge amount of the principles of Value Investing through the other activities.

Linda Abraham: Dinesh asks, "Can you tell me more about CBS courses, or how they overlap with the Chazen & Bernstein Leadership Institute?"

Michael Robinson: Let me talk about Chazen first. The Chazen Institute is the hub of all international things at Columbia. Our philosophy is that you can't be a successful MBA grad in this century without having a global perspective about business. So through Chazen there are a number of study trips and tours. There are always new study abroad programs as well. But there is an international and global component that is infused throughout the entire curriculum, and that is housed through Chazen. The Bernstein Center combines ethics and leadership. We think business leaders need to have a certain kind of moral standing and structure, and so on. And so from the time you start the program, from Orientation through the first year set of core classes, through the electives, etc., we try to infuse ethics throughout the curriculum. So that's what happens through the Bernstein Leadership Institute.

Linda Abraham: Bahman asks, "What is Columbia's alumni network spread like in regard to location? Are they pretty much spread out across the nation, or are they mainly in New York City?" And I assume there would be some here, who would be interested in knowing about the alumni network internationally.

Michael Robinson: If you look at most of the top business schools, NYC is a big hub. So many of our alum are New York based. But depending on the year, either London or San Francisco are the number two and number three cities. We have about forty international clubs. And I would say that pretty much in every major economic center in the world, you'll find tons of Columbia alum. So we are strong in the US; with strong hubs on the East Coast, New York, and San Francisco. And we have strong hubs in London, Hong Kong, in other parts of Asia, and in Latin America as well. We have close to forty international clubs. Here's a short story. I just want to give you one example of the international network. It was actually a huge mistake on my part. I was doing a series of events in Latin America, and that was my first trip to the region. I was in Argentina, going to Brazil. As a US citizen you need to have a visa to go to Brazil, unlike everywhere else in Latin America. I was in Argentina on a Sunday, my event was the very next day, and I had no visa, and that was just a disaster. So I scrambled to get a visa. They say it takes three days; I got it in a few hours, so I was very lucky. But one key thing though is that I was going to Sao Paulo to do my event. And the alumni I spoke to there said that there was no way I was going to get to the event on time because of the heavy traffic in rush hour in Sao Paulo. But then he said that I shouldn't worry; he was going to send a helicopter to come and get me. And literally, he sent a helicopter to come and get me. And there was a helipad right on top of the bank where I did the event, and I landed on top of the building, went down, and did the event on time. So I know first-hand about this Columbia network. There are folks like that who just help each other. They have a very strong passion for the school, and they are always trying to help the school. So in essence, the alum tried to help cover my mistake. He did this because he wanted to help make sure this event happened.

Linda Abraham: Mercy asks, "As an international applicant, if I want to go into brand strategy in media companies, would this be viewed as unrealistic, even if my goal story fits?" I assume he means that his past experience is relevant. I know that many international applicants are concerned that because they may not have the cultural facility with American culture, they are going to be at a disadvantage in employment, and second of all, in the admissions process because their goal may be deemed unrealistic.

Michael Robinson: Again, we can't speak in absolute terms, but let me answer the question as thoroughly as I can. The biggest and most successful media companies are very global. So if you had to think about what media is, the US doesn't have the highest broadband Internet adoption. We don't have the highest global use of mobile phones, etc. which has become a very important digital platform. So if you look at the biggest companies in the US right now, there is not much happening in the US; it's actually happening outside of the US. If you can speak to that, and if you are applying to a global media company and you have what it takes to "achieve their goals", those people get placed. You'd need to have more information, but I have seen people make that transition where they say that yes, I am international, but I provide global solutions. And that's what we want to see business leaders of tomorrow able to do.

Linda Abraham: Saravana asks, "I am an E-MBA candidate. I have an international MBA that I received 13 years ago. Does Columbia consider somebody applying for a second MBA?" And I guess this could be asked for the full-time MBA as well as the E-MBA. "And also I'd like to know more about the Saturday E-MBA program, if you can mention more resources."

Michael Robinson: In the eight years that I've been working for Columbia, I've seen one person who had an MBA get admitted. Of course, I don't see every application, I only see a smaller subset, but I just want to make the point that it's not very common. We get a handful of applications. But the person that we did admit had a European MBA from a school in Holland, and she moved back to the US, and the degree that she had wasn't really relevant for what she wanted to do. So that was the case that she made. But having said that, it is rare; I just want to be as open and up front as I can. Now about the Saturday-only E-MBA program. We can do the E-MBA program in 24 months through the program that starts in May. This is the first time that Columbia is actually doing this because what we found is that there are folks that want to get an Executive MBA, but they work for companies and are a little bit younger, and they don't have the negotiation skills to go to their boss and say that they need to do this degree and they need to be allowed to take off every second Friday for the next two years. I think you need to have some negotiating stature with your firm to be able to do that. And that tends to happen when you are a little bit older. But if you're a little bit younger, if you're 27-28 years old, and you want to do an executive MBA program, you usually can't just go to your boss and say that you need to take every second Friday off for the next two years; you just don't have that bargaining power yet. So for that person who doesn't think that they'll get their company's support for an E-MBA at this point, the Saturday option might be beneficial to them. And we have much more information directly on our web site on that, and there are even links which allow you to compare which degree is better for you, based on certain profiles that we expect to see in the classrooms.

Linda Abraham: We've talked a lot about Columbia's strength in finance, value investing, and private equity. What about some of the other areas where Columbia is strong, be it not for profit, be it marketing? What other aspects of the Columbia program or professional goals do you feel that Columbia is very strong in?

Michael Robinson: First, I think that all MBAs are general management programs. We think that we provide a very strong foundation in business, and we produce applicants and students who are going to be great problem solvers, and they'll deliver in value from day one. We are seeing a lot of growth in social enterprise which is defined as the non-profit space, or the corporate socially responsible space, or even in some ways alternative energy because that falls under that umbrella as well. And that is where we are seeing a lot of growth. And one space that really excites me is education because we have some things going on in NYC, where it's almost like Ground Zero in terms of higher school development, just based on the current mayor and the outgoing chancellor, who just announced his resignation yesterday. But we are seeing growth there. We work very closely with the NYC Board of Education; we work very closely in helping them develop principles. We have an educational consulting lab where our students work in teams, and they are solving life problems of school districts; helping principals day to day deal with things in terms of administration issues, hiring issue, budget issues, capital issues, and things like that. These are skills that sometimes professional educators just don't really have at this point. That's a space which more and more of our students are becoming invested in. I believe that when you actually look at the next ten years, you are going to see a large number of the "transformational leaders" come out of our business school. Because right now they are on the ground, working in districts, working with principals, solving problems that exist right now, and getting real world experience. So that piece excites me a lot. We see a lot of growth in the media space as well, and the reality is that the biggest recruiter at Columbia is McKinsey. So consulting is a big draw as well.

Linda Abraham: The question is from Chuck, and he asks, "How do rolling admissions evaluation criteria for students applying after the early deadline work? Are the applications reviewed on a first-come, first-served basis? Does it work against people who apply in December, two months after the October deadline? How do rolling admissions evaluation criteria for students applying after the Early Decision round work? Are the applications reviewed on a first-come, first-served basis?"

Michael Robinson: Rolling by definition means that we actually read, evaluate, and admit the class based on the order of us receiving the application.

Linda Abraham: FIFO- First In, First Out.

Michael Robinson: Exactly. We still get most of our applications after the Early Decision deadline. Just to give people a timeline, I would say that by the end of January, we will have received between 70%-80% of all the applications that we will get for the entire year. So if you are looking at a system of all things being equal, those at the front of the line have an advantage over folks at the back of the line. We probably have to admit 750 people based on our current yield to have a class of 550 in the fall. So view it as having a line of 7,000 applicants, and every time we admit someone it's 750-1, 750-2. So when we get to 750, based on historic numbers, the class tends to be around full. So by the end of January, we will have 70%-80% of those 7,000 applicants. And literally, within a 48 hour window of our fellowships deadline which is always within the first ten days of January (this year it's January 6th), we literally get about 20% of all our applicants within two days, right around the "deadline for fellowships".

Linda Abraham: Your servers are cranking.

Michael Robinson: And sometimes they break down because we just get overloaded at that time. And then we get these desperate phone calls, "I'm trying to submit, but it's crashing! I'm going to miss the deadline." And then we say, "Don't worry, this happens every year. Just keep on trying. If we get it tomorrow, it's perfectly fine." But what I'm saying is that someone who applies the last day of December as opposed to someone who applies on January 11th, there could be a gap of around 2,000 applications. So keep that in mind. So if you are ready to apply in December, you would have an advantage to somebody who would apply in January, just based on all things being equal and the flow of applications.

Linda Abraham: And the later question that he asked is, "Do you advise people to wait an additional year to apply early rather than applying in December 2010?" In other words, would they be better off applying for the Early Decision in 2011, rather than applying in December for 2010?

Michael Robinson: Someone who applies for Early Decision, because the class is wide open, will always have the best chance. But one of the other things that I always tell people is that if you don't apply you have absolutely no chance; you have to play the game to have a chance to win the game. So if you think you are ready to apply, then apply because we have no problem with evaluating re-applicants. We actually keep the application on file for one year, after which everything gets shredded. It's a very simple process where all we ask for is the first essay and a recommendation. And in that first essay for the re-applicant, you tell us how you have improved since the last application. You can submit your application, and if it doesn't work you can re-apply Early Decision the next year. With rolling admissions, the key thing is that it does benefit those who apply earlier rather than later. By the end of January, we will probably get about 70% of our applications so if you can get your application in before that fellowships deadline of January 6th, that would be to your advantage. But the key thing though is to apply when you are ready. And again, there are three key questions that we have in our process. Did the person convince us that they can handle a demanding and rigorous curriculum? Did the person convince us that they are going to be a person of impact for the organization that hires them? Did the person convince us that they are truly multi-dimensional? Those are the three questions that are really important to us. And then the thing I want to add to that is has the person gone through a period of reflection? Do they have a very clear sense of who they are, what makes them tick, what they want to do short-term and long-term, and then do they have a very clear sense of the value proposition at Columbia Business School? And then do they make a case for why we would be a good fit between school and applicant? And then the key thing again is we want folks who are going to be participants, not spectators; folks that are going to be active and involved. We actually want folks who are going to build a community at Columbia.

Linda Abraham: Thank you so much Michael. This has been fantastic. I was going to ask one final question, but I think you preempted it. Rochelle had asked, "Any closing remarks for those in the final stages of their essays?" It's that piece of advice, but I think you just gave it.

Michael Robinson: I think that's a good close. And I am so appreciative of the opportunity, and I wish you all the best of luck in this process.

Linda Abraham: Thank you again all for participating today. Special thanks to Michael for joining us today, and for his excellent insights. If you have any additional questions for Michael, please email them to apply@gsb.columbia.edu

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