2011 Consortium MBA Application Strategies Q&A with Travis McAllister

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2011 Consortium MBA Application Strategies Q&A with Travis McAllister

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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 2nd Application Strategies Q&A, and I want to congratulate you for taking the time to learn more about The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management and hear about its program from the perspective of the participating schools. You need to know as much as you can to make a sound application decision and gain acceptance to the school of your choice. Being here today allows you to ask the Consortium experts and school representatives about this outstanding program and their experiences in business school. Additionally, although I usually ask the school reps what is new at their school, since we’ve covered that in our previous Application Strategies Q&A, I will refer you to that transcript for details about what's new at each school.

I also want to welcome our special guests for this evening: Travis McAllister – Consortium’s Recruiting Manager.

Also joining us are the following representatives from Consortium Schools:

  • Erin Nickelsburg: University of Wisconsin- Madison’s Director, Admissions and Recruitment
  • Dana Eagle: University of Rochester Simon’s Associate Director
  • Shana Basnight: Emory Goizueta’s Assistant Director of MBA Admissions
  • Kellie Sauls: University of Virginia Darden’s Associate Director
  • Jon Fuller: University of Michigan Ross’s Senior Associate Director of Admissions
  • Jim Holmen: Indiana University- Bloomington Kelley’s Director of Admissions and Financial Aid
  • Jolene Ashcraft: The University of Texas at Austin McCombs’s Associate Director – MBA Admissions
  • Stephanie Fujii : University of California, Berkeley Haas’s Executive Director, Full-time MBA Admission
  • Rabia Ahmed: New York University Stern’s Senior Associate Director
Thanks to everyone for joining.

The first question is from Efren and he asks, "Does the fellowship cover tuition and housing?"

Travis McAllister-CONSORTIUM: If you are awarded the Consortium fellowship, it will cover tuition and those required fees only; it will not cover room and board.

Linda Abraham: Is it possible for applicants to get funding from the school in addition to the Consortium fellowship?

Erin Nickelsburg-WISCONSIN-MADISON: We certainly don't want to set the expectation that a school would offer any candidates more. It's all based on merit, and merit awards are based in each school on different criteria. Some schools may offer more than just tuition; some schools may offer only tuition. It just depends on the school that you apply to.

Jim Holmen-INDIANA: I think it's important to know that most of the Consortium fellowship funding does come from the school, and so it is the schools that are awarding the Consortium fellowships. Certain students will certainly be eligible for other kinds of financial aid including need-based financial aid that the school is able to offer.

Linda Abraham: Renae asks, "For the schools that are accepting GRE scores for the first time, what is the average acceptable GRE score?" Do you have such data? Dana, does the University of Rochester accept the GRE?

Dana Eagle-Rochester: We only accept GRE for MS programs, so for any student who is applying for the MBA, we are still looking for the GMAT score.

Rabia Ahmed-NYU: We do accept the GRE. However, we've only accepted it for one year so we don't have statistical information available yet.

Travis McAllister-CONSORTIUM: I just want to list the nine universities that do accept the GRE: Dartmouth College, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, NYU, UNC Chapel Hill, University of Texas at Austin, University of Virginia, Washington University in St. Louis, University of Wisconsin Madison, and Yale University.

Rabia Ahmed-NYU: I think it's important to note that some of those schools accept the GRE on a case by case basis only. So the candidates really need to reach out to the schools and understand the schools' GRE policy before they plan to use that in their application.

Linda Abraham: Chantel asks, "I just rescheduled the GMAT for after the Consortium's GMAT deadline because I just didn't feel ready, but before the application deadline, so it will be taken before I apply. Will the Consortium/ schools accept that score?"

Travis McAllister-CONSORTIUM: From the Consortium's end, the main thing to keep in mind is that we will not forward your application to the schools unless we have all of the supporting materials, and that includes the GMAT. So our deadline is December 20th, and our application deadline is January 5th. So if you are taking the GMAT after December 20th, it may not be a big issue. But what will happen is that once we start reviewing the application on the Consortium's end, we will contact you to let you know that we don't have your GMAT, and we will not forward your application to the schools until we get the official GMAT report.

Linda Abraham: Would any of the schools have an issue with this arrangement?

Jim Holmen-INDIANA: I actually think it was a wise decision if the student did not feel ready to take the GMAT. Don't push to take the GMAT before you are prepared. You are better off taking the GMAT when you are ready, even if that means that your application arrives at the schools a little bit later. I think schools are for the most part, willing to work with candidates to make sure that they are able to put their best self forward. So I think most schools will be fine with this.

Linda Abraham: Another applicant asks, "How important on a scale of 1-100 is it to attend information sessions about a school prior to submitting your application?"

Shana Basnight-EMORY: I think it's really important to try and visit a school before sending in your application. It's a great way to assess fit and to really gain a look at the culture and community of the school. When you start your MBA, it's a huge investment. But I think before you submit that application, it's a great idea to try and meet some of the people; the classmates that you will be taking courses with as well as some of the faculty. And it's also just to get a good idea of whether or not the school is a good fit for you.

Kellie Sauls-VIRGINIA: 1-100 is a huge scale! I don't know where I would rate it, but it's pretty important for a couple of reasons in addition to what Shana has said. If you are getting ready to submit an application to a school, and you want to put your best foot forward, I think going to the school helps enlighten you about what are some things you want to call out in your application. So you've got to think about what you are looking for in a school and what the school is looking for in a candidate, and where those things match. And you want to call out those matching things in an application, and I think a school visit helps you do that. There is another thing too. In the Consortium application process, you only do one interview, and so it may be with an alum. I think making a school visit gives you another opportunity for other schools which may not have the opportunity to interview you to see you in our own environment, and recall that when evaluating your application.

Linda Abraham: Juan asks, "I'm curious about what I should expect at my Consortium interview?"

Travis McAllister-CONSORTIUM: I'm going to refer this one to the schools because the Consortium interview is going to vary. I will say that when you are expecting your Consortium interview, you can choose between a member school representative or a Consortium alum. I tell anyone who has called me that it varies by individual person. We have guidelines and prescriptions about what they can or cannot ask in your interview, but it's still going to vary by person. So I want to refer to some of the member schools who have or will be conducting Consortium interviews for this round.

Jon Fuller-MICHIGAN ROSS: There probably is a degree of variability if you are interviewing with an alum or if you are interviewing at a specific member school. But again, the guidance that we get is that the interview is supposed to be school neutral, so you probably won't experience a whole lot of questions based specifically on the school. For instance, if you came and had an interview at Ross, I'm not going to ask you your nitty-gritty thoughts of why you want to come to Ross and espouse the virtues of our program verses any of these other programs or anything like that. The Consortium interview is a general interview where the interviewer's comments are going to be made available to all of the schools you are applying to through the Consortium. So as such, the approach that we and others take is that it's more of an assessment of how this person is fit for an MBA in general. How clear are their goals and ambitions and what they want to do with their MBA? How is their professionalism? How is their teamwork in general? And again, the assessment is not supposed to be how that is looking through the lens of our specific program, but how that information is of value to Consortium programs as a whole. So if you've been doing your due diligence as you've been writing those essays and trying to make an assessment for yourself in terms of why you want to do this, that's pretty good preparation for hopefully being successful about the interview process.

Jim Holmen-INDIANA: In many respects the Consortium interview is going to be, with the exception of it not being school specific, no different than any other admission interview that you may encounter at any other school. And I would prepare for it the same way that you would prepare for a job interview: getting a sense of your accomplishments and your past experiences. Often the best preparation for an admissions interview is making good progress in your application for admission and your admission essays. Because often the interview provides you the opportunity to bring your application to life a bit and to help us better understand your career goals, your reasons for pursuing an MBA, and what you will be able to attribute to your MBA program, and the kind of accomplishments and the impact you've had on past organizations that you've been a part of.

Linda Abraham: Edgar asks, "Does age play a factor in applying to the Consortium? I'm an older candidate, 34, and have received mixed reviews." Instead of talking about it in terms of age, let's talk about it in terms of levels of experience. If you have, let's say, more than eight years of experience, is that an advantage, disadvantage or non-issue in the Consortium application process?

Jolene Ashcraft-TEXAS: I would say it's less about the quantity of work experience and more about the quality. We are really going to be evaluating you in terms of the things you have accomplished in your previous work experience, and making sure that you have a really clear idea of why you want to get an MBA. We'll evaluate what your career goals are post-MBA, and why you think that getting that MBA is going to help you get there, verses just looking at your age or the specific number of years of work experience that you've had. So looking at the quality of that work experience and knowing where you want to go after the MBA is more important than just the age or the numbers.

Stephanie Fujii-BERKELEY: I would agree with what Jolene said that it's really about that quality and richness. So some of the things that we are asking regardless of the years of experience are how you have progressed over time. How have you demonstrated leadership? What is the type of impact you've had on your organization? So again, it's not so much the number of years, but really how strong you are in each of those areas?

Linda Abraham: Tameca asks, "What are the schools' criteria for awarding the fellowship?" I'm going to guess that the schools have somewhat different criteria.

Dana Eagle-Rochester: I think that obviously we are looking for candidates who clearly have supported the Consortium's mission; that is one of the important aspects of being a Consortium candidate to begin with. But also I'd just like to echo what the other panelists have said in terms of the quality of work experience that you've had. I think the admissions interview will play a big role in that as well in terms of putting your best professional foot forward and really explaining the experiences you've had and the value add that you have contributed to the experiences that you have for work thus far.

Linda Abraham: Anna asks, "Could you give some examples of how previous candidates have shown their support for the Consortium's mission?"

Jim Holmen-INDIANA: Ultimately, we are looking for people who as the mission states, are going to support and encourage those under-represented candidates into business schools and management careers. So certainly it's a track history of support, involvement in organizations, volunteer work, community activities, and some of your own personal affiliations. We are looking for evidence of past activity that suggests that you would be successful in the future in supporting the mission of the organization. And also as part of the discussion, how do you anticipate being able to support the mission of increasing the number of under-represented minority candidates in business and industry in the future?

Jolene Ashcraft-TEXAS: I'd completely agree with that. And we are looking for the previous demonstration of that type of commitment, whether it is through volunteer work, involvement within your workplace, or an alumni association. And we are looking at what you as the applicant plan to do when you are in school and then as an alumni to really help impact and drive the Consortium mission. It really varies from student to student so there can be a number of different ways that you can do that. But we are just looking for that commitment and that demonstration that you are already committed to that mission, have done things previously, and what you plan to do while you are in the program and then as an alumnus of the program.

Linda Abraham: Moses asks, "Are Consortium applicants penalized for not stating a concentration or a chosen career path in the application? Are applicants seeking a career transition welcome?"

Jon Fuller-MICHIGAN ROSS: I think it is definitely important to have a degree of clarity expressed through your application in terms of what your aspirations are and what you would like to get out of your MBA, and how that is going to guide your personal professional future after your MBA as well. And part of this is because the MBA experience is only two years long approximately. Some people might think that is an ample period of time for me to "find myself" or figure out what I want to do. It's really not that much time at all, especially when you look at the recruiting end of things and how relatively quickly that comes upon you when you start your MBA experience, and how the internship and full-time search process works. That's not to say that people don't change their minds. I joke with candidates that it's not as if I'm going to be looking at your essays as you walk across the stage when you graduate and say, "Hey, wait a minute! You said you wanted to go into finance, and here you are going into CPG; I have a problem with that." We know that people change their minds. They are exposed to different topics and information while they are in business school, so their impression as to what they want to do might evolve. But we do have an expectation. From an admissions standpoint, I think most of us would agree that someone needs to have at least a degree of clarity in terms of what they want to do in their program. In terms of people that are transitioning, I've heard that at least half of our students at Ross are career switchers or are transitioning to another field between what they did before their MBA and what they want to do after their MBA. And to be honest with you, I think that number is under-reported. I think a lot of people in our MBA program and in most MBA programs are really using the MBA experience as an opportunity to shift gears and maybe do something a little bit different than what they were doing before in their careers. There are plenty of people that certainly walk in the door doing one thing, and they want to advance their careers through the MBA. That is sort of the currency that is required in order to be promoted within their disciplines or within their fields, and that is totally fine too. But I definitely don’t think you would be alone in an MBA program nor have that considered a detriment or a liability if you were planning on shifting gears or doing something different.

Kellie Sauls-VIRGINIA: I wouldn't say applicants are penalized for not knowing exactly what they want to do, but I think that people who come in having clear goals and expectations tend to hit the road quicker. Knowing exactly what they want to do, they tend to integrate quickly and really get into the ropes of things quite easily. For those of you who don’t know what you want to do, one thing you might want to think about stressing is your self-awareness of what your strengths are, and what might be some opportunities that you are looking at in regard to your strengths, especially using those strengths and leveraging those strengths for a potential career. So that might be another way of dealing with not knowing exactly what you want to do; by expressing what you are looking at and why you are looking at that. In regard to those who are using the MBA to make a career transition, I would agree wholeheartedly with Jon. I think the same is true at most MBA programs that a lot of students, if not half or maybe more, use the MBA to make a career transition because it's a great way to do that. Where else can you be in a safe environment and learn as much as you are going to learn about business, and get those foundation skills, and even some depth in certain areas, in a two-year time span, and then be able to lodge from that? The MBA is just a great place to do it.

Linda Abraham: I think that is one of the biggest differences between the undergrad admissions process and the MBA admissions process is that nobody expects a college applicant to have anything but the vaguest idea about what they want to do with their life. And if they do, nobody pays attention to it. On the MBA level however, minimum direction is almost always valued, if not required. Back to the applicants questions. Kristin asks, "When we write the school specific essays, is it safe to assume that the schools have read our two Consortium essays already, or should we repeat relevant information?"

Rabia Ahmed-NYU: As part of the Consortium application, we do see the required Consortium essays as well as the school specific essays. And so if you are repeating information it's going to be a lost opportunity for you to really showcase the strengths of who you really are as an applicant, and what differentiates you from other students that are applying. So definitely use that opportunity in the school specific essays to talk to the question that the school is asking. And each school's specific essay/s will be different. So make sure that you really take time to think about the questions they are asking, and think about why this particular school may be asking that question. And instead of using it as an opportunity to just add on information that you have already submitted as part of one or the other required essays, use it as an opportunity to showcase or to highlight the responses to the question that the schools specifically are asking you.

Stephanie Fujii-BERKELEY: I would absolutely agree. We do see those essays in addition to our school specific essay, so I would think that you definitely don't want it to be a missed opportunity. We are asking you to share everything that makes you who you are in just a few essays, so I think the more examples that you can talk about that give us that sense of everything that makes you who you are is really important. So since we are seeing those required essays, definitely take those opportunities to address what the schools specifically are looking for in asking that question. And use that as an opportunity to show the breadth of everything that you've experienced that you will bring into the program.

Linda Abraham: Jessica asks, "If a prospective student is interested in pursuing a joint degree, should that be shared in the Consortium application, even if they are not applying concurrently?"

Erin Nickelsburg-WISCONSIN-MADISON: It depends on the program. The majority of dual degree programs at the majority of schools require a concurrent application process, and the application process is typically separate. You would need to look into each school's requirements for those dual degrees, but it is best to be transparent and state on your application that you are planning to pursue a dual degree. Typically, admission into one program is not contingent upon another, although there are programs that differ. But it gives us an idea as to your career goals and your career plan, so it's really important to be authentic and transparent in your application process.

Dana Eagle-Rochester: I completely agree with that. I think the more transparent and up-front you can be with the schools leaves little room for questions later. So letting your schools know that up-front is probably in your best interest.

Linda Abraham: Fernando asks, "If a student attended different colleges for undergrad, how are the grades from each college evaluated?"

Jim Holmen-INDIANA: Ultimately, we will look at all of your academic work at all of the schools you have attended. We will look at grade trends, where you had your successes, where you struggled. So when you present coursework at multiple schools, again we are going to look at that in the context of your overall experience. If for example, performance at one school is not as strong as performance at another school, we will certainly see that. But if there is something about that experience that you want us to understand, you can always use the optional essay to explain any inconsistencies in your academic record. If you anticipate that the admissions committee will have questions about some aspect of your academic history, feel free to address it if there is information that you believe can put that academic experience into the appropriate context.

Jolene Ashcraft-TEXAS: Jim covered that question really well. The schools will all look at your transcripts from all of your undergraduate coursework even if you attended multiple schools. And I definitely recommend taking advantage of that optional essay if you feel there is something that needs to be addressed having to do with your undergraduate coursework, or even some other part of your application where you think there may be questions. You can definitely take advantage of that optional essay for that reason.

Linda Abraham: Related to Fernando's question, what about junior colleges? If somebody attended junior colleges for the first two years of their four year degree, is that a good thing/bad thing? Does it matter?

Jim Holmen-INDIANA: It's not a plus or a negative; it's just part of the experience. What's going to make a difference is how they did in that experience. Did they do well, and how did that prepare them for their future academic studies?

Linda Abraham: Andy asks, "How would I know that the Consortium has received my GMAT report?"

Travis McAllister-CONSORTIUM: We have been working on something, and if you have a VIP page, you will be able to see this. This is something that we just added before Thanksgiving. We have a VIP application checklist. It should be called "My Application Status", and you should be able to see when we have received certain items. We don't have anything automated to say that we received your GMAT. But what happens is that once you submit your application, we attach those reports to your application so that when you log into your VIP Checklist you will be able to see that we have received it. As a safeguard, if you have any questions on whether or not we have received it, email us and we can tell you. Also keep in mind that our GMAT and GRE codes are on our website.

Linda Abraham: What is the average Consortium accepted candidate GMAT score, or is there such a thing?

Travis McAllister-CONSORTIUM: We don't keep track of that. That is something that the schools would keep track of.

Jim Holmen-INDIANA: It's important for the Consortium applicants to note that the Consortium office itself doesn't review the applications for an admissions decision; they don’t do any kind of evaluation. Your application goes directly to the schools that you have identified you'd like to be considered for admission by. And when we receive your Consortium application and the supporting materials, it goes through each school's admissions process, in the very same way as if you would apply directly to the school on the school specific application. So it's evaluated using the same criteria and the same process and the same way. We are just getting the information via the Consortium. So again, the admissions decision will be made by school. So each school will have the average GMAT that they post for their entering class. But it's also very important for you to get a little bit more information because averages are just that-- an average. Ask for the range for GMAT scores of candidates who have been successful in their admissions process, and then you'll be able to get a sense. Many schools will report an 80% range; cut off the bottom 10%, cut off the top 10%. And you want to get a sense of whether your GMAT score falls within the range of scores for candidates who have been successful for the admissions process in that school. But again, each school will have a different average and a different range for their candidates.

Linda Abraham: George asks about multiple GMATs. "I took the GMAT twice in spring 2006 and scored low, before 500. I took it twice recently and scored 630 and 710. How will this be perceived?" And Lenson asks, "Does it reflect negatively if an applicant takes the GMAT multiple times? Is there a general limit?"

Rabia Ahmed-NYU: Taking the GMAT multiple times as a general rule is fine; most schools will get your highest overall score. They are not going to mix and match the highest Verbal with the highest Quantitative score. They'll just look at the highest overall score. And taking it multiple times can show a couple of different things. It can show that you've been trying to increase your score; you've been trying to get a better score. And having it increase from below a 500 to above a 710 often means that a lot of preparation has gone into it; time has passed and this person has persisted to increase their score a significant amount. There are a couple of things to note about the GMAT. It is just one piece of the application. It's the one that most prospective students are up late at night worrying about, but it is just one piece of information that we have in an entire application. So at some point you have to determine whether the score that you have is good enough or whether you want to spend the time studying for the GMAT, retaking it and taking time away from focusing on your essays, from getting all of you recommendations in and applying by the deadline. So it's important to note that it is one piece of the application. If you take it multiple times, your highest overall score will be looked at. And if you do chose to retake it, make sure that you think about the time that you spend in between taking it. If you take it from one month to the next, the chances of significantly increasing your score are probably unlikely. But if you take time to prepare in between GMAT retakes, you may see a differing trend.

Stephanie Fujii-BERKELEY: I would agree with everything; I think that was really well said. I would just add that we don't have a cutoff, but I do think that at a certain point, if you've taken it ten times and there hasn't been a huge increase, then we will wonder if you are spending your time wisely. But I think that every school looks at it differently. I think at Berkeley Hass, we do take your highest score, and everything that Rabia said works for the way we view your GMAT score.

Linda Abraham: Danielle asks, "How do schools view experience of military applicants as compared to applicants with the more traditional business background?"

Kellie Sauls-VIRGINIA: We do love military students. I think there is a certain assumption that comes with military background. We know that folks with military careers have a certain amount of leadership training. They are typically oriented towards teams and teamwork type of orientation in terms of getting the work done. And those are all things that bode well in regard to an MBA program. You are usually put in a team, and you are expected to have leaders in the classroom and going out into the workforce. And so we like to see those coming in as well. Also military applicants tend to have unique experiences so they work well under pressure, a unique type of pressure. Or they've had international experiences and exchanges typically so those are all good things that add to a unique perspective offered in the classroom environment. We love them!

Linda Abraham: Mica asks, "Does the person writing the Consortium mission recommendation need to be a professional contact?"

Travis McAllister-CONSORTIUM: No, they don't have to be professional contacts for the mission recommendations. Anyone who can speak to your ability to demonstrate the Consortium's mission, that is who you want to use. So look at it the same way you look at the second Consortium essay talking about the mission because the essay and the recommendation are similar in that sense. So you want someone who can speak to your ability to commit to the Consortium's mission, and that is who you want to use.

Linda Abraham: There are several people asking questions regarding the timing of the GMAT. If the GMAT is taken after the December 20th deadline but before the January 5th Consortium deadline, will there still be a delay in the Consortium's submitting the application to the universities?"

Travis McAllister-CONSORTIUM: What applicants need to think about is that there is going to be a time gap between the moment you've taken the exam and the results being sent to the Consortium. They are electronic, but it's not going to be instant. You take the exam one day, and then we get it two days later. It's going to be an amount of time, and so you want to amount for that amount of time. And keep in mind that December 20th is holiday season and offices are closing. So these are things to keep in mind when you are thinking about the time between December 20th and January 5th. And that is why the December 20th deadline was set; you're going to have that taken care of. You're going to have enough time for the results to be tabulated and then for the official GMAT report to be sent to the Consortium, so that when January 5th comes, when we start reviewing applications and making sure that they are complete before we send them to the schools, we don't have to wait on that.

Linda Abraham: Traveria asks," What are some examples of what the Consortium considers as supporting their mission for the mission essay? Can you give us a few examples of what you guys are looking for in that question? I don't want to go too left field so I need some examples please."

Dana Eagle-Rochester: I think that for the essay, you just want to make sure you are being as concise and as specific as possible. When applying for the Consortium, you probably have some kind of idea of what kind of experience or work experience you have done to support the mission. And I think that everybody's experience is different, and I think that is what helps make the Consortium applicants unique in their own way. But I think really highlighting the time that you've put into it and the specifics that you are doing, whether it is in a business setting or an educational setting. Giving us an idea of what you are doing and how you are filling your time is probably the most helpful way to identify how you are supporting the mission. And I think it is going to be very different for every single person depending upon what work experience they have had.

Erin Nickelsburg-WISCONSIN-MADISON: One of the things we don't want to see is that six months before you filled out your Consortium application, you joined a group or started mentoring or started volunteering in your community. While that is wonderful and we are glad that you did it, the timing is very interesting and a little suspect. You look for individuals who are mentoring in their communities. There are tons of organizations out there-- Big brother Big Sisters, the Boys & Girls club. I mean there are so many organizations that people mentor with or partner with. People that were active in college that were part of a student group that led different mentoring or activist type activities. We are looking for people who have done significant work, so it's people who have taken an idea and run with it, people who are serving on boards of different foundations. And some people haven't progressed to a place in their careers where they would be on boards, but people that are serving in leadership positions. People who have really taken the bull by the horns and gone with it and made a difference in their community, and have made an impact in their community. And it varies from applicant to applicant, and it depends on the community that you are involved in and the level of commitment that you can make. But we certainly want to see that over time this is something that you have developed and have a continued commitment to.

Linda Abraham: Ebony asks, "If you are not able to visit a school before applying, what is the best way to understand the culture of the school?"

Jim Holmen-INDIANA: Applicants these days are lucky because most of us spend a lot of time on the road, participating in recruitment events, some sponsored by the Consortium, some sponsored by other organizations, some on our own. We are all over the country. So if you don't have a chance to visit the school, often you may be able to meet with representatives of the school when they are in a city nearby. You can attend the event, talk to alumni, talk to faculty and staff. But another great way is to make contact with current students; make contact with alumni. And if you contact the admissions staff of any of the schools, they will help you make connections with their students and/or alumni. And learning from those folks about their experience can certainly give you a good estimation of the culture of the program; what's important, what the schools value and what the participants- the students and alums- valued about their experience.

Jolene Ashcraft-TEXAS: I would agree, and I would say that if you don't have a chance to visit a school in person, definitely take advantage of road shows or MBA fairs that may be in your cities. But also reach out to current students. Most MBA programs have admissions committees that are made up of students that are more than willing to help with any question that you might have about the program. Or a lot of times you can search for different student organizations or different activities that you might be interested in participating in if you were part of the MBA program, and reach out to officers or members of the organizations. The same thing applies with alumni. A lot of times there are alumni who live in your local city that you can reach out to or maybe even meet for coffee or maybe just have an email or phone conversation. And you'll find that current students and most alumni are very helpful and willing to talk to prospective students.

Dana Eagle-Rochester: I'd just like to throw in there that another great way to get a feel for what is happening in a school and what is happening in a city that a school is located in is to check to see if there is some sort of blogging taking place on their website. You can usually get pretty good cross-background information from admissions representatives, from current students, from guest bloggers talking about everything from admissions tips to other questions.

Linda Abraham: Lemayian asks, "How does my priority ranking a school on a Consortium application determine the likelihood of receiving the fellowship from a highly ranked verses a lowly ranked school?"

Jon Fuller-MICHIGAN ROSS: I know this is a big source of anxiety for candidates in terms of how to rank and whether they need to be strategic about this and whatever else. If out of the Consortium schools that you are looking at, Ross happens to be your number one choice, then you should make it number one. If it's not, if it happens to fall in second or third or whatever place, then you should just rank it accordingly based on your enthusiasm for our program and the other programs that you are looking at; how you perceive your fit there. The thing to note as well is that the ranking is really not intended to be part of the admissions consideration. And before you even get to the fellowships stage, you have to first be admitted to one of the Consortium schools, and secondly, you have to have shown your commitment to the mission through your essay and the recommendation letter. And then at that stage, that is when it comes into play in terms of us making our fellowships determination. And that is going to be a merit-based award that is made. So the stronger your overall application, the higher the likelihood that you are going to be awarded a fellowship or some other amount of scholarship aid from one of our programs. So I would just go back and say that instead of trying to figure out how to game it and saying let me put this school first because I might actually get a fellowship from them, guess what! That might not actually be the school that is the best fit for you or the one that you are most enthusiastic about. And then further down the line, even one of the other schools that you might have ranked might still offer you some amount of scholarship award. It's not going to be a Consortium fellowship; it might not be at that level.

Kellie Sauls-VIRGINIA: The question was about the priority ranking and the likelihood of receiving the fellowship. Really all the ranking does is determine the opportunity for the school to offer you the fellowship. And so what happens after that, if the school has the opportunity, the likelihood really falls in their court. And that may depend on what funding they have available; it may depend on their criteria for awarding the fellowships. It really gets pretty varied, dependent upon how the schools are making their decisions regarding fellowships at that point. So really all the ranking does is determine the priority for the opportunity for the school to offer you a fellowship, and it doesn't really do much in terms of the likelihood.

Linda Abraham: In other words, it's not affecting your admissions chances.

Kellie Sauls-VIRGINIA: Right. It's not affecting your admissions chances, but at the same token, the fellowship award too. So I think it goes back to what Jon said. If you are really interested in going go School A, and that is your top choice, then make it #1, and give them the first opportunity to offer you the fellowship.

Linda Abraham: That is an excellent way to look at it. Sulay asks, "How do schools look at transcripts that show an upward trajectory over the four years with Quant classes such as Econ and Accounting with slightly lower grades in the first year. Do you rely more on the GMAT score to asses a student's ability to perform well in such courses or do you look more at the grades, or do you look at both?"

Shana Basnight-EMORY: I believe if the student has an upward trajectory, it's actually a positive thing, and we love to see the progress that students are making over the course of their four years in school. The fact that they are improving in their grades is usually a good indicator that they will do well in the graduate program as well. Also the GMAT is taken into consideration; the entire application process is very holistic. But to answer the question, if there is an upward trend, it is usually considered a positive thing.

Rabia Ahmed-NYU: The only thing I would add to that is that we do understand that your undergraduate work may have been a long time ago. And the person you were when you were eighteen and the person who you are now could be very different. So an upward trend shows maturity; it shows you were able to succeed. By looking at your academic career, we look at the quality of the institution that you went to, the type of work you took, the courses that you took, and the rigor of the curriculum that you participated in. And we'll also look at any graduate work or additional courses that you have taken. So if there are any trends or if there are any gaps in your undergraduate work, feel free to address those in an optional essay. The last thing you want to do is keep an admissions committee member guessing. We can't read your mind, contrary to what some people believe, so it's important to make sure you address any gaps or any specifics that you feel are not obvious in the optional essay.

Linda Abraham: George writes, "Regarding the essays, what are your thoughts on professional verses creative writing?"

Stephanie Fujii-BERKELEY: I think that you are referring to the examples that you choose, whether they are personal examples or professional examples. We don't specify because it's really up to you to identify what you think are those experiences or examples that you think best fit the question that is being asked. We certainly recognize that people have a wide range of experiences, so we want to know the things that you think are most critical for the admissions committee to understand. And I think it's always good to have a balance just to show that breadth. I also think that the most important thing in writing essays is that you are genuine and you are authentic, and you are answering those things that you are most interested or passionate about because that is what makes you stand out as an applicant in your essay responses.

Linda Abraham: Actually, I think the question was more about writing style.

Stephanie Fujii-BERKELEY: In terms of the writing style, again I would go to the authenticity. So I think you should write in your own voice. Don’t try to be something that you are not. One of the tips we always give is: people think that their essays have to be really funny to be entertaining and unique to stand out, but that is not always a good thing. If you are not naturally funny, then you don't want to force it. Because again, we are trying to learn who you are, your personality, your interests. At the end of the day, you are applying to business school, so we want to make sure that you can convey your thoughts and experiences in a succinct, thoughtful manner. But I think the style which you choose should be your own voice.

Dana Eagle-Rochester: I think that one of the best ways to determine the healthy balance between being creative and being professional in answering the essays is to make sure that you are answering the question that is being asked of you. One of the best ways to assess that is to write your essay true to yourself, putting a little bit of your personality in it, but answering the question. And then let somebody close to you read it; let a family member, a spouse, or a friend read your essay, and see if they can determine the question that you were trying to answer. That should give you a pretty good idea of whether they think your personality is coming through and whether or not you've answered the question effectively.

Linda Abraham: Huda asks, "I am completing a Master's in Science degree, and as a result I have much less work experience compared to applicants who may have gone straight into industry after their bachelor's. Are applicants with further academic work as opposed to industry experience at a disadvantage?"

Erin Nickelsburg-WISCONSIN-MADISON: All of the schools are looking for an eclectic mix of individuals. We want people that will bring different perspectives. So we want students that have significant work experience because there is a level of maturity that comes with that. We are looking for maturity and self awareness. However, if everyone was the same and had that cookie cutter background, it would not make for an interesting and dynamic classroom. So we are typically looking for people with varied experiences. What is more important in terms of your experience is along with the self awareness, we are looking for people who have a strong resume. So can we put your resume in front of employers? Can we work with you to develop a resume that can go in front of employers? Can we help you realize your career goals. Because that is what you are coming into these programs for. To develop and then ultimately find your career path, and that is what we want to help put you on. And so if the advanced degree that you are pursuing is along those career goals or you can identify certain knowledge, skills, and abilities that will put you at an advantage with that resume, then absolutely, that master's degree will come into play. So again, we want people with varied backgrounds, which is a very long way of saying that you will be evaluated holistically in your application, and you are part of a class. You are an individual but you are also part of a larger group of people, all who come with different perspectives, and that is important to all of us.

Jim Holmen-INDIANA: It is important for anybody with either non-traditional experience or limited experience to just remember that gaining admission is half the battle. You have to also imagine when your resume is sitting in a pile of resumes that the employers and the recruiters are looking though, will there be enough strength? Will there be enough evidence of accomplishment that they are going to be interested in pursuing you for an internship or full-time position?

Linda Abraham: Thank you again all for participating today. Special thanks to Travis and all the Consortium School representatives for joining us today. If you have additional questions for Travis, please email them to recruiting@cgsm.org.

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