2012 Cambridge Judge Business School MBA Admissions Q&A with Conrad Chua

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2012 Cambridge Judge Business School MBA Admissions Q&A with Conrad Chua

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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 Q&A. 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 Cambridge Judge Business School’s MBA program. 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 the expert about this top business school.

I also want to give a special welcome to Conrad Chua, Head of MBA Recruitment and Admissions at Cambridge Judge Business School. Thanks to everyone for joining.

I’m going to take advantage of my position as moderator and ask Conrad the first question. What is new at Cambridge Judge?

Conrad Chua: For everybody who is logged in, I assume you know the basics about Cambridge Judge Business School and the MBA. It’s quite different from a lot of the US MBA programs. It is a one-year MBA. It is post-experience, so there is a minimum of three years of work experience that all our applicants do fulfill. But in terms of the course and curriculum, we cover all the core classes that a two-year MBA does.

One thing that is quite different from a lot of the other MBA programs is that there are a lot more consulting projects; there are a lot more practical projects in our program. We have three projects throughout the year, and all of them are done in groups of 4-5 students. In fact, the students are going to be going on the major project, the Global Consulting Project, in about three weeks. And that is going to take pretty much all of April. We have students who obviously are going to be here in the UK. But there is one group going to LA to work on a film project. It was actually started by an alum of ours, and he has funding for a movie. He has quite an interesting target audience; he is trying to film the thing in the US but market it to Mainland China. I have no idea how attractive that movie project is going to be, but it’s a great project for our students.

So there is that group in LA. But we’ve got three groups going to the Middle East. One group is looking at an oil and gas project, one is looking at transportation, and another is looking at corporate governors and transparency in the Middle East, which I think is very interesting given what has been happening in the Arab Spring over there. We’ve got three groups going to China. One group is looking at energy financing, one group is looking at electric vehicles, and one group is looking at transportation infrastructure.

Linda Abraham: How long will they be outside the UK?

Conrad Chua: It depends on the project. I think they are going to be in China for four weeks, and in LA, the same. For other projects, they may be doing some research here in the UK and then one or two weeks in the client’s location.

So one big difference in the Cambridge MBA is really the number of practical projects. And many of us find that it’s really useful because it helps students get a better understanding of a particular industry or a particular geography that they want to work in. It helps them in terms of networking. And it gives them a much better idea in terms of figuring out if what they thought they wanted to do after the MBA is really what they want to do.

Linda Abraham: That is pretty important. How are these projects based throughout the program?

Conrad Chua: We’ve got three terms throughout the year and there is a project each term. The first project is one that is done in Cambridge. Students work with companies and organizations in the Cambridge area. Cambridge is actually something like 25% of all VC capital in Europe, much of that in high-tech investments. In that first project, a lot of those projects will be tech-based. One example is there was this company that developed a device that is supposed to help athletes recover faster after training or after a game. It started off as a medical device to help people recover from strokes, for example. And they wanted to sell this to the sports market and to people like myself, weekend warriors, who go out cycling in the weekend and probably overexert. So a couple of our students went in to try to scope out the market and determine the size of the market for the company. And because these companies are based in Cambridge, they usually are quite small, so the great thing is that at the end of the project our students have to present to the CEO or the founder. And that is great, valuable experience for many of our students. So that is the first project which is the Cambridge Venture Project.

The second one is the Global Consulting Project, which I mentioned already, which is in the second term. And the third project is the Capstone Project which isn’t a consulting project, and it happens at the end of the school year. We have eight different concentrations. Each concentration has a coach, and students choose one of these eight concentrations. So the concentrations are Strategy and Marketing Consulting, International Business, Healthcare, Entrepreneurship, Cultural Arts & Media Management, Finance, Energy and Environment, and Beyond Profit. Each concentration has a coach, and the coach can be a member of faculty or it could be someone from that particular sector. The coach will organize site visits, speak at talks, but he will also arrange a final project. And the final project can really be up to the coach and the students to determine.

My favorite example is the Energy and Environment concentration. What the coach has done is for the project, the students had to come up with a low-carbon business proposal. And they have to pitch that proposal to a panel of the coach’s friends; basically it’s someone who is an expert in oil and gas regulation, someone who is in the oil and gas sector, someone who has actually sold a low-carbon business proposal. So that is really the entire project right there. In a sense, it is really very flexible how the students and the coach can make that final project. So I think that is something that our students find very useful; at the end of the program to put together everything they’ve learned and apply it to one particular sector that they are interested in.

Linda Abraham: Saurya asks, "What percentage of your students has a master’s degree or an advanced degree?"

Conrad Chua: I actually don’t know because that is not something we track. The basic requirement is an undergraduate degree, and if you have a master’s that is great. Usually if someone has a master’s it really only helps if they had a weak undergraduate GPA and they did well in the master’s, so that helps balance it out. We look at GMAT as well. The median GMAT is 690. And we look at a combination of those factors — your undergraduate GPA, your GMAT — really to reassure us that you can handle the academic pace of the course. As I said, we cover all the core subjects that a two-year MBA does in one year so it can be very hectic and intense.

Linda Abraham: I want to ask the applicants a question. What stage are you up to in the application process?

  1. Are you researching schools to apply to/ working on your application?
  2. Have you submitted your application?
  3. Have you interviewed and are you waiting for results?
  4. Are you waitlisted?
  5. Are you in some other category not covered by those above?
Here are the results of the poll. 77% are researching schools to apply to, so you are fairly early in the application process. 15% have already submitted their application, and 8% have interviewed and are waiting for results. So a lot of people are doing some really good research up front and that’s great.

Ivo asks, "What are some of the ways that the Career Services Center helps students obtain jobs in the areas that they are interested in?"

Conrad Chua: In terms of the work that our Career Services does, I would say there are two aspects. One is what I would call the external facing aspect. And that is that we have people who build up relationships and links with corporate recruiters. These could be people in financial institutions, consulting firms, in industry. And our Career Services really comes to understand what the hiring requirements are for that year, and hiring requirements do change. It sometimes is a bit crazy how sometimes a company will say one year that they prefer to have people with more experience, and then the next year they’ll say they want people with less experience so that they are younger, etc. So it’s this process that our Career Services has to go through every year; trying to talk to our corporate recruiters to find out what the requirements are, etc. And then sometimes these corporate recruiters may say they can come on campus for recruitment, they can do presentations, and they might sometimes do online webinars like this one. Or they may just say that students can go through the online application process. That is the external part.

A big part of what Career Services does is also the internal part, and that is working with the students. This happens even before the students come on campus. So during the summer, about 2-3 months before school starts in September, Career Services will talk to everybody, get them to submit CVs, and there will be some surveys to tease out what it is that you want to do after the MBA. And there is going to be a fair percentage of people who are keeping their options open, so they are not quite sure, and that’s fine.

And once they start on campus, there is a whole battery of things that Career Services does, including in the first three weeks, they will have one- on-one sessions with everybody. We have over 150 students and the sessions are for about thirty-minutes each, so it’s a huge investment of resources. But you need to get a one-on-one session with a career counselor to find out what exactly you want to do, to try to help you think through what you can do, whether it’s brushing up your CV or going for some case workshops if you are interested in consulting or financial services.

And there is a whole range of things that people can do during the first three months which are quite critical to improve interviewing skills, to improve case consulting skills. I myself run a few case workshops. But what has been really very valuable is that we have alumni who have worked in a couple of these industries who come back and they present what life is like in the consulting companies that they’ve worked for. And they basically tell students what to expect in the interview process and to think about how they can best prepare themselves for an interview.

Linda Abraham: How important do you think it is that applicants have career direction when they arrive on campus? Is it something that you look for in the application?

Conrad Chua: It would be a plus if someone had a clear sense of where they want to go, but I don’t automatically disqualify somebody who has a vague career goal. Really it’s about whether the person is interesting, has a good academic background, has a good GMAT, and has done interesting things in his/her career so it gives me the confidence that when this person figures out what he/she wants to do, they have the intellect, the determination, and the resilience to really pull through. So I wouldn’t say it is critical for a person to be absolutely crystal clear about what they want to do, but it is helpful.

I think applicants should really think about what they want to do, especially if they are applying to a one-year MBA, because in a one year MBA, you have less time to really crystallize your thoughts, as opposed to a two-year MBA. The pace is incredibly intense, especially in that first term when nine out of ten of our students are coming from outside the UK. It’s a brand new country, they’ve got to work very closely with people they don’t know, from very different backgrounds. The academic side of things is very intense, so classes can run from 9-5. And on top of that, you still have to think about the career side. So it helps if people come in with a clear idea of what they want to do, or at least they can narrow it down to two or three things. And then think about a plan to really narrow that 2-3 things down to 2 things in the first two-three months, and then maybe to 1 thing, and then really put their effort into that one thing that they want to do.

Linda Abraham: Nina asks, "I’m educated as a doctor, now working as a business unit head in a company in a health related field. But I feel I don’t have a strong background in economics or finance. Is it critical? Will I have to take a preparation course prior to the study?"

Conrad Chua: No, you don’t. I know there are other schools where they give advanced credit to people who have a background in, let’s say, economics or finance. But over here, everybody has to take the same core classes, even if you’ve had extensive experience in that particular area. The reason we do this is that one of the things we feel very strongly about is trying to build the class spirit. And to build that class spirit, we believe that the class has to go through certain shared experiences, and going through the core classes is one of those shared experiences.

The pace of the class can be a bit challenging if you don’t have any background beforehand. But the great thing about the student body we have is that even people with ten years of experience in finance still learn something. They might have worked in New York, Wall Street, or the city of London, but they can learn something from someone who has practiced finance halfway around the world. They can also take their time to teach people who don’t have a background in that particular subject. It’s quite common the week before an exam for someone with an accounting background to run a tutorial for fellow students.

Linda Abraham: Harsh asks, "In your opinion, how difficult or easy is it to change career tracks? For instance, moving from industry to management consulting or investment banking?" That is probably the most popular field and the most difficult to get into.

Conrad Chua: Yes. When people do career shifts, there are probably three dimensions that they try to change. There are people who change location, people could change industries, or people could stay within that industry but they change functions. So someone working in oil and gas, but working in engineering, might want to move into the business development side of oil and gas. I think it is very difficult for someone to try to change all three at the same time.

Some people want to do that and we don’t stop them, but we encourage them to think about the fact that if you want to change all three of them at the same time, you’ve probably got to think about doing it over a 3-4 year period. And you can change one or two aspects at the same time, and then you can change the third one later on. I think in this kind of environment, applicants have to understand that recruiters tend to be quite risk averse. So they really look at your CV, at your experience, and they try to see if there are things in your experience that they can draw as a match to the job description. So it can be difficult if people want to make a huge switch.

Having said that, I think there are certain industries like management consulting or strategy consulting where they really look for people with strong intellect, good analytical skills, good client-facing skills, and they are quite happy to take people who don’t have that consulting experience, but are very good with clients, very analytical, and can really work hard and research and break down problems. So there will be certain transitions which are going to be easier than others.

But applicants really need to think about, based on their experience, based on their CV, what the best thing they can do is. And maybe, it could be the case that they should take a longer time frame, maybe three or four years. Many of our alums tell us that it’s actually the second job after the MBA which was their dream job. Many of them realize that they have a dream job, and it will take them maybe three or four years to do it, but they have a plan. And after the MBA they go to a particular job which maybe changed 50% or 60% of the way. And then maybe two or three years later, they switch to what they felt was their dream job.

Linda Abraham: That makes sense. Of course it is easier to make one transition at a time because then you have transferable knowledge. That’s a good perspective on it, thank you.

Sukru asks, "What is the rate of employment for non-EU citizens in the UK after graduation? There has been a change recently in the work visa for UK, as of my knowledge." I think this is a big issue for many applicants.

Conrad Chua: I’ll answer that first by clarifying the visa changes that have taken place. Non-EU citizens will require a work visa to work in the UK after they graduate from an MBA. The visa changes have actually made it easier for non-EU students to find work. I’ll explain why. For a company to hire non-EU citizens, they usually have to prove that there was no EU citizen who could do the job. They call this labor market testing. How they do that is they advertise and they need to wait 6-7 weeks before hiring. There is also a quota that they have to maintain of non-EU students.

Now if you are a non-EU student studying an MBA in the UK, a company can hire you without having to advertise, without having to demonstrate that an EU citizen can do the job. And if they were to hire you, it doesn’t affect their quota. So actually it is easier for a company to hire a non-EU citizen who has completed an MBA in the UK. This change really affects non-EU citizens who might be studying an MBA outside the UK; in the US, France, Singapore, Asia, for example, who want to work in the UK. It becomes very difficult for a company to hire them.

But on the other hand, there is one catch to this. For you to come in under what I just described – that the company can hire you without advertising and without going into the quota – you must have accepted the job offer during the duration of your student visa. For non-EU students coming onto our program, our program is twelve months, and they usually have a visa of 16-months duration. So you have 16 months to find and accept a job. But once you find that job and accept it, it is relatively easy for companies to hire you.

These visa changes actually took place this year and mid last year. So it’s a little bit early for us to see what the impact of those changes is. The class that graduated September-October of last year, we have only just sent out the graduation survey, and it will take a couple of weeks till we get all the returns and find out how many non-EU citizens are working in the UK. We do keep in touch with alums and they tell us as of when they get a job. The non-EU citizens haven’t found it that difficult to find jobs in the UK. I know of a Russian who is now working in London with GAWA Consulting. There is a Pakistani student who is now working in a hedge fund in London. Quite a lot of the non-EU students who wanted to work in the UK have found jobs in the UK.

What I found interesting is that quite a lot of the non-EU students, even if they have a job offer in the UK, a couple of them rather go back to their home countries, back to emerging markets where it’s still a developing market and they think the opportunities in a developing market are more exciting than something that is more mature or developed like London. So it’s too early for me to say definitively what the statistics are, but I think there are no barriers to a good non-EU citizen working in the UK. However, there is always this opportunity that people can go back to their home region, and people are doing that, especially in cases like Asia and Latin America.

Linda Abraham: They’re doing it at their own volition, not because they couldn’t find jobs. They are doing it at their preference, right?

Conrad Chua: Yes. Because they think that back home things are much more exciting there and they want to be part of that economic growth.

Linda Abraham: Richa asks, "Could you give an estimate about how many places would be available for round 4 and round 5 out of 150?"

Conrad Chua: We don’t really have a quota per say. We are currently reviewing the third round applicants and we are pretty much halfway through. So after interviewing all the third round applicants we may be three fifths, so 60% of 160 students. So the last two rounds would have about 50 places.

Linda Abraham: Dena asks, "How able are students to customize their studies to their specific career interests?" And I know that this is something that Cambridge prides itself in. "My background is in journalism and I aspire to be in a leadership role in a media company. So whilst I want to develop fundamental skills in finance and economics, etc., I also would like to develop some expertise in media from a business perspective."

Dina is asking specifically about media with her journalism background, but I think the same question could be applied to any field really. If you are coming from more of a technical background and you want to move into more of a general management or business mode. I think it’s really a much broader question, so could you address it?

Conrad Chua: Like any other business school, we offer electives which a student can choose from, and each year we are having more and more electives. This year we are going to have around 55 electives that students can choose from. And students can choose up to 5 electives that they can do. That is one way of customizing it.

The other way of customizing it is really through the projects you choose. I mentioned that we have three projects; the Cambridge Venture Project, the Global Consulting Project and the Capstone. The Cambridge Venture Project and the Capstone Project are something that we, as a school, come up with and we work with corporate clients and we come up with projects. The Global Consulting Project, which takes place over the months of April and a bit of March, half of those projects are things that the school has organized.

But up to half of those projects are projects which our students may have sourced and initiated themselves, and that is very much based on their career interests. For example, this year we’ve got one group that is going to Brazil to work with an FMCG conglomerate. Of these students, only two are from Latin America and the rest aren’t from Latin America. They had an interest in emerging economies and how to sell products to the growing middle class in them. So they got together, they figured out a list of companies, and they’ve got a project for four weeks in Sao Paulo. And that is really one way in which you can customize your MBA. It’s not something that would be in the classroom, but it’s actually something that I think would be even more powerful because you would have thought about what industry you want to go into, what geography you want to go to, and you have to do a fair bit of work to call people, find contacts, and get people interested in you.

But I think that is really a very powerful platform because then you really build your network in that sector, you build your knowledge in that sector. And the biggest test really is if you can get three or four other students excited about your project, they will spend four weeks with you on that project. I think that is a great way of customizing your learning experience.

I know the person was asking about journalism or media. Actually, one of our concentrations is Cultural Arts Management, but that really also includes media. So we have a member of faculty who is actually very interested in media and the arts. She teaches the Strategy core class and she has managed to weave in quite a bit of media into the Strategy classes. One of those cases is a UK based TV channel, and how they are coping with the changing demographics, as people spend more time online and less time watching TV. She runs one whole class on that, and she gets people from that TV station to come in and talk about those strategy challenges. One group last year actually did a Global Consulting Project with that TV channel. So that is one way in which someone with a media background could really get to understand in the classroom a little bit more about the business of media.

Linda Abraham: Saurya asks, "I’m from Peru, I am 34 years old, but I have experience with sales and marketing. In terms of my age, do you think an MBA fits me?"

Conrad Chua: We don’t have a maximum age for our MBA. I think the most experienced MBA student we’ve ever had was 49. So it’s not about how old you are, but it’s about you and what you want to get out of the MBA. That particular student had done very well, worked for 20-30 years in consulting, but he really wanted to get back to school to bring together all the experiences that he had learned and to try to figure out what he wanted to do next. He had always been working for a major corporation, whether it was Toyota or one of the big consulting firms, and he wanted to branch out on his own. Before he did that, he wanted to come back to school and get a little structure to his experience, and figure out a plan about what he wants to do. And he has actually moved back to LA, and if I understand correctly, he is the guy bankrolling the movie. So that is really what he wanted the MBA for.

I always tell applicants that they have to have a very clear idea of what it is that they want to get out of the MBA and why they are doing it. Because it is one year, it’s obviously a big investment in terms of time and money. In many cases, people bring families to Cambridge, so they’ve got to be quite clear about what they want to do because one year can pass really quickly.

Linda Abraham: Sukru asks, "Do you offer language courses like German or French, in addition to the MBA program?" Do you have any kind of language requirement?

Conrad Chua: The only language requirement we have is that you need to be proficient in English. So if you studied your undergrad in an English medium, we’ll take that as proof. In some cases we’ll ask you to take the TOEFL or ILS. I should just say that the reason we have quite a high minimum standard score for TOEFL and ILS is because there is a lot of discussion that happens in the classroom, and students have to really discuss with fellow students, whether it’s in the lecture theater or in study groups. So it is vital that all our students are able to speak English to a very high degree. And that is the only language requirement we have at the point of admission. We don’t require people to take another language, although some students might do that.

Last year we started offering Mandarin, and I think ten students took that in the summer. We are quite flexible in the last two months of the program in terms of how you want to spend that time. So if someone wanted to take a language class in German or French because he/she is going to work in those countries, then we’d be quite happy to consider that. And the university itself has a Language Center which offers classes in a ton of languages. So there shouldn’t be any concern, unless you are going for something very esoteric.

Linda Abraham: Nina asks, "What is the proportion of UK and non-UK students in the program?"

Conrad Chua: Usually the UK nationals, UK citizens make up 6-9% of the program. So 90% are non-UK nationals.

Linda Abraham: And how many students do you get from the United States and Canada, from North America?

Conrad Chua: From North America we get quite a good percentage. In the past it was probably about 15% from North America; this year we’ve pushed it up to about 20%.

Linda Abraham: So North Americans are venturing abroad!

Saurya asks, "Are applicants working in multi-national companies given preference over applicants working in smaller or start-up companies?" How does the brand of the employer play a role in admissions?

Conrad Chua: I think it all depends on what the applicant has done in that multinational company. Obviously, working in a multinational, gives me at the admissions end a little bit more reassurance because I assume some of these multi-nationals would have a rigorous hiring process. But having said that, sometimes people who work in smaller companies have a much wider range of responsibilities after working just 3-4 years.

This year particularly, I am seeing a lot more people who worked in family businesses. And we are interviewing more people who might have worked in a multi-national for one or two years and got the basic fundamentals of how accounting works, etc. And then they move back to the family businesses and have taken on quite a substantial role for their age or for their experience. Then they come to us to do the MBA, to try to bring everything together and collect their thoughts, and then they go back and take over the family business. So I would say it is not entirely about where you’ve worked, but what you’ve done and how you’ve done it.

Linda Abraham: So it is much more about you than about your employer.

Sukru asks, "How would you analyze the size and effectiveness of the Judge alumni network?"

Conrad Chua: We are a young business school; we are twenty-two years old. Our class size is small; 150-160 students a year. If you multiply that, we don’t have as many alums as other business schools. But it was a conscious decision to keep the class size small so that we have a strong class ethic and very strong bonds between students in the class. And I think when you have that kind of strong shared memories and strong shared bonds, it means that our alums actually help our current students a lot. I spoke about some of our alums in consulting; they actually come back over the weekend and host career talks and host case consulting workshops. A lot of alums help our students get projects. Probably a quarter of our projects come from alums. And alums come back to give career talks, etc.

But the other aspect is because the Business School is part of Cambridge University and the university is much larger and it’s got a long history – it’s 802 years old—you’ve got Cambridge graduates everywhere in the world in any field. It could be finance, industry, politics, consulting, not for profit, etc. You will always be able to link up with a Cambridge University alum. And as a student in the Business School, when you graduate, you are also part of the Cambridge University alumni network.

Linda Abraham: So it goes beyond Cambridge Judge. It’s Cambridge really.

Conrad Chua: Yes.

Linda Abraham: Dena asks, "At this point in the application process, would you discourage someone from applying for September because of lack of spaces? And similarly, are applicants secluded from applying for scholarships and financial aid if they apply in the later stages of the process?"

Conrad Chua: For the first part of the question, no, you shouldn’t be discouraged from applying. There is no pressure on spaces at the end because in terms of the school capacity, we could take a lot more students. That is why our class size might fluctuate sometimes from 150-160 year on year. But people should not be discouraged from applying at a later round.

But what happens in a later round is that some scholarships would have already been awarded. Some of the external scholarships will have been awarded by then. The school itself has certain bursaries which we save for people who are applying in the last round. So there is still financial aid available; it’s just that the range of scholarships would be less.

The other aspect would be that every student in Cambridge has to be a member of a college. And in a college you will meet some other MBA students, but also students from the law faculty, history, natural sciences, oriental languages, etc. – a whole range of people from the university will be in colleges. By the time you come to the last round, there may be fewer colleges left who are accepting post-grad students, so MBAs. So the only two things I would say for people applying in the later round is that you have less selection in terms of scholarships and less selection in terms of colleges. But there is still money available and there are still colleges available.

Linda Abraham: Can you define what a college is in the Cambridge sense?

Conrad Chua: The easiest way to think about it is that it’s like a matrix organization. So the Judge Business School is a department, just like there is an engineering department, a humanities department, a languages department. And the colleges sit parallel to that. Every student in the university is also a member of the college. So in our 150 students, we would have two students in one college, another three students in another college, etc. And it would be the same for the Department of Engineering, the Economics Faculty, the Law Faculty…

Linda Abraham: But is there any unifying thread to a college? If you have a college, would it be a group of diverse people which happen to be at Cambridge?

Conrad Chua: When I first came to Cambridge, it actually took me a while to understand the college concept. Because when I came to Cambridge I thought it was like in the US where it’s like a dorm. But actually it runs much deeper than that. It’s really the social and intellectual glue that keeps the university together. Also, through the college you can meet students, whether its undergrads, post-grads, PhD students from across the university, and you also meet faculty from across the university. And the college environment is actually a very closely-knit environment.

So when you are a member of a college, it’s almost like being a member of a club where there is a huge amount of resources devoted to you as an individual. You could be talking to Stephen Hawking if you are in his college, for example. You could be dining with a Nobel Prize winner. You can be dining with an Olympic medalist who just happens to be a PhD student there. And many of our MBAs tell me that it didn’t really occur to them when they first applied or even when they first started that it would be such an important part of their one year here.

Linda Abraham: Harsh asks, "Can you please elaborate on the different loan options available for international students, in particular for graduate loans?"

Conrad Chua: Because 90% of our students are non-UK nationals, I don’t know what the loan opportunities are in various countries. But people might take in country loans, for example. There is the branch of a major bank here that does offer some loans, but that is something that is separate from the school. They will assess an applicant’s credit worthiness and then decide whether they want to extend loans to that applicant. So I can’t really answer that because so many of our students come from all over the world and a lot of them take loans in their own home country. Some of them might take loans here. But if you are thinking about an MBA, you really have to do a lot of research in terms of whether it makes sense for you to take a loan in your own home country where presumably you’d be insulated from things like currency fluctuations, versus taking the loans in the UK. I think most of our applicants from the US actually take the Stafford Loan.

Linda Abraham: When you are evaluating applications and the applicant numbers on in the ballpark – their GMAT, their GPA, their work experience is competitive – what moves you to put one application in the ‘admit’ pile and others somewhere else?

Conrad Chua: The first part of the admission process is really just reading applications. And for me, it’s always about whether this person is an interesting character. First of all, he/she must tick all the boxes in terms of academics, GMAT, work experience, etc. But then I look to see if he/she has done something that stands out which is quite interesting. It could be something in the workplace. We have applicants who have written about an ethical dilemma that they had to face, and the way they resolved it was quite interesting for me. It could be their backgrounds. Someone might have started out studying law and then ended up working as a tailor.

That is actually what happened to one of our students. He studied law and then he started as a solicitor and he didn’t like it. And he found someone who is a hotshot tailor in London, and he went to work for him. The guy does all the designs for suits and all the tailoring, and the student runs the operations side. That was interesting for me. My first rule of thumb is – is this applicant someone I would like to spend an evening talking to over dinner? And the second thing I assess is whether this is someone I think could be a good ambassador for the university years after they graduate. So it’s about whether A) someone is interesting, and B) whether someone has that potential to do something quite amazing.

Linda Abraham: A few months ago, we had a Q&A with UCLA, and the UCLA dean was listening to the questions. And the questions in that Q&A, unlike this one, were a lot of, "My GMAT is low, how can I compensate?" "I messed up in one course and I got a D in it." Or "I’m too old", or "I’m too young." We haven’t had a lot of those questions here, which is fine. And finally, the dean was a little frustrated and he said — you guys are focusing on the wrong things. He said not to worry so much about this blemish or that blemish or that failing. Yes, address it. But he said that what you really should be focusing on is that you are going to do something that is exceptional. You are exceptional. Where have you done something exceptional? That is what you should be focusing on. And that is pretty much what you are saying too. And I think that is something that sometimes gets lost.

Conrad wrote a post this week about "brandwashing" in MBA admissions, specifically about ads for business schools and the brochures and the web and sometimes the websites, that can make it difficult for applicants to distinguish schools one from the other. And you basically agreed that with the "brandwashing", there is a lot of focus on the ranking, there is a lot of focus on the brand, and not so much on the substance of the program and where it’s going to take you. And I commented that sometimes, from my perspective, schools have a hard time getting at the humanity and the individuality of the applicants, and applicants have a very hard time distinguishing the schools and getting at the individual nature of those programs. I’m wondering if you want to say a word here about "brandwashing" and how applicants should not be "brandwashed".

Conrad Chua: I think the key thing is just to be skeptical. I know it sounds strange, but it’s really to be skeptical and always try to dig deep underneath what you are reading or what people are telling you. If a school tells you that they’ve got great employment statistics or a very high average post-MBA salary, you have to ask yourself — is that applicable to me as a candidate? If you are very interested in going into a particular sector in a particular country, what are the salaries in that particular sector in that particular country? I think that would be a much more useful metric than the average post-MBA salary that the schools give.

And then I’ll raise my hand and say that we do that, we publish all these stats. And I’m always very concerned that people don’t take these statistics at face value and really think about what it means for them as an individual in terms of careers, career goals, etc. I talk a lot about the program and what it offers, and students and applicants have to think of themselves as an individual, and what they want to get out of that one-year MBA. Like a lot of the participants who talked about backgrounds in healthcare, journalism, etc., and we also have people who want to start their own businesses, they need to think about what the school specifically can offer in terms of the program, in terms of the other students whom they’ll be meeting in the class, and the alumni network. And they really need to think through that before they get carried away by the sometimes meaningless stuff that business schools use to advertise themselves.

Linda Abraham: I couldn’t agree with you more, especially about applicants taking the time to think about what they want to accomplish and whether the particular program, its recruiting opportunities, its career goals, career services strengths, and extracurricular opportunities are going to take them where they want to go. Obviously, that applies if they know where they want to go. But I couldn’t agree with you more.

One last quick question. Sukru asks, "Judge does not provide an optional essay question in the application process. What if I have more to say? Should I wait for the interview for that or should I write an optional essay?"

Conrad Chua: I think there is one part where it’s not really an optional essay; it’s more a segment where you can give additional information. If you have trouble finding that on the application form, you can just email us at mba-inquiries@jbs.cam.ac.uk.

Linda Abraham: Thank you again all for participating today. Special thanks to Conrad for joining us today. If you have additional questions for the Cambridge Judge Business School team, please email them to mba-admissions@jbs.cam.ac.uk or go to their ‘engage with us’ page on their website to find out all the ways of researching and interacting with Cambridge Judge. You can also check out their video on YouTube, to hear the first impressions of the MBA 2011 class. We look forward to seeing you at future Q&A and Events. Coming up next:

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Once more, thank you all for joining us today. Best of luck to all with your applications!

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