We posed questions to admissions officials at the University of Arizona Eller College of Management regarding the application process, what they look for in applicants and what sets their school apart. These are their responses:
1. What can applicants do to set themselves apart from their peers?
Communicate clearly in all parts of the application where they are coming from and where they want to go to following the M.B.A. That is, the essays should give the candidate the opportunity to describe how their past experience has shaped their personal character and professional aspirations, and how they would leverage the M.B.A. moving forward to attain their next set of goals.
The résumé should work in conjunction with this, by providing specific accomplishments in their work history. In addition, the letters of recommendation should serve as an independent assessment of the candidate's past successes and whether they are prepared for this next step in professional development.
2. What do you look for in the application essays? What do the essays tell you about a candidate?
See my response in the first paragraph above. But to reiterate, we are looking for motion in the applicant's life, and that is a challenge to provide in a static written document. The essay should emphasize his or her career progression, and focus on the past and future.
We also look for an ability to think critically and for an ethical framework when answering essay questions that ask them to assess a managerial problem. Obviously, we want them to be able to hone their critical thinking skills once they are here, and we will provide examples to further define their ethical rubric—but we do want to see some valuable raw material. Finally, creativity in the essays is a big plus as well.
3. How important is the applicant's GMAT score? How do you weight it against undergraduate GPA and work experience? Which of these carry the most weight? The least?
The GMAT is an important tool. We use it as our first ranking, because it is a standardized skills assessment. But, and this is important to emphasize, we look at the undergrad (and any other post-graduate education) GPAs and work experience with almost equal weight to the GMAT. A candidate could make up for a deficiency in one of those categories with strengths in the others. But they probably could not score poorly on two of the three dimensions; that would likely lead to a denied application.
4. How much does prior work/internship experience weigh into your decision making? What's the typical or expected amount of work experience from an applicant?
It is extremely important. The classroom and experiential learning opportunities we provide can be best utilized by students with professional backgrounds where they have previously come across some of the issues that we discuss. At the time they approached these issues prior the M.B.A., we can assume that perhaps they did not fully comprehend the managerial implications of the decisions being made. From the experience in our program, they will achieve greater insight into these business problems, and be able to think about them more critically and strategically going forward.
Our full-time students tend to have about three to four years of experience on average. We can accommodate less experience especially when they have another post-graduate technical (e.g., engineering) or professional (e.g., law) degree, or plan on pursuing such degrees in tandem with the M.B.A. We do this because we believe the work experience is supplemented by this other technical training, which will be useful to them in the job search process.
5. What sets you apart from other schools? What can students gain from your school that they might not be able to find anywhere else?
We allow a great deal of customization in the M.B.A., with an ability to pursue traditional concentrations in finance and marketing supplemented by strength in niche areas of entrepreneurship and management information systems. Both of these latter programs are typically ranked in the top five or 10 in most independent rankings.