We posed questions to admissions officials at the University of Georgia Terry College of Business 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?
There are many low-effort activities that allow the admissions representatives at a program to become familiar with an individual's name. An applicant can check out the school's website, set up an account to get on their e-mail list, join their Facebook group, follow them on Twitter, and read their blog.
However, if an applicant really wants to stand out, he or she must take the time to meet one or two members of the admissions team in person. If possible, attend an information session hosted by the school or meet a school representative at an M.B.A. fair. These are key opportunities to introduce yourself and make a positive first impression. Make sure to come prepared with a few thoughtful questions that show you've already done your preliminary research on the program. If you are invited to special events at the school, such as lectures or conferences, attend topics that are of interest to you. At Terry, we take notice of which candidates attend events. What an applicant really wants is enough contact to let the admissions staff know that s/he's seriously considering that school. If the staff recognizes you when you go for your interview, then you've achieved the desired result!
2. What do you look for in the application essays? What do the essays tell you about a candidate?
We are looking for clearly articulated and focused goals, supported by self-knowledge and previous experience. We are trying to understand the candidate, his employment potential, and his fit with our program. We want to see our students succeed, develop as business professionals and get the jobs of their dreams, so it is essential that they know how they want to profit from earning an M.B.A. We see a group of applicants every year who think they will figure out what they want to be when they grow up while they are in the M.B.A. program, but they don't realize how short a time they have. In our program, students are talking with our Career Management Center about the companies they want to target during orientation!
The essays will reveal a lot about a candidate's abilities: Organization of thought, ability to analyze and synthesize information, and very importantly, the ability to connect with an unknown person by putting herself in "other" enough to know what to say and how to say it. Furthermore, a well-written essay without spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors communicates that "here is someone who pays attention to details, who understands and cares that such things reflect on her personally, and who has set high standards of performance for herself." That's the kind of candidate we want to admit.
3. How important is the applicant's GMAT score? How do you weigh it against undergraduate GPA and work experience? Which of these carry the most weight? The least?
The GMAT score is important, but it's just one factor in the set of criteria that we weigh when evaluating a candidate. We do not have any hard and fast rules as to which factor, the GMAT or GPA, weighs most or least. However, terrific work experience and a well-defined and attainable career goal will outweigh a less than stellar GMAT every time. When a GMAT is low, we compare it with the candidate's undergraduate GPA to better understand the individual's academic abilities. Many excellent candidates simply don't do well on standardized tests and the GPA is a good counterbalance to the GMAT.
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?
Previous work experience is given the greatest weight in our admissions decisions. We expect a minimum of two years of work experience, though we will make an exception when we think that is justified. We think three to five years is the sweet spot for full-time applicants as a general rule, and our program typically averages between four and five years.