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.
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?
Our students would say that it's the people that set Terry apart, not just the faculty and staff, but the students themselves. Terry is very good at facilitating the creation of true communities of learners, communities that continue to flourish long after graduation. We would say that it's the substantial investment Terry makes in every M.B.A. student, not only through our faculty and curriculum, but directly through financial awards, seminars taught by business experts, professional executive coaches working with students to develop their strengths as managers and leaders, and even travel scholarships to career fairs and case competitions.
Terry's entrepreneurship program uniquely focuses on working with students to start real businesses while they're in the M.B.A. program. Even students not planning on an entrepreneurial career benefit from acquiring an entrepreneurial mindset. M.B.A. students can join start-up teams for companies that are the "brain children" of marketing pioneer and Terry entrepreneur-in-residence Dill Driscoll—such as the Digital College Network, E-TV (E for Entrepreneur), and the start-up, Stats, that is marketing a new product that has caught the attention of pro-scouts and the UGA baseball team. Entrepreneurship program director Chris Hanks has developed and sold several businesses himself and is well known in venture capital circles. Rising entrepreneurs flourish here!
6. What do you look for in recommendation letters? How important is it that the letter's writer has worked regularly with the candidate in an office or school setting? Do you put much weight on letters from prominent public figures who may not know the applicant well?
We prefer letters of recommendation from a manager or client who has had direct experience working with the candidate over a period of time. We are looking for information on the candidate's work ethic, self-management skills, achievements, and ability to collaborate. Lesser weight is given to recommendations from prominent figures or former teachers who have not had substantive opportunities to know a candidate well.
7. Can you give a brief description of the life cycle of an application? What's the timeline applicants should expect?
Terry has four application rounds and deadlines. If a student completes her application by the deadline, including score reports, transcripts, and recommendations, the application will be read by the admissions staff and evaluated for an invitation to interview on campus or via Skype. After the interview, the application is reviewed by the admissions committee and a decision made. Applicants receive electronic notification of the decision in approximately 45 days from the submission deadline for that round.
8. Which firms recruit heavily from your school? Which firms hire the highest percentage of your graduates?
Terry has long-standing recruiting relationships with Accenture, Aflac, Bank of America, BB&T, Carter's, Coca-Cola, CSX, Deloitte, E-Trade, Johnson & Johnson, Newell Rubbermaid, Regions Bank, Rock Tenn, The Home Depot, and Unum. Bank of America, BB&T, CSX, Unum, Aflac, AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Johnson & Johnson, and Chick-fil-A hire regularly from the program.
9. What are some of the most common mistakes that applicants make that hurt their chances of being accepted?
Not doing their homework. Sometimes candidates ask questions that lead us to wonder if they've visited our website. Simple questions that can be answered by the most cursory scan of our homepage shouldn't be asked. It may be a sign that the individual needs hand-holding—not what we or a future employer necessarily want.
Also, discourage Mom and Dad from calling the admissions office and asking questions on your behalf. Half the calls are probably made without the applicants' knowledge, but it still reflects poorly on the applicant. Helicopter parents need to know when they're not helping!
Candidates who visit campus for an interview typically are taken to lunch by a current student. Taking cell calls that are clearly not an emergency while a student is taking time out of his day to have lunch and answer any and all questions leaves a very bad impression that is usually shared with the admissions team.
10. Can you describe the archetypal student for your school?
Recruiters value UGA M.B.A. students for their "roll-up-the-sleeves" attitudes. You'll find no M.B.A. entitlement here. Terry M.B.A. students are practical, with a solid understanding of the core business functions and how they interrelate, and eager to take on a challenge, without letting status or rank get in the way. Our students and graduates are excellent colleagues and team players who are able to begin contributing the first day on the job because they jump in immediately to do the work that needs doing.