We posed questions to admissions officials at the University of Illinois—Urbana-Champaign 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?
Here are some tips for students looking to positively differentiate themselves from their peers:
—Submit a complete and error-free application ahead of the admissions deadline.
—Respond to follow-up calls from the admissions office, current students, and alumni in a timely and professional manner.
—Write thoughtful essays which clearly communicate career goals, leadership skills, and desire to attend Illinois.
—Submit letters of recommendation from professional contacts with deep insights about work ethic, team work skills, managerial skills, etc.
—Visit campus for admissions interviews, when possible.
—Attend as many recruiting events as possible.
—Be creative and original when completing the application.
–Use the essays as a way to discuss any potential weak spots in your application. For example, if you have large gaps in your work history, talk about how you used this time to learn a new skill, travel or volunteer.
—Part of our interview includes a mini-case analysis. Be sure you are comfortable with the basics of case interviewing.
2. What do you look for in the application essays? What do the essays tell you about a candidate?
Student essays are one of the most important components of the M.B.A. application. The essays give us a chance to understand more about a student's personality, professional background, career goals, and communication style, as well as what they plan to accomplish during their time at business school.
Some of the things we look for in student essays include:
—Clear articulation of career goals: We want to see applicants communicate their professional accomplishments and articulate how an M.B.A. will continue their career progression.
—Understanding of the Illinois M.B.A.: We want to see applicants have researched Illinois and can articulate specific aspects of the Illinois M.B.A. program that are consistent with the student's goals.
—Desire to make a difference: We are looking for leaders and enjoy reading about applicants who have had positive impacts in their professional, social, and community networks.
—Balance: We are looking for well-rounded individuals with interesting hobbies and interests outside of work and school.
—Passion: Genuine excitement about academic or professional pursuits is a plus.
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?
Undergraduate GPA, GMAT scores and work experience are all potential predictors of success in graduate school. Rather than weighing these components individually, our admissions team looks at each application holistically, trying to identify students likely to succeed at Illinois. While we prefer students who are strong in all areas of the application, a lower test score or undergraduate GPA will not disqualify a student who has differentiated him or herself by demonstrating excellence in another dimension of their 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?
While on average, our applicants have three to four years of work experience, we are much more interested in the quality of an applicant's work experience then the quantity. We are looking for applicants that are given increasing responsibilities by their employer, have management responsibilities and possess excellent interpersonal skills. Students coming straight from undergraduate school with no formal work experience will be considered at Illinois if they have demonstrated the skills listed above in internships, volunteer activities and/or in student leadership positions.