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.
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?
Like many top graduate schools, the Illinois M.B.A. offers a challenging, case-oriented curriculum taught by award-winning faculty. However, Illinois differentiates itself from other institutions in the following areas:
—Our program offers unique flexibility, so after you complete the integrated first-year curriculum you can choose from a wide variety of business and non-business courses to meet your career objectives.
—The Illinois M.B.A. has a global experiential learning emphasis, which means we provide exceptional opportunities for you to gain experience beyond the classroom. A great example of this is Illinois Business Consulting, the largest student-run business consultancy in the United States. IBC offers students a chance to work on real-world problems for a variety of organizations.
—Our program has been consistently named one of the top M.B.A. schools in the United States by U.S.News & World Report, and that recognition garners the attention of prospective employers.
—We're part of a world-class university with an international reputation for academic excellence, so you'll learn from renowned faculty and benefit from the extraordinary academic and research resources on campus.
—We have the world's largest alumni network, which translates into vast opportunities for you to make valuable business connections.
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?
Recommendation letters are extremely important in the application process. The purpose of the recommendation letter is to provide insights on the applicant's professional capabilities including leadership and teamwork skills, work ethic, and ability to adapt to new challenges. Therefore, it is extremely important for the recommender to know the applicant very well. We place greater weight on the relationship between the applicant and the recommender than the recommender's title or position within an organization. Letters from prominent public figures who do not know the applicant well will not have a positive impact on the student's application.
We recommend students seek recommendations from the following (in order of preference):
—Superior/manager at current employer
—Superior/manager at previous employer
—Peer/subordinate at current employer
—Peer/subordinate at previous employer
—Leader of religious/community service organization
Please note that we do not consider recommendations from family members or friends.
7. Can you give a brief description of the life cycle of an application? What's the timeline applicants should expect?
All applications to the Illinois M.B.A. are read by at least two admissions officers in addition to a member of our student admissions committee. If the admissions committee is interested in learning more about an applicant, an interview is scheduled at the applicant's earliest convenience. While in-person interviews are preferred, we use Skype for applicants unable to visit campus. We try to inform all students of our admissions decision within two weeks of their interview, but it is not always possible given the number of applications we process. In general, students who submit their application earlier in the process, (e.g., before December 15) receive a response more quickly than those that wait until the final admissions deadline.
8. Which firms recruit heavily from your school? Which firms hire the highest percentage of your graduates?
Illinois M.B.A. graduates are in great demand in a variety of companies and industries. The following organizations hire Illinois M.B.A.'s each year: AT&T, Cisco Systems, Ernst & Young, Exxon-Mobil, LG Corporation, Nalco Company, Peabody Energy, Robert Bosch, Sears Holding Corporation, and U.S. General Services Administration.
9. What are some of the most common mistakes that applicants make that hurt their chances of being accepted?
Some common student mistakes include:
—Not completing application on time
—Not being responsive to calls or E-mails from the admissions staff, current students and/or alumni
—Appearing overly nervous during the interview
—Submitting an application with numerous spelling or grammatical mistakes (or with another school name in the essays)
—Not personalizing the essays to include why Illinois is a good fit
10. Can you describe the archetypal student for your school?
A perfect applicant to the Illinois M.B.A. program:
—Demonstrates a pattern of making a positive difference wherever they go (undergrad, work, community service, etc.)
—Has quality work experience (pattern of increasing responsibilities, management experience, exposure to international business, if possible)
—Went to an excellent undergraduate institution and earned a high GPA
—Scored well on the GMAT
—Is regarded by co-workers, subordinates and superiors as a team player
—Has excellent communication skills
–Knows what they want to accomplish while earning their M.B.A.
—Knows why Illinois is best suited to help them achieve their goals
—Demonstrates a strong work ethic, can-do attitude and desire to seize all opportunities afforded to M.B.A. students at Illinois