We posed questions to admissions officials at the University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School 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?
Be yourself. Convey why an M.B.A. makes sense for you right now. Take control of the application process and make sure all the application elements you can control are as strong as possible.
2. What do you look for in the application essays? What do the essays tell you about a candidate?
An essay is a window into who an applicant really is as a person. We don't want to see essays that just say what an applicant thinks we want to hear. This is an opportunity to showcase yourself—so be creative, be personal, be clear and direct, and showcase your strengths and what you'll bring to the diverse M.B.A. program at Smith.
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?
GMAT scores are only one part of an application. While it's important to do well in all parts of an application, you can separate an M.B.A. application into two elements: things you can't change and things you can strengthen. Your undergraduate GPA and your work history fall into the "can't change" category. GMAT scores and essays are areas that applicants have the ability to strengthen. You can take the GMAT more than once to improve your scores. Your essay is your chance to showcase your strengths, which could include your work experience and GPA.
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?
Prior work experience is not a requirement, but it is recommend to really know what you want to get out of your M.B.A. degree. While our students have varying degrees of work experience, most students have spent two to five years working and know what skills they want to develop to take their career in a specific direction. Work experience can also be a great advantage when working in teams throughout the M.B.A. program, as students are able to draw on previous experience.
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?
The Smith School has some of the top faculty members in the world who really understand how to translate research to the classroom. Students learn how to combine global experiences, an entrepreneurial approach, and technology to solve real-world problems in ways that have a lasting impact. Smith students have incredible opportunities to get involved beyond the classroom experience, and the University of Maryland's proximity to Washington, D.C., puts us right at the intersection of government, business, and nonprofits.
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?
Letters of recommendation are an opportunity to hear from a third party on a candidate and a very important element of the application. Recommendation letters should come from someone who really knows the applicant—a direct supervisor, client, or boss—who has worked closely with the applicant and can vouch for his or her work style and character and can honestly give us feedback on the applicant's work ethic, leadership skills, career trajectory, and more. The letter writer's prominence is not nearly as important as how well the writer knows the applicant. The relationship usually comes through very clearly in the letter.
7. Can you give a brief description of the life cycle of an application? What's the timeline applicants should expect?
If you're thinking about getting an M.B.A., the application process really starts more than a year before you begin a program. For the class that will enter the program in fall 2011, the best-case scenario has applicants preparing for GMAT exams in summer 2010. You really want to make sure your application package is as strong as possible. Once you submit an application on our Web site, our admissions team reviews it. In two to three weeks, a candidate may be invited for an interview with an admissions officer. We try to do as many of these interviews in person as possible. About half the candidates are able to visit the Smith School, but for some we travel to do interviews. This year our team was in India, China, South America, all over the United States—we are trying our best to do most interviews in person. Sometimes we conduct phone or Skype interviews. About four to six weeks after the interview with an admissions officer, you'll get an admissions decision and a scholarship decision. Then you'll have one month to place a deposit to hold your spot.