We posed questions to admissions officials at the Ohio State University Max M. Fisher 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?
Applicants should keep in mind that admissions officers are reading hundreds of applications for their programs each year. The applications that stand out are those that help bring the candidate to life from the paper; those that provide a comprehensive and candid assessment of the candidate from his/her own point of view, as well as from the references that were selected to corroborate his/her story. Applications should showcase the candidate's personality and communicate his/her potential for success in the M.B.A. program at our institution. Strong applicants effectively demonstrate their ability to connect past accomplishments and previous behavior with the attainment of future goals. Applications should give us a clear indication that the candidate has thoroughly researched our program and has given significant thought to the ways in which our program specifically can help him achieve his/her career potential.
2. What do you look for in the application essays? What do the essays tell you about a candidate?
Application essays give the applicant a wonderful opportunity to bring color to his application, to give the admissions committee insight into the applicant's personality, character, past accomplishments, and future goals. We don't want to read application essays that look too "prepared." The essays should be written in the voice and tone of the applicant. They should provide an honest assessment of the applicant's background and well articulated thoughts about the reason for pursuing the M.B.A. and why our institution in particular can help him accomplish his personal and professional goals. While the undergraduate transcripts and GMAT score can help us evaluate a candidate's academic aptitude and potential to succeed doing the coursework in the program, the essays help us evaluate whether his interests and goals are appropriately aligned with our program offerings and, ultimately, whether he would be a good fit with our program's culture.
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 was designed to help business school professionals predict whether applicants would succeed in completing the rigorous coursework that is required of a leading graduate management program. The GMAT and undergraduate GPA are the two quantitative measures we have to evaluate applicants on a more level playing field. That being said, in many cases, an applicant's undergraduate GPA may not be reflective of his potential for graduate study. Similarly, we often see candidates who have experienced academic and professional success despite a history of poor standardized test taking. For that reason, we take a very holistic approach in evaluating candidates for admission to the program. We want to know that the candidates we admit will be academically successful and will add meaningful value to the program through active participation in both classroom discussion and outside activities, organizations, and professional associations. GMAT, GPA, and work experience are all elements that are carefully considered when making admissions decisions. A candidate with a below average undergraduate GPA will want to demonstrate academic aptitude with a competitive GMAT score. A candidate with a weak GMAT score, even after a second attempt, will have to highlight his undergraduate academic record and work experience to overcome the poor GMAT performance.
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?
The quality of a student's experience in the M.B.A. program is heavily influenced by the other individuals that comprise the M.B.A. class. The learning methodology is generally very interactive, team oriented and discussion based. In order for the students to have a positive learning experience, they need to actively participate in classroom discussion, contributing their perspectives based upon their previous experience. Students without significant post-baccalaureate work experience or meaningful internship/co-op experience often have less to contribute, as they don't have the benefit of enough work and life experience to engage in rich and relevant discussion about business issues. Our students generally have an average of four to five years of work experience prior to enrolling, although we will consider younger students who have outstanding academic records, evidence of success in leadership roles, and demonstration of personal characteristics that are reflective of a high-potential leader.
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?
Fisher is distinctive in that we have a relatively small M.B.A. program with an intimate culture, yet our program is housed within one of the world's largest and most well-known research universities. This enables us to offer a highly personalized, collaborative, student-driven experience that leverages the educational resources of the entire university. In fact, students can study almost anything to augment their study of business management. Our M.B.A. students have studied subjects as diverse as agriculture, sports management, foreign language, and actuarial science to help them reach their career goals. Because we're small, we can work to customize every student's education through enrollment in classes from any discipline—not just business. Our curriculum has a strong emphasis on leadership and professional development, as we want to ensure that our students are adequately prepared to succeed in their management roles as they progress through their careers. Workshops, events, and speaker series are designed to help students hone their leadership skills and expand their professional networks. Since our school is located in the midst of a vibrant business community (Columbus is the 16th largest city in the U.S. and home to companies like Nationwide, Victoria's Secret, Wendy's and many others), our students can take advantage of a plethora of experiential learning opportunities by working on high level consulting projects with local firms.
People may be surprised to learn about the extent of international opportunities offered by Fisher. Recently, for example, students returned from spring break in Ethiopia, where they worked on a project involving the export of coffee, and Peru, where students participated in an ongoing microfinance project to help alleviate poverty in a rural South American community. Another group of students went to Brazil to work on sustainable business development projects in anticipation of the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Several Fisher students choose to study in exchange programs with more than 30 educational partners located worldwide, making Fisher's international experiences equal, if not superior, to those available in any other program. But perhaps what most sets us apart is Fisher's long record of excellence in student placement. Even in today's challenging economy, more than 90 percent of our 2009 graduates successfully found employment, exceeding the averages of other leading M.B.A. programs.
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 should provide insight into the candidate's academic and professional accomplishments, his/her personal character, and potential for success as a student in the M.B.A. program and in his/her future career as a leader in an organization. We are looking for demonstrated evidence of personal attributes that are reflective of the candidate's potential to succeed in a leadership capacity. These include communication skills, interpersonal skills, integrity, motivation, passion, empathy, vision, and global awareness, among others. Candidates should select references carefully and ensure that they are asking individuals who know them well to write letters on their behalf. Professional recommendation letters are preferred, although academic recommendations are acceptable, particularly if the candidate is applying to the program with less post-baccalaureate work experience. We are looking for references who can give specific examples about the candidate's potential for success in our M.B.A. program based upon personal interactions with that individual in an academic or professional setting. A letter from the applicant's direct supervisor providing lengthy qualitative feedback is much more useful in the application review process than a short letter from the CEO or another prominent individual in the company that provides little information more than simply verifying that the applicant is employed there.
7. Can you give a brief description of the life cycle of an application? What's the timeline applicants should expect?
Fisher has a rolling admissions process, which means that we evaluate applications for admission as they become complete. Candidates can begin to submit applications in September. We accept applications through May 30 from international candidates and July 15 from domestic candidates. Once a completed application and all supplemental materials have been received by our office, an applicant can expect to hear about next steps within two to three weeks. Applicants may interview to our program by invitation only. All admitted students will have conducted an interview at some point, whether in person, over the phone, or via Skype/webcam. Admissions decisions are made within two weeks of a candidate's interview date.
8. Which firms recruit heavily from your school? Which firms hire the highest percentage of your graduates?
The diversity of our recruiting portfolio and the corresponding spread of our graduates into multiple industries is a testament to the qualities recruiters most value in our program. These include exceptional functional depth in finance, risk management, strategic frameworks, marketing strategy, supply chain analysis, innovation, and entrepreneurship. These characteristics lead to the following companies who target their recruiting at Fisher and hire the highest percentages: Abbott; Accenture; Barclays; Cardinal Health; Deloitte Consulting; Dow Chemical; Emerson; Ford; Humana; Johnson & Johnson; JPMorgan Chase; Kimberly-Clark; Limitedbrands; Nationwide; Nestle; Procter & Gamble; Sears Holdings; The Scotts Company; Whirlpool.
9. What are some of the most common mistakes that applicants make that hurt their chances of being accepted?
It is obvious when essays are copied and pasted for use in multiple applications only to have the name of the school replaced (or not replaced, for that matter). On several occasions, we have seen essays that mention the wrong business school name. This common error can give the impression that the applicant lacks focus, does not pay attention to detail, and only puts forth minimal effort. These are not qualities that business schools wish to attract. Applicants should also be careful to avoid unnecessary spelling, grammatical, and punctuation errors that easily could have been corrected had the applicant proofread his or her work. We recommend that the applicant has another pair of eyes take a look at the résumé and essays to ensure that these mistakes are prevented. We understand that applicants can be anxious as they await admissions decisions and navigate through the admissions process. Something to keep in mind is our strong consideration for the way applicants treat every individual they encounter at Fisher. If we receive feedback from our receptionist that an applicant was extremely rude on the phone, for example, we take note, as we are looking for M.B.A. candidates who have patience, courtesy, flexibility, and professionalism.
10. Can you describe the archetypal student for your school?
The Fisher M.B.A. program only enrolls about 150 students each year. As such, we are searching for a diverse group of students that is going to make a positive impact on the Fisher community. Given that we are looking for candidates from myriad academic, personal, and professional backgrounds, as well as geographic locations, we can't say that there is a "typical" Fisher student. The characteristics of a successful Fisher student include a strong academic aptitude, evidence of teamwork experience and leadership potential, strong communication and interpersonal skills, and a high level of integrity. M.B.A. students who are interested in Fisher tend to be attracted by the opportunity to study in a collaborative, supportive, team-oriented environment. Fisher M.B.A. students are self-driven, open-minded, hard working, and actively involved in projects, activities, and organizations throughout Fisher, Ohio State, and the Columbus community.