We posed questions to admissions officials at the Tulane University A. B. Freeman 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?
Peers in an M.B.A. program really represent a wide range of people who are moving from a task oriented role and are preparing to assume larger organizational responsibilities. When much—great experience, great GPA, solid GMAT—is the same, it is difficult to differentiate the candidates. Candidates need to take a serious look at themselves and evaluate their strengths relative to a particular program, and communicate that to the committee.
Tulane is great in finance and very entrepreneurial, both attributes that permeate all of the programs. Candidates can support their cause by articulating in essays, interviews, and meetings how they will contribute to the program in quantifiable and entrepreneurial terms.
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2. What do you look for in the application essays? What do the essays tell you about a candidate?
Application essays are mostly pretty weak. I say that because the applicants simply answer the questions without really considering how the essay can best support their application. At many committee meetings, successful applicants have used the essays to address a weakness or to emphasize what they add to the school community (see No. 1).
It is great to have a committee member say something like, "looks weak on the quantitative side" and have another committee member say " yes, but the transcript shows some difficult courses, and his essay describes how he created study groups for that thermodynamics class." Most importantly, the essays can address areas of the application that need further explanation or support. Essays should always be checked three or four times for grammar. Make sure you get the school right.
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?
Assessing a candidate's ability to perform in the classroom is one of the first issues that any admissions office has to consider. No one is well served by admitting students who will eventually fail. In fact, at Tulane, we try to maintain a cohort that can get it and be challenged at about the same level. It makes the classroom a more dynamic experience for students and faculty. GMAT, GPA, major, difficulty of school, class selection, and trending all play into this analysis of the candidate's ability to achieve.
The GPA and the GMAT can be an interesting comparison. While many candidates have a strong correlation, just as many rely on the other to illustrate their ability. The GMAT is a current, yet short assessment of ability. The GPA may be an older and more disconnected assessment of ability. It is simply impossible to suggest they are proportional weights; they are different measures.
Experience too has to be taken in context. Twenty years of one task is hardly preparation for assuming a managerial role. The committee seeks to find applicants who have mastered tasks, encountered responsibility, and taken on entrepreneurial roles within their workplace. As the axiom goes: 'you can't beat experience.'
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?
It is important to have some level of experience that prepares the individual for the next level in their career. We generally tell applicants that two years is the starting point, but each person is different. Some applicants have grown significantly through internships and part-time work. Their résumé and recommendations reflect this growth. It is very important that the applicant have some basis for determining their future choices.
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?
Every business school enjoys a sense of place; a combination of the cultures that formed the school and the faculty and students in the school. At Freeman, this is revealed in a culture that comes from New Orleans and the foundation of Tulane, as a school facing international markets. A century later students come from around the globe, and faculty teach on four continents. This creates an interesting context in which to view business and the business world. People get to see different ways of handling situations, and to learn from great experiences.
To facilitate these experiences, our M.B.A.'s travel to Latin America, Europe, and Asia as part of the curriculum. The students can work on a world class analyst program, manage a multi-million dollar portfolio, engage with family-owned businesses, and develop business plans to compete for tens of thousands of dollars.
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) support the application. That said, the committee looks for recommendations that reinforce the applicant's assertions and abilities. It is important that the letter is from someone who can attest to the applicant's abilities and character. This does not have to be in the workplace or in school—in fact, we often encourage applicants to find people who know them best, who have worked on projects, or can illustrate the applicant's ability outside the workforce or classroom. Often these are the most insightful people who have known the applicant for a longer period.
Public figures, movie stars, and parents are (most often) not the best resource for recommendations. Even people on the administrative board or senior faculty who do not know the applicant well, are not good resources for application recommendations. Remember, we are looking to the recommendation to support and reinforce the abilities of the applicant. This is the opportunity to add information to the application that will better inform the committee. And yes, every year we could paper the walls with great stationary; unfortunately it usually meets the requirement for a recommendation and does not support the applicant.
7. Can you give a brief description of the life cycle of an application? What's the timeline applicants should expect?
Applications are submitted online prior to one of the application submission dates. In general, once the applicant submits the application, we will begin to review. After a preliminary review for the basic information in the application, the application goes into a reading cycle. After reading, the file is assigned an interview priority and will begin the process to committee. After an interview, applicants are reviewed in committee with a final decision coming out of that meeting. We try to have a decision back to applicants within a month.
8. What are some of the most common mistakes that applicants make that hurt their chances of being accepted?
Easily the biggest mistake is not taking time to do a little research. Applicants should look at the programs critically and determine what makes Tulane (or fill in the school) the right choice. Within the business school world, we all know that some schools have similarities. We know that applicants are probably applying to several schools. We really want to know that this school is the right place for the applicant; that this school will provide the right opportunities. This needs to be communicated in the essays, interview, and the application, in general. Naturally, typos and confusing statements should be avoided.
9 . Can you describe the archetypal student for your school?
Freeman seeks to create a pretty diverse group. After all, these students are going to do everything from statistics class to climb the great wall together. That said; we are looking for a student that can compete in the top 15 percent of the academic arena, who has the ability to work in a diverse environment, and can be a creative thinker who can tie all the pieces together. Of course, New Orleans is a fun place and we expect students to be able to work hard and play well.
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