We posed questions to admissions officials at the University of California—Los Angeles Anderson School of Management 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?
When applicants show genuine passion for their goals, we know they have a sense of direction. But when applicants show they have a whole career plan, then we know they have a map, too. M.B.A. candidates should start with a long-term dream that resonates deep within them and then work backward to figure out the practical steps to get there.
Business school knowledge, opportunities, and contacts make the new future possible. But first getting into business school requires proving academic and managerial potential through action. Tough test preparation is vital, as is highlighting leadership roles taken at work and in the community, and making a case for the future with contagious enthusiasm.
[Discover more insights on how to gain admissions to the country's top business schools.]
2. What do you look for in the application essays? What do the essays tell you about a candidate?
The best essays tell a clear story from the past to the future by way of our school. For the UCLA Anderson M.B.A. application, we only require two essays—one asking about the formation of the applicant's character and the other about goals and the specific appeals of UCLA Anderson. Too many applicants just recycle essays from other business school applications without customizing them much. Instead, we prefer those who conduct due diligence on our program and their target field, and describe specific activities they will undertake to build skills and a network here. Ideally, both essays flow together as key qualities in the person are revealed in creative expression, and the development trajectory to a compelling career becomes clear.
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 is just one data point, like the GPA, work experience, essays, and everything else we evaluate to predict each candidate's potential for success. Ours is an academically rigorous program and we want students with strong life skills, too. This means taking into account not just the numbers but also the subjective quality of the school and the coursework completed, along with grade and score trends.
We want people from different backgrounds in terms of undergraduate majors and professional fields, so we are flexible on diverse metrics—as long as the applicant shows enough quantitative skills to handle M.B.A. material and the verbal skills to discuss it.
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?
UCLA Anderson's M.B.A. program has no minimum work requirement. The average student has five years of post-undergraduate experience, with the range from 0 to 20 years. Those who have less experience balance their profiles with academic and extracurricular strengths, while others are veterans with great workplace stories to share. For us, the quality of experience is more important than the quantity. For instance, how does the applicant compare to peers, in terms of increasing responsibilities in managing projects and people? Do they know what transferable skills they bring to their post-M.B.A. goals, and do they have a focus for adding value during business school? We want diverse people in the class who have worked in finance, marketing, science, engineering, government, etc., so we look for those who know how to learn from others and transition to a new reality.
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 benefits of UCLA Anderson's location, learning, and culture all complement each other. Southern California's diverse economy provides contacts in every field of interest for students to explore. Learning through experience and applying business theories to the real world is how an M.B.A. student masters new skills. So our students engage in classes, projects, jobs, and leadership roles to absorb cutting-edge knowledge that works. Many experts come through this crossroads of the world to share their expertise, and our top-rated faculty calls it home.
All parts of the UCLA Anderson community share a passion for collaboration and dynamism. This is a fast-moving city leading the culture, and our students set the pace by encouraging each other to learn ideas and take productive action. They also don't forget to have fun here on the west side, which is the best side of Los Angeles.
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?
Current direct supervisors are best placed to offer concrete examples of the candidate's leadership, inter-personal skills, and contributions to the organization. Ideally, the recommender "goes to bat" for the applicant, conveying value with passion and detail. We are more interested in the content of a recommendation than in the writer's own title or English. Cursory letters from distant contacts do not help make the applicant's case. Nor can professors usually answer in-depth questions on a student's leadership skills or managerial style.
Accordingly, we advise candidates to start with the recommendation information on our website and figure out who can answer the questions most effectively. The goal is to get a third-party confirmation of personal qualities shown over time, insights on achievements, and a vote of confidence for the future.
7. Can you give a brief description of the life cycle of an application? What's the timeline applicants should expect?
Our three rounds of applications provide submission deadlines in October, January, and April. Round 2 is always the most popular one, though we admit distinctive candidates from every round. Admissions decision releases follow about 10 weeks after each round's submission deadline. Interview invitations peak in the middle of each round as we pre-screen candidates for viability, then interviews diminish near decision release day.
Multiple admissions officers read each file, and passing them around is easier than ever now that our process is completely paperless. Reading applications on the iPad with Matchbox software means we can zoom in on candidates with greater speed and depth than ever before. This innovation came along just in time to help us with our big increase in M.B.A. applications, which are up more than 20 percent so far this year.
8. Which firms recruit heavily from your school? Which firms hire the highest percentage of your graduates?
The career boost that students get at UCLA Anderson often propels them to a whole new field, if not to a much higher level in their pre-M.B.A. industry. The school's strengths in diverse areas attract a broad range of employers, from consulting to finance to high tech to marketing firms (see below). Those who hire Anderson graduates consistently find them to be team leaders, master communicators, and agents of change. Many will become entrepreneurs with their own venture in the long term.
This year, our curriculum shifted to be even more market-facing, to deepen functional expertise faster, and recruiters keep responding enthusiastically to our students' abilities to hit the ground running.
Top hiring firms in 2010-2011: Amazon, Amgen, Applied Materials, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Barclays Capital, Boston Consulting Group, Cisco Systems, Citi, Clorox, Credit Suisse, Deloitte Consulting, Deutsche Bank, eBay, Ernst & Young, FOX Entertainment, General Mills, Goldman Sachs, Google, Houlihan Lokey, IBM, Intel, Johnson & Johnson, LiveNation Ticketmaster, Mattel, McKesson, McKinsey & Co., Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, NBCUniversal, Nestlé USA, PIMCO, Paramount Pictures, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Roll International, Royal Bank of Canada, Salesforce, Samsung, Sony, Southern California Edison, Symantec, Toyota, Trust Company of the West, Walt Disney, Warner Bros., Yahoo!, and ZS Associates.
9. What are some of the most common mistakes that applicants make that hurt their chances of being accepted?
Too many applicants do not seize opportunities to distinguish themselves from the crowd. Half-hearted essays miss the mark, especially when they lack compelling details about the candidate's formative experiences, target career, and plans at our school. Applicants should first get excited about the opportunities ahead and then let that passion come through on paper.
The best candidates also address their weaknesses proactively, taking an additional math course for example, or finding a leadership role in a community organization. Small details count, too, as we use data points gathered from every interaction or even typos to gauge a candidate's self presentation and fit with our school. Polished professionals are what we produce, which requires the finest raw material coming in.
10. Can you describe the archetypal student for your school?
In each full-time M.B.A. class of 360 students, we want a whole panoply of backgrounds represented, on every metric from geography to industry to undergraduate major. What all UCLA Anderson students share is a friendly nature, showing confidence without arrogance as they push each other to achieve. Taking smart risks is encouraged here, cultivating an entrepreneurial spirit that empowers even intrapreneurs within large organizations going forward.
Serving others is part of the ethos, too, as community activism and productive teamwork yield widespread benefits. Our students understand that what you get out of any experience depends on what you put into it, and they put their all into their M.B.A. transformation together.
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