We posed questions to admissions officials at the University of California—Irvine Paul Merage 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?
An applicant can set himself or herself apart by highlighting unique qualities and demonstrating superior communication skills. Both uniqueness and communication skills can be demonstrated through the essays and/or an interview. What kinds of things make a candidate unique? Perhaps a candidate had an interesting experience in college or took on an unusual job or community service role. These experiences and achievements tell us a story about a candidate.
With around 110 students entering our M.B.A. program each year, every student has an impact on this experience. We want to understand what makes an applicant interesting and different, and discover how they will contribute in the classroom and ultimately to the program. Communication skills are a top trait recruiters are looking for when considering M.B.A.'s for job opportunities. We want to be sure that a candidate entering our program has the opportunity to be successful, and superior communication skills can definitely set someone apart from other applicants.
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2. What do you look for in the application essays? What do the essays tell you about a candidate?
In application essays, we are looking for three things: business writing skills, understanding of the M.B.A. and our program, and personality/uniqueness. Essays give us insight into a candidate's ability to communicate effectively and concisely, as well as his or her professionalism. It also gives us a sense of their ability to follow directions by answering the questions asked within the requested parameters.
We also use the essays to identify whether or not a candidate understands how the M.B.A. fits in with their career plans and where our school can make an impact. The more research and preparedness shown in the essay writing process will likely indicate how much time and care a candidate will put into their academics, as well as cover letters and résumés in the job recruiting process.
Finally, the essays give us insight into the candidate as a person and what makes him or her unique/different. As mentioned earlier, we want a diverse class of students and sometimes a résumé doesn't say enough. Candidates have the opportunity through the essays to show us some personality—tell us more about themselves and their story.
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?
Every aspect of the application is important. We take a holistic approach to admissions, reviewing each applicant on a case by case basis. This means no portion of the application weights more heavily than any other. We are looking for balance.
Keeping in mind that admissions are competitive, we encourage applicants to look at our class profile (and other school's class profiles) to get a sense of the average GPAs, GMAT scores, years of work experience, etc., from the previous year. This is a good indicator of a candidate's eligibility for admissions from a GMAT and GPA standpoint.
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?
We do not have a minimum requirement for work experience (and this can vary from program to program), but we are looking at the quality of the experience, what a person has accomplished, career progression, and whether or not they have taken initiative in the workplace. We are also looking for demonstrated leadership.
It is recommended that candidates have at least two years of work experience to benefit from the M.B.A. experience. Again, a class profile can give candidates a sense of where their work experience might fit in. For the Merage School, last year's entering class had around 4.7 years of work experience.