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.
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?
From a curriculum standpoint, we offer a number of courses that are specific to the Merage School experience:
Sustainability and Competitive Advantage, a new course offered starting last year, allows students to understand the challenge of addressing social and environmental sustainability from a strategic perspective. This course enables our graduates to capture business opportunities in sustainability while making a difference for this and future generations.
The EDGE course explores the roles of globalization, technology, and innovation in the changing landscape of business. This course prepares our students to proactively identify opportunities and challenges presented by globalization, technology, and innovation, and develop strategies needed to compete and be successful.
Leadership Strategies provides students with insights and perspectives into leadership and their leadership style. The course allows them to understand the frameworks of leadership but also how others see them as a leader. Students create a plan for enhancing their leadership and career.
We also have an Experiential Learning project that many of our students like to take advantage of. This course serves as an opportunity for our students to address real-life business challenges. Students contribute to the bottom line of organizations and it's good networking for future career opportunities.
The companies our students work with vary from year to year but recent companies our students have worked with include: Experian, Disneyland, Vizio, Johnson & Johnson, Hyundai, Wet Seal, Bausch & Lomb, Volcom, Taco Bell, and Marriott.
From a career standpoint, we consider our approach to M.B.A. careers to be unique and impactful:
Before students even set foot on campus, the career transformation begins with career-visioning exercises. We put a lot of emphasis on professional development and helping individuals find their career focus. Career visioning exercises help students hone in on their career interest, as well as strengths and weaknesses and are followed by a workshop to identify their career vision.
Then, our powerhouse of M.B.A. career counselors work one-on-one with each of our students to develop a customized career marketing plan to help them utilize all the resources the Merage School has to offer to connect them with their career goals.
The M.B.A. class of 2009, the first graduating class to complete the career visioning process, ranked No. 1 in the country for employment in 2009 with 92 percent of our M.B.A. students employed by three months after graduation. More recently, the class of 2011 also had 92 percent of our students employed within three months of graduation and 100 percent within five months. This is a testament to the career visioning process and the Merage School M.B.A. Career Center's ability to prepare our students for where they want to go in their career.
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 provide the admissions committee with an opportunity to learn about the candidate from someone else's perspective, preferably from a professional perspective. Therefore, having a recommendation from someone who works with the applicant on a regular basis will be more valuable than a highly ranking official who has minimal interaction with the applicant.
We are looking for quality insight into the candidate, their accomplishments and interactions with others. We want to see that type of insight and if a prominent public figure can speak to that, great. But the stature of the recommender does not impact the application in any way.
7. Can you give a brief description of the life cycle of an application? What's the timeline applicants should expect?
We are on rolling admissions, which means we are evaluating applications as we receive them. We do have target deadlines as a guideline. Our final two application deadlines are April 1 and June 1.
Once an application is complete, it will go through two, sometimes three reviews. It typically takes up to two weeks to receive a response regarding whether or not an applicant has been invited for an interview. Interviews are by invitation only and are conducted either in person on campus or through Skype.
After an official admissions interview, the application will be presented to the admissions committee. After the application is reviewed by the admissions committee, it takes no more than two to three weeks to receive an admissions decision.
8. Which firms recruit heavily from your school? Which firms hire the highest percentage of your graduates?
Top firms that consistently recruit and hire our graduates: The Walt Disney Company, Toyota, Mattel, Experian, Johnson & Johnson, Deloitte, AT&T, IBM, and Niagara Bottling.
9. What are some of the most common mistakes that applicants make that hurt their chances of being accepted?
Common mistakes applicants make include failing to be professional in their interactions with the admissions committee and throughout the admissions process, and overlooking the importance of self reflection and research in preparation for the application and interview process.
The admissions process gives us insight into how applicants would approach the job search and interact with recruiters. With the M.B.A. being a professional degree, it is crucial that every interaction be professional. Applicants need to be mindful of all interactions and treat the process as they would a job interview process. Each point, positive or negative, will be remembered. Be sure to leave a positive impression.
Preparation and understanding of how the M.B.A. and specific school will benefit the applicant is something many applicants overlook. This often lets us know whether they are ready for the M.B.A. degree.
Do research, understand the M.B.A. career paths and how that fits in with goals, and know which programs have the resources and environment to help get you there. Ultimately, research will not only help an applicant indicate genuine interest and understanding of a specific program but will also help identify if the investment in the M.B.A. is appropriate at this time, and what programs will fit best for him or her to succeed.
10. Can you describe the archetypal student for your school?
Due to the intimate size of the full-time M.B.A. program at the Merage School, it is crucial that each incoming student fit within our culture. Our students each bring something different to the program, and we value that diversity, but some of the defining characteristics that fit all of our students are that they are bright, ambitious, strong communicators, work well in teams, and are optimistic.
Our students are very bright and challenge each other within the classroom. A common drive and focus is key in an M.B.A. setting. Communication skills are crucial in order to be successful in the M.B.A. program and in the business world.
We offer a collaborative learning environment and understand the importance of this in business, so each of our students has to have an ability to thrive within a team. Finally, the optimistic attitude of our students allows them to recognize all the resources and opportunities available and how to benefit from them.
A great way to experience our culture first hand is through our student ambassador program. Contact any of our students to gain genuine perspective on the Merage School culture and experience.
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