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How to Get In: University of Southern California Marshall School of Business

What can you do to set yourself apart in your application? Admissions officials have the answers.

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We posed questions to admissions officials at the University of Southern California Marshall 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?

We seek candidates who have solid work experience—individuals who have progressed in their careers, have a strong GPA, detailed letters of recommendation, and demonstrate interest and engagement in the world.

[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?

We look for students who have vision; they know why they want an M.B.A. and why they want to be at USC Marshall. They understand how an M.B.A. will facilitate both their short- and long-term goals.

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?

We evaluate applicants holistically and consider academics (GPA, GMAT, or GRE). We also want to understand their stories, which we learn from essays and letters of recommendations.

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 prefer a minimum of two years of post-undergraduate 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?

Globalization: We were the first school to make international experiential learning a mandatory part of all of M.B.A. degrees. In addition, USC Marshall has been building relationships in the Pacific Rim for more than 30 years. These international networks and overseas relationships are critical—they open doors and allow our students to have access to businesses and organizations across the globe.

Customization: There is a considerable degree of customization in our M.B.A. curriculum. In the last year, the program has been restructured so that all core classes are taken at the beginning of the program. This leaves more time for electives so students can customize their M.B.A. toward career objectives.

Location: USC Marshall is located in a cosmopolitan and creative capital; Los Angeles is our learning lab—it's a city that is a center of trade, content creation, technology, and innovation. It's also a jumping-off point for global centers of trade in the Pacific Rim.

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?

We look at letters that showcase what it is like to work with a candidate and prefer letters by a supervisor, a former supervisor, or a client over academic letters of reference. We would like to understand the candidate's strengths and weaknesses from someone who has interacted with the candidate versus someone with a higher title who does not know the individual well.

7. Can you give a brief description of the life cycle of an application? What's the timeline applicants should expect?

For the full-time MBA applicant, we have three different notification periods. Applicants on the waitlist can be notified of a change in status at any time.

8. Which firms recruit heavily from your school? Which firms hire the highest percentage of your graduates?

Here is a sampling of hiring companies: American Express, AT&T, Cathay Bank, Cisco, Citigroup, Deloitte, Edison International, Ernst & Young, General Electric, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Mattel, Nestle USA, Proctor & Gamble, Raytheon, Samsung, San Disk, Taco Bell, Target Corporation, Trust Company of the West, and The Walt Disney Company.

The highest percentage of full-time M.B.A. graduates accept positions in finance, consulting, and marketing.