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How to Get In: Vanderbilt University Owen Graduate School of Management

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


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 high-level point of view, we relish the intimate experience at Vanderbilt. Students will always have one-on-one time with world-renowned professors and administrators. And those who go through the M.B.A. program here tend to form durable, lasting bonds. We also offer a unique Leadership Development program in partnership with Korn/Ferry that includes the kinds of assessment and coaching often reserved for executives once they arrive in the C-Suite.

In terms of programs, health care is rapidly becoming one of our biggest draws, in part because of our academic and industry expertise and partly due to our location in a major health care city, home to both Vanderbilt University Medical Center and HCA.

Finance has also long been a cornerstone of Vanderbilt's M.B.A. program. As many as 40 percent of students specialize in finance and our faculty includes some of the biggest names in the field, including J. Dewey Daane, who played influential roles at the U.S. Federal Reserve and Treasury Department; Hans Stoll, a towering figure in futures and options markets; Robert Whaley, creator of the VIX Market Volatility Index; and Craig Lewis, currently serving as chief economist of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

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?

Typically the best person to write a recommendation is an immediate supervisor at a current or recent job. It should be somebody who knows the applicant well and can discuss in concrete terms how an individual made a positive impact on an organization. Don't bother with prominent figures unless you happened to work directly with somebody like a famous CEO or senator. We also suggest that candidates take the person writing the recommendation out for coffee or lunch to talk one-on-one about how an M.B.A. will fit into and bolster your career goals. Ideally, that explanation will be reflected in the recommendation letter.

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

From the date you submit a completed application, it takes four to six weeks to receive a decision. We have five rounds of rolling admissions that run from October to May. Applying early won't necessarily increase your chances of admissions, though more scholarship money is available the earlier you submit an application.

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

Here are the top employers listed in our Employment Report: Deloitte; Bank of America Merrill Lynch; General Electric; Goldman Sachs; Johnson & Johnson; Barclays Capital; Delta Air Lines; Mars, Inc.; Procter & Gamble; Nissan North America; Hanes Brands; Credit Suisse; DaVita; Exxon Mobil; Mattel; HCA.

9. What are some of the most common mistakes that applicants make that hurt their chances of being accepted?

Perhaps not the most common, but the most damaging, mistake applicants make is simply being inconsistent. We want a person's story to make sense. If you express an interest in a finance career, yet have a weak quantitative aptitude and no work experience in the field, you'll need a compelling explanation for why. In addition, we want applicants who show that they've spent time researching our school and thinking about why they'll make a good fit at Vanderbilt.

As for more common missteps, it always helps to remind applicants that they should act with professional decorum in every interaction they have with us—including small details like an outgoing voicemail message or E-mail signature. That's not to say everything has to be stiff and formal, but applicants should conduct themselves as they would on a job interview.