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Admissions Q&A: Queen's

Teamwork is key at Queen’s School of Business. The Kingston (Ont.) school uses a team-based learning approach to create a business microcosm where personalities are forced to set aside any differences and collaborate on presentations, projects, and assignments. The teams, which consist of six or seven students from a variety of backgrounds, work together during the core of the 12-month program.

Students also benefit from coaches who contribute to individual support systems that help the MBAs get the most out of their experiences. Queen’s students each select a personal coach and also work with a team coach, a career coach, and a lifestyle coach. “Students have an opportunity to talk with them about any number of things in terms of their own personal development,— says Kerri Regan, the manager of recruitment and admissions for the full-time MBA program. “It could be working on interpersonal skills, or you may feel challenged in making decisions, or something of that nature.”

Another cornerstone of the Queen’s experience is being a part of a diverse student body. According to the school’s website, 41 percent of the Class of 2012 is international, significantly more than most top-tier U.S. programs. What does this add to business education at Queen’s? Bloomberg Businessweek reporter Victoria Taylor talked to Regan about diversity, being part of a team, and the application process at Queen’s. What follows is an edited segment of their conversation.

How long have you had your job?

I’ve been in this role for almost five years.

And have you seen any major changes in applicants over those five years?

Generally, the application pool for us in particular has diversified significantly, partly because when I joined the program, we were just coming out of the era when we were an MBA for Science & Technology program [now the full-time MBA program]. I definitely think we have seen a strong diversification in terms of the [applicants'] backgrounds. Many more students are coming from the arts and humanities and business backgrounds, more so than we would have seen five years ago.

What makes Queen’s special?

We’re clear in our messages about what the Queen’s experience is really about, and that would be our team-based model. It’s something we have been doing for a number of years. The extensive use of teams within our program structure is something that people identify very specifically with Queen’s. I think people who are applying are looking for that element. What I also think is very strong is the effort we make to talk to students. There’s this really strong sense of community we’ve created.

Can you tell me a little bit more about the team approach?

Absolutely. It’s not unusual for teams to be part of a business program. I guess the differentiator for us is that you don’t pick your teams. We build the teams based on diversity and [applicant] profiles with the specific goal of giving students an opportunity to hone their leadership skills. The other dynamic is that you don’t move around and work with different teams, so you have to take your performance in that particular team to the maximum level. We provide students with a lot of resources to help them do that. They have a coach who is also there to act as a sounding board. They have their own office, and we try to replicate what happens in the real-world environment.

Queen’s is very diverse. How does that affect the program’s dynamic?

I think students end up becoming a lot more aware of what businesses are doing differently in different parts of the world. Having the international perspective is so important to our students. For our international students, it’s a great opportunity to understand how business is conducted in North America. And ultimately, most of them are looking to remain in Canada after graduation.

Do you have any general advice for applicants?

My biggest recommendation for prospective students would be not to self-select out because of their GMAT performance.

Also, students need to make sure they’re paying attention to what they are actually submitting. Many of the students will be applying to more than one school, and it’s important for them to take the time to tailor their applications to each of the specific programs they are applying to. We spend a lot of marketing dollars differentiating ourselves, and we want to know that what we do, and how we do it differently, is appealing to you. [Prospective students] need to make sure they’re proofreading for simple things like putting the wrong school’s name [in the application essays] and also that they put some thought into how the delivery of your specific program applies to their goals.

How important is prior work experience?

I think one of the key things when looking at students’ work experience is whether they have demonstrated that they were able to add value in their previous organization. Having a good sense of that gives us a sense of what they will actually bring to the classroom environment. Half of what students will take away from their MBA will be what they will learn from their peers. At Queen’s, it’s important that we are putting a qualified group of students together to give them the benefit of learning from one another. That work experience component is a really integral part of evaluating an applicant.

I also tell students that, without having any experience, the classroom environment and all the value you could potentially extract is somewhat lost. Many of our faculty members have active consulting practices and have had industry experience. If you have something to then apply [their lessons] to, it makes it that much more of a richer experience.

Are you actively doing anything to recruit more women?

At the moment, we are the only Canadian program or school that is a sponsor of the Forté Foundation [an organization that encourages women to pursue business education and business leadership roles]. We actually give out two specific fellowships or scholarships to women each year in our partnership with Forté, and those two women get access to some of the more exclusive Forté resources. We send them to the conference every year, so that’s one of the things. And that partnership is about four or five years [old].

We also do a series of events across Canada called Women and the MBA to help bring together alumni of our various programs. They come to talk about reasons for pursuing an MBA and things that have happened to them as a result of pursuing an MBA. The event brings together prospective female applicants and gives them an opportunity to talk to admissions staff as well. The other thing is really utilizing the women who are currently in our program who want to be actively involved in that process and providing connections between applicants who are considering an MBA and women who are right in the middle of it. We also launched a series of webinars profiling alumni this past winter. So a number of initiatives are in the works right now.

Tell me more about the personal coaching aspect of the Queen’s experience.

One of our former students described it as a type of coaching ecosystem that we’ve created at Queen’s. What that consists of is the team coach that students have access to for the duration of the 8-month core. Beyond that are things like a personal development coach, which is somewhat like executive coaching, so these aren’t faculty members. I think the key element is that students actually get to direct that conversation. We also have our career coaching, which is very specific to a student’s career goals. [It includes] résumé preparation, and networking opportunities, and mock interview preparation, and all those sorts of things they do one-on-one with a member of our career services team. The last part of that is lifestyle coaching. That’s an optional activity that students can do if they may be looking at how to incorporate [work-life] balance better or some other element, such as nutrition, that they’re looking for assistance with. We just sort of wrap this element of support around each student and really look at what we can do as a school to make them extract the most out of the experience. It’s a big differentiator.

Do you have stats yet for job offers for the Class of 2011?

The reporting structure is generally three month and six months after graduation. The general vibe from our career services team and certainly from those students who have just graduated is that the economy and the job market is in a very good place and they are very excited about the opportunities available to them. At one point in the process this spring, we were looking at being 200 percent over and above where we had been the previous year. So the vibe is that the economy is coming back, and I think the career services team has made some appropriate and timely changes on their side. All those things aligning have resulted in some great success for our 2011 grads.

Are there any specific companies that your MBAs have gone on to work for or things they have done that are memorable or surprising?

There are so many great stories. We’ve had some fantastic successful students wanting to run their own businesses, people who are truly entrepreneurs at heart. Those are always really great stories to hear. We had a young women who went into business for herself post-MBA and basically within the year, the financial crisis hit. She was in luxury goods, and she realized that wasn’t a really good [business] at that point. So she shifted gears and went back into a more traditional job, and has now found her way back to that entrepreneurial environment again. That’s really great, because that’s where her heart is. We have a young woman who graduated from the program a few years ago—she was one of our Forté fellows—who went into financial services after graduation. She had some really tremendous success, I think two or three promotions over a couple of years. She was initially from Russia, and she has now returned to Russia to work in the consulting field. She wanted to go back home, and now to be able to do it in a capacity that she wouldn’t have been able to do without the MBA, I think is really great.

What kind of person excels at Queen’s?

Students who have had the most success are students who know why an MBA is important to them. If you understand why you’re going into an MBA program, you’re that much further ahead in being able to take advantage and extract value from the program. Those are the students who have gone on and been able to hit the ground running after graduation. They’re coming into the MBA at a time when they know they can’t make that next step without some more training and an opportunity to hone some of those key leadership skills. If you’re coming into an MBA at that particular time, I think Queen’s does a tremendous job of giving you all the resources you need for that next step.

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