Rob Weiler, assistant dean and interim director of admissions at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management (Anderson Full-Time MBA Profile), says the school’s Los Angeles location offers prospective MBA students much more than celebrity sightings.
In addition to Fortune 500 companies, banks, Hollywood, and private-equity and consulting firms, the area is also home to many small businesses, says Weiler, an Anderson MBA from the Class of 1991 who left the world of finance in 2007 to take a job at his alma mater. “You’ve got everything here.”
Mix such fruitful surroundings with a diverse group of students and a revamped curriculum: The result is a unique MBA experience. Anderson students, Weiler says, are smart, but they don’t come from a particular kind of school or major. Administrators incorporate diversity into the school’s curriculum by assigning each student to a learning team and by making sure group members come from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds.
To find out what it takes to be a part of the Anderson community, Businessweek.com reporter Victoria Taylor talked to Weiler about missed essay opportunities, the GMAT, and the perks of going to B-school in the City of Angels. What follows are edited excerpts from the interview.
What makes Anderson special?
I think there are several things. When I was looking at business schools, I looked at places where I felt a cultural attachment—people who were collaborative, collegial, and smart, but not overbearingly so, and were confident but not cocky. That’s what I found at Anderson.
The location is obviously unique. L.A. is the gateway to the Pacific Rim and to Latin America. There are Fortune 500 companies and it’s also the small business capital of the country. And then you’ve got the whole entertainment industry. It’s not just about making movies; it’s about the business of making movies and television.
Last, there’s the curriculum. We’re changing our core curriculum a little, so students who are coming in this fall can choose one of several different tracks. If they know they want to be an investment banker, for example, they can take a finance class in their first quarter in order to quickly prepare them for what they hope to do for a summer internship or for their careers. After they select one of these tracks, they can go deeper and get certificates that indicate a special expertise in the area. The curriculum is market-facing. It’s outward-facing. It’s all about preparing students to make valuable and immediate contributions, both over the summer and afterward.
What brought about the curriculum change?
We’re constantly striving to make sure that we are producing a product that the marketplace wants. So we’ve been in close touch with [the business community], asking them “what are you looking for in students?” Overwhelmingly, the answer came back: “We love your students. They are great in teams and great communicators, but we want to make sure that they’re getting adequate technical preparation so when they come into a summer internship, they can hit the ground running."” We also heard from our students that they wanted to make sure that they were getting prepared adequately. Many of them come in as career-switchers, so they’re looking to get into something different and they’ve got to learn new skills pretty quickly. Maybe you haven’t had a lot of quantitative work in the past. We knew it was important to us to allow those students who want to do that to hit the ground running.
What is your mix of undergrad majors?
It’s very broad, actually. I think that plays into the whole culture. It is—and I hate to use the word eclectic because that just makes it sound weird—but it’s a really interesting, broad mix of people from varied backgrounds and institutions. Pre-MBA, maybe a fifth of our students have finance backgrounds and then all other majors are less than fifteen percent. When we look at people from the admissions perspective, we don’t really look at their major. We care about the fact that they’ve had some quantitative work—maybe they took a statistics or business class—because the core curriculum is fairly quant-heavy. They can demonstrate [their skills] through their work experience, and we also get information from the quant section of the GMAT.
How important is the GMAT in admission?
It’s a vital piece of the puzzle, but it’s only one piece. We don’t have any specific cutoffs. We don’t say that you must have a GMAT of 700 to apply, but we do look at it in conjunction with the academic record and the work experience. It’s sort of an equalizer and it helps us to gain insight into the candidate.
What is the most common mistake you find on applications?
It’s people not telling their story effectively—and more specifically, why the Anderson MBA makes sense for them. It’s not necessarily a mistake, but more a missed opportunity. They’ll think that they can respond to the essay question “Why do I want to get my MBA?” and use it to apply to different schools. That shouldn’t be the case. Each school is unique and offers unique things. I think being too generic and cookie-cutter is a missed opportunity.
We see all sorts of other mistakes—grammatical mistakes, typos. It’s not that someone is going to get dinged because they spelled a word incorrectly, but I wonder about their attention to detail, and about how effectively they can write a cover letter when they go to apply for a job. These things are signals as to the strength of the candidate.
What does the typical Anderson student look like?
I really think that Anderson students are confident, but not arrogant or cocky. They tend to play well in teams. People who are former athletes really do well at Anderson because of this. Even if they were athletes in non-team sports, they have the discipline and wherewithal to practice and get up at five in the morning and to be an expert in what it is they do. People who have that focus—yet can also have fun and give back to the community—do well at Anderson. Also, they tend to be people who dive in. If you want to sit on the sidelines and watch, you might not have the fullest experience because much of what you get out of Anderson is what you put into it.
What does diversity in the classroom bring to the program?
The diversity of both career and geography allows for more creative problem-solving. Different perspectives give different ways to arrive at solutions. Because we are such an experiential school, where people share in the classroom and work in teams, we construct learning teams for students. When they arrive, students are assigned to a learning team of five students from their sections and there are five sections of students. Growing up on the East Coast and now living on the West Coast for a long time, I see that there are different ways of thinking. Growing up in New York or Atlanta, people just bring a whole different set of life experiences to the Anderson community. It makes for a more dynamic, robust, and interactive classroom experience—and social experience, as well.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
We are thrilled with the new class coming in. I may be biased as an Anderson alum, but I think it’s an absolutely fantastic institution. And the more people hear about it, the more people come to visit. This is one of those things where culture is a difficult thing to describe. You have to feel it. So my advice is: Get on a plane and come out and see us.