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Admissions Q&A: York

Canada is a unique perch for MBA students to view the global business world. The U.S., Europe, and emerging markets hog the spotlight when it comes to business school teaching examples. York University’s Schulich School of Business, in Toronto, offers a different backdrop for students to take in those lessons.

“Canada in general has a great deal of financial stability,” says Krista Larson, director of admissions and recruitment at Schulich. “We haven’t seen the swings you’ve seen in the U.S. during the most recent economic crisis. Our banking policy is much more conservative.”

The marriage of Schulich’s unique vantage point with Toronto’s diverse population makes for lively classroom discussion and the consideration of many different perspectives, Larson says. And international students may benefit from Canada’s Post-Graduation Work Permit Program, which allows graduates to stay in the country for up to three years.

Larson spoke with Bloomberg Businessweek’s Erin Zlomek about what it takes to get accepted to the Schulich program and what students can expect once they’re in. Below are edited portions of their conversation.

Does being in Canada offer any advantages over U.S. or European MBA programs?

There is definitely an advantage. Schulich strikes a good balance of looking at business from a global perspective and a North American perspective. Internationally, though, a lot of people don’t know about the high standards in Canada’s public education system.

Toronto is one of the top multicultural cities in the world. There are Italian, Indian, Greek, and Chinese communities represented in the city’s population and in our program. Some European and U.S. cities have less diversity than Toronto. Toronto is also a strong business center and a strong financial market. Every major international company has a presence in Canada.

For international students, our visa regulations can be an opportunity. A permit may allow a student to stay in Canada for up to three years.

Describe the makeup of your MBA student body.

It ranges between 57 percent and 64 percent international students. Students have, on average, about five and a half years of industry experience. What makes our program unique is that we are not strictly focused on finance. We have a three-sector philosophy: private, public, and nonprofit. Because we offer programs in those areas, we see people come to us from those backgrounds. It makes for a very unique classroom environment; you may have someone with a hospital background in the same classroom as someone who came from the arts and media industry. I’d say about 65 percent or more of our students come from a background that was not in business. They may have come from science, engineering or liberal arts.

What are the most important components of your MBA curriculum?

There are three primary aspects. The first is choosing a specialization. We offer 18 specializations, and students can choose two. This allows for the marrying of a functional option, such as marketing, finance, or accounting, with an industry option, such as arts and media, health industry management, or real estate.

Also, right at the start, students are enrolled in a class on leadership skills. These courses are all about understanding diversity and working in teams. There are lots of projects and group assignments. We start out with the students focused on successful team building and team management.

The third aspect is our strategy field study, which is a six- to eight-month group project that takes place throughout the second half of the program, and it is a real, live consulting project. There are usually six to eight students, and the students select their groups. They usually try to select people from different disciplines. The group then obtains a client and does a multiphase analysis of an issue the client puts forward. For example, students one year did a project in Africa where they helped a client evaluate the needs of the area’s employee base, which was largely affected by HIV/AIDS.

Is there a discipline that the Schulich program is known for?

Marketing is a key strength for us. International business is a strength, too. We also offer programs in three different areas of finance: corporate finance, financial engineering, and financial services. We also have strengths in niche disciplines, such as corporate social responsibility.

What are some companies that frequently recruit Schulich’s MBA graduates?

We have relationships with all the banks—Royal Bank of Canada (RY), TD Bank (TD), Scotiabank—as well as with consulting firms such as Deloitte and the Boston Consulting Group. In consumer packaged goods we have relationships with Procter & Gamble (PG) , retailers, Pepsi (PEP), Kraft (KFT), and Johnson & Johnson (JNJ). In the financial world, we have a relationship with UBS (UBS); in the IT world, IBM (IBM).

What can students expect from Schulich in terms of career services?

Support from day one. We start by looking at career objectives and creating a journey map so that the student is focused and doesn’t lose sight of those goals. We help to make sure students are keeping balanced in their study. On-site recruiting starts in late September. Different organizations continue to recruit and give information sessions throughout the year.

We have very specific, industry-based career counselors who have actual industry experience and expertise. We also offer professional and personal development counseling in such areas as résumé-writing and interviewing.

Are there opportunities to study abroad?

Yes. Students usually study abroad in the third term (there are four terms). Schulich has partners around the world in Asia, India, Europe, and Latin America. We also offer an international MBA. Those students are primarily based at the Toronto campus, but they can study and complete an internship abroad.

The international MBA also has a language component [in which] students work on taking a language from an advanced to fluent level. There is also a program [in which] students study in India for the first half of the program and come to Toronto for the second half.

What kind of financial aid is available?

We have scholarships—both merit- and need-based—and there is a credit line available for students who qualify. Our scholarships range from a couple of thousand dollars all the way up to full tuition and expenses. Loan programs in other countries also apply to us. For example, a U.S. student who is studying in Canada can use the Stafford loan program.

What are the most difficult parts of your application process and some common mistakes to avoid?

The process is not difficult. It is fairly straight forward. Generally what students fear and struggle most with is the GMAT. One of the other aspects that tends to come up is the essays. I think they are trying to tell us what we want to hear. There is no right or wrong answer, it is about the applicant demonstrating to us that they’ve thought about what they want to do and where they want to go.

Another thing is that applicants sometimes don’t ask for help. We are here to help guide them. They may be afraid to ask questions, and they may self-select themselves out of the process. Students sometimes look at GPAs or years of work experience represented in our program, and they often look at averages and not the ranges. Rather than asking the question, “Do I have a strong profile?” and engaging in dialog with the school, they may assume they don’t have a chance of being admitted.

What do you look for in admissions essays and applicant interviews?

Admissions essays and the application in general are ways to get to know the individual besides what is on paper. Beyond the test scores, it allows us to understand what rounds out that individual. From an essay perspective, we are looking for the story about individuals that makes them unique, that they’ve thought about their career progression and know where they want to go. In the interview, we’re looking at the personal side of individuals, their communications skills, their interpersonal skills, how they present themselves, what their confidence level is, and if they would fit into the culture and student community.

What are your tips for writing the essays?

Be clear, well thought-out, know your goals, and be honest. Do not try to write what you think we want to hear. The student should write about what they want to accomplish, they should demonstrate that they fit in at the school. A big mistake is that students haven’t read the material and don’t do enough research on the school. Know what the school is, and make sure you understand what the school is looking for. Use spell check.

What do you look for in recommendation letters?

We look for strengths and weaknesses in candidates from the referee’s perspective. We like to hear from referees with whom the candidate has had a direct reporting relationship, because that person is someone who should know the individual’s work style and how [he or she gets] along with co-workers. We are looking for that person to talk about the candidate’s interpersonal and time management skills as well as how the candidate has progressed and grown.

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