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Our guest on Nov. 27, 2001, was Reena Lichtenfeld, director of graduate admissions at the Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina. Reena graduated from USC's undergraduate psychology program and later earned a Master's of Education in student personnel programs from South Carollina in 1995. She became MBA admissions director at South Carolina in January, 1999. Ms. Lichtenfeld was interviewed by Business Week Online reporter Mica Schneider. Here's an edited transcript of their discussion:
Q: Schools are tallying strong increases in applications after their first deadlines, ranging from 49% to 200%. What's happening at the Moore school?
A: We aren't seeing quite that dramatic an increase, but our inquiries are up about 34% for the international program, which is our main focus now. Our application deadline is later than most schools, Feb. 1, and that could be part of it.
Q: You handle admissions for the International MBA program, a new full-time MBA program that will replace the school's traditional full-time MBA program this year. Why did the school decide to offer just the IMBA program?
A: We wanted to streamline, and we do international programs really well, so we decided to focus there. We also see ourselves as ahead of the curve, because business is global and a traditional MBA will get you a traditional type of a job. If you have a traditional MBA and you want to go into international business it's going to be a little trickier if you don't have the background.
Q: Now that the school has such an international focus, who is the ideal MBA candidate?
A: There's no magic answer. Somebody can come into the program with little or no experience abroad, because we want a diverse pool of people. The classes are diverse not only in their ethnic and international makeup, but also in work experience. We don't want the same student 20 times over.
In general, we're looking for candidates with diverse work experience, strong academic qualifications (including 630+ GMAT), and with a background or at least a strong interest in international business.
Q: Where are the IMBA graduates working?
A: Most of them are staying in the U.S., but working for multinational companies. For example, one of our graduates works in New York for Matrix Essentials, a part of L'Oreal. She manages the marketing department for the South American offices, so she travels to South America often. There are many situations where grads work in the U.S., but do a lot of travel abroad.
Q: Some 32% of your first-year MBA class comes from abroad. Will that percentage increase with the school's new focus on international business?
A: Our target is to have 40% of our MBAs from abroad.
Q: When applications arrive, what criteria are considered first -- the GMAT, a candidate's undergraduate G.P.A., his/her essays, or reference letters?
A: The three most important things are work experience, the undergraduate record -- if there is graduate work, that would be reviewed as well -- and the GMAT. There are also international business questionnaires.
The questionnaire is a one page form that we ask all IMBA applicants to complete. We ask them what program track they're interested in, because in the IMBA program they can be considered for one of three: a language track, in which they can choose one of seven languages to study; a global track, which is a new part of the IMBA program; or the Vienna program, which begins in Vienne, and ends in South Carolina. We ask them to describe international work or living experiences that they've had, and to describe leadership roles they've held in college, the community, or in their professional activities. We ask if they've been taking additional courses and if they'll be completed before entering the program. We also ask how they feel an IMBA would help them achieve their goals, which ties back into the question we ask in the supplemental application (a 500 word essay to describe their career goals).
Q: Interviews are recommended for applicants, but in years past fewer than half of the admitted students completed the interview.
A: In the past, we had just recommended that applicants complete interviews. This year, we are requiring interviews, on an invitation-only basis.
Q: What can IMBA hopefuls expect to be asked during the interview?
A: We want to know what's different about people and what experiences they've had so we can get a vivid picture of how the applicant pool is shaping up. That's why we interview people. We want a more subjective analysis. There are no black and white questions.
We prefer on-campus interviews, but we realize it is a great big world so we can do phone interviews. We do interviews as we travel around the world, too.
Q: What issues should applicants raise during an interview?
A: We want to hear about their goals, and how getting an IMBA fits into those goals. We want to make sure that we can meet their expectations as much as they meet ours.
Q: What are you looking to learn in an applicant's reference letters?
A: We are looking to see how they made contributions to their organizations, and we are looking for red flags. Most letters of recommendation are very good, but we are looking for the red flag that says, 'you really don't want this person.' The letters of recommendation are important.
Q: Who is the best person to write a recommendation?
A: A supervisor -- somebody who can evaluate the applicant's work. We hope that people will send in a professional and an academic recommendation, because we require two letters. If they can't get the academic, of course, we'll take two professional letters.
Q: Explain how the program is now divided into tracks that students can choose from as they apply.
A: We have three tracks: The language track, the global track, and the Vienna program. They all begin at different times.
The language track is similar to our traditional MIBS (Master of International Business Studies) program, which has been revised. Students can choose from languages such as Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, and Spanish. They do language training in the summer (beginning in May) before they start their international core curriculum. In March they begin an internship that lasts 20 weeks, and is guaranteed to be in the country where people speak the second language they've learned. There's a huge list of companies they could work for, including American Express, Cigna, Sunoco, Merrill-Lynch, Bank of America, Pfizer, Coca-Cola, and General Motors. When the internship ends in August, they begin the fall semester of their second year. Being on campus means they don't miss out on the prime time that recruiters are here. In the past, recruiters had to make a separate trip to interview MIBS students in the spring. An added benefit for students is that they can take two full semesters of electives where they can concentrate on an area of specialization (such as accounting, finance, marketing, operations, and information technology). These IMBAs get language training, an extensive overseas internship, an international core curriculum, and are on campus for recruiting.
The global track was introduced this year, because sometimes people come to the program speaking three or four languages, or they don't need or want a second language, but they still are interested in doing an overseas internship. The global trackers take two globalization classes about the politics, economies, and cultures of different regions of the world, in addition to doing the international core curriculum, which is common to all three tracks.
In the Vienna program, students start in Vienna, and then come back to South Carolina. We will have one more cycle of the 'old' Vienna timeline, which starts in June 2002 and ends August 2003. The revised version of the IMBA-Vienna program will begin in February 2003 and end in May 2004. The revised program includes two full semesters of elective coursework in an area of specialization as opposed to one semester. Additionally, the revised program excludes the Field Consulting Project which places students on projects at international companies for eight to 10 weeks.
Q: How will the B-school ensure that there is a sense of community among the three IMBA cohorts?
A: In the first year that might be difficult to accomplish, though not so much in the language and the global tracks because the students from both programs are going to take international core classes together. In the second year, when everybody is taking their specialization courses, the community will grow.
Q: Darla Moore continually struggles to attract minority students. Of the 200 MBA candidates who began class in the fall of 2001, just 3% were underrepresented minorities (6% minority overall). That's seven percentage points shy of most other U.S. B-schools. Why won't more minorities come to Moore?
A: I wish I knew. If you take all of our masters programs, including our Masters of Human Resources program and our part-time MBA program, we are at 11%. Some 14% of our applicants are U.S. minorities. Then 8% of our admits are minorities, and then it drops to 6% enrolled. I would like to see a greater pool of minorities applying. And I would also love to see a greater yield.
Q: What does the greater university offer its minority students?
A: We have an incredible program here for university students. In fact, I was talking to a researcher on campus who told me that we are better at retaining our minority students at the undergraduate level than we are at retaining our white students.
Q: The Moore school reports that 99% of re-applicants were accepted in 2001...
A: That might go down some this year because the program's focus has changed. We are raising our standards slightly and we are changing our policies as far as how many times a person can reapply, limiting them to three consecutive years. The school is also implementing a reactivation fee of $15.
Q: Higher standards. Would you elaborate?
A: In the past, we've considered applicants who perhaps didn't have quite two years of work experience. These people did have extensive internship experience, and might have had a 540 GMAT score. They also had other good things going for them. Now, we are sticking to our standards. We want to rise in the rankings, and to do that you have to be more stringent on GMAT scores, work experience, and undergraduate GPAs.