William Sawaya is chairman of the MBA admissions committee at Brigham Young University's Marriott School of Management. Sawaya has taught at the school, which is funded by the Chuch of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints, for more than 25 years. In addition to his admissions responsibilities, he teaches operations and supply-chain management, and is associate director of the MBA program.
Sawaya received his PhD in industrial engineering from Arizona State University. He has worked in the engineering industry, as well as at the University of Wyoming. Sawaya recently spoke with BusinessWeek Online reporter Mica Schneider by e-mail and phone. Here's an edited transcript of their conversation:
Q: Why do you think the number of applications you've received this year is lower than in the past?
A: As the qualifications of the applicant pool increased, we believe less qualified applicants chose to not apply. For several years, we experienced a modest downward trend as we increased the minimum required GMAT score -- now 600 -- and increased the required work experience to a minimum of two years.
We haven't gone for a target of five years of work experience, as other schools have, because about 85% of our students have spent about two years working on a voluntary mission for the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints (LDS), and so their average age is usually the same as it is at other business schools. About 80% of students are bilingual because of their missions.
For the past two years, our pool also has been affected somewhat by the economy. And finally, approximately 60% of our MBA students are married, and we believe married students are reluctant to leave the job market and return to school when the economy is soft. But we have no concerns about the size of the applicant pool.
Q: How competitive will MBA admissions be at your school this year?
A: Probably about the same as the past five years. We'll admit 43% of applicants, and 67% of those will enroll.
Q: Where are students going if they aren't selecting the Marriott School?
A: Most of them go to schools that would be ranked a little higher than BYU. Some, because of their international experience and ability to speak another language, are attractive candidates for schools that have strong international programs.
As I said, we have a high percentage of married students, and sometimes married students wind up deferring for a year, perhaps because they find out they have a baby on the way and want to continue working.
Q: Are accepted applicants allowed to defer their enrollment?
A: We don't do that officially, but our message to them is, "If you're desirable to us this year, then next year, with even more work experience, you'll be even more desirable." We keep them in a separate pile, and while we don't promise them anything, we haven't turned away any [deferred students] in recent years.
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