MBA Admissions Director Paula Wilson explains why employability is one criterion Georgia Tech uses to evaluate applicants
At the Georgia Tech College of Management (Georgia Tech Full-Time MBA Profile), the job search starts even before students are admitted. The director of MBA career services plays a big role in the admissions process, and students whose job prospects look poor might not get in, says MBA Admissions Director Paula Wilson. "This is a big investment for the student, and an investment for us as well," she explains. This emphasis on employment means that Georgia Tech MBAs have fared better in the job market than many of their peers, despite the down economy. By three months after graduation, 85 percent of the Class of 2009 had jobs, with the average starting salary topping $85,000. Fully 100 percent of the Class of 2010 had summer internships. Wilson recently spoke with Bloomberg Businessweek's Zachary Tracer about how Georgia Tech evaluates applicants and offered some tips on getting in. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation. Could you tell me about any big changes you've made to the application process for the coming year? We haven't made any major changes, [but] since 2004, we have included the director of MBA career services in our full-time interviews for admissions, and he is on the admissions committee. To be admitted to the full-time program, you have to interview with me as well as with the director of MBA career services. We want to make sure that not only can we help the students succeed academically, but that we can help them in achieving their career goals as well. [The director of MBA career services] is almost doing the first interview for the corporate recruiters, to make sure that [students] are going to be competitive in corporate recruiting interviews. What are you looking for in the interview and also in the application process? What are you evaluating people on as candidates for the program? Our students tend to be very bright, and they're competitive in the sense that they tend to push each other to do well. They have that very much Georgia Tech mentality of being great problem-solvers and rolling their sleeves up and getting the job done. We do not have a minimum work experience requirement, but we strongly recommend two to three years. What makes someone a good fit for a Georgia Tech MBA, as opposed to any of the other MBA programs in the country? We are really looking for people who have the reputation of being down to earth and collaborative. We always say there's not really a GMAT score high enough to overcome arrogance. What are some of the common mistakes you see in the interview? I think that the most common mistake is not being prepared for the interview. This is really a pet peeve of ours. Applicants really need to treat this process just like they would a job interview and research the school, come in in a suit, and be prepared. And how about in the application, are there any mistakes you see that are common? I would say with the application the most common mistakes are maybe not reading the essay questions. Usually these students are applying to a number of MBA programs, and I think they try to make their essay response fit into each one. While a lot of the questions are similar, each school has some nuances and paying attention to that is important. Can you offer any tips for students working on your essays? You want to spend time on them and get them right, but I think sometimes students tend to overthink and spend too much time on the essays making sure that they're perfect. You have an essay question that asks student who they would invite to a dinner. How should applicants tackle that? That essay, where there's never a right or wrong answer, it gives us the opportunity to get to know them a little better as a person. It gives them an opportunity to be creative and hopefully have a little fun in the process. One of my favorites was a young man who had invited four superheroes and kind of tied it back to a business organization. How important are GMAT scores when you are reviewing an application? As we are going through applications and trying to select people to bring in and interview, having a strong GMAT score is going to help you make that first cut. A high GMAT score certainly doesn't guarantee anything. We always say there's not one part of the application that's a dealmaker. But there certainly can be deal-breakers. What makes a good reference for a student? I would recommend a professional or an academic reference, someone who knows the student well. The thing for them to keep in mind is to stay away from personal references or even references from people that they think may impress the committee. So, for example, they wouldn't want to use the president of their company if they've just met this person at a company picnic. One thing that stands out about Georgia Tech is that many of your students are engineers. What proportion of the students are engineers and how does that affect the academic experience for everybody? About half of our students come from engineering or computer science backgrounds. They're great in the classroom because they're great problem-solvers [and] our corporate recruiters love them for the same reason. They really help the people who are not engineers to be able to see the details and to be great problem-solvers. But really, is Georgia Tech just a business school for engineers? Our program is not more technical or quantitative than most of our peer schools. Certainly I think a lot of the things we're known for with corporate recruiters are things like operations management and IT and technology commercialization, but we have a number of students who go into corporate finance, to marketing, to leadership development programs, strategic management consulting. I see that international applicants make up about 40 percent of the pool of applicants, but only 16 percent of the class of 2010. Do you have any advice for international applicants? That was actually a conscious decision on our part, in terms of reducing the number of international students. It really came back to career services being a part of the admissions process. Many of the international students want to stay and get some experience in the U.S. and we just haven't found that there are a lot of corporate recruiters willing to interview international students. I think with the unemployment rate in the U.S. being around 10 percent, it's just hard to justify hiring an international when there's a lot of U.S. talent out there. Has Georgia Tech made any effort to recruit women or minorities into the program? The business school was only 15 percent female last year. One hallmark this year for us is that our class coming in is around 30 percent women and 32 percent minorities. All that we've done is made a concerted effort to provide a more personal experience for these students. I think we have to put students, especially women or minorities or people who come from non-engineering backgrounds, in touch with people who have similar backgrounds. Are there any changes to the curriculum recently or upcoming that students should be aware of? We are starting to offer more courses in sustainability, especially through our operations management area. We've also beefed up our real estate offerings.
Can you tell me about some of the dual-degree programs that you have and how those benefit students? We actually have a dual-degree program with any other graduate program at Tech. Most of the students we get are from engineering, but we've had students from architecture, from international affairs, industrial design, other departments across Georgia Tech. One thing that comes up a lot when you think of the Georgia Tech College of Management is that it's a small program. What are some of the pluses and minuses of having a small MBA program? I think that our students really enjoy being in one cohort and getting to know each other. The traditional minuses that you think of with small classes really haven't been a problem for us. For example, limited electives. Our administration has been very responsive to student need, and if there is sufficient demand for a particular class, it generally hasn't been a problem to offer that course. I think another minus that people think of is the difficulty of getting corporate recruiters to recruit on campus. But as you can see from our job numbers the last few years, this hasn't been a problem. Have you had to adjust your career services during the downturn? How have you helped students find jobs? Our career services staff has worked very hard and our students have as well. The small class size is a big plus here, because our career service advisers only advise about 20 students per class, and students work with the same career adviser for two years, so they really get to know each other very well. I would say our faculty, our alums, our College of Management advisory board have also been tremendous resources in providing contacts and leads. Atlanta is a pretty big business center. How does that play into the job search for students and also the opportunities that the school can offer students throughout the year? Certainly I think we work very closely with the companies here in Atlanta but [we] encourage the students to think nationally in terms of their job search. In terms of classes, it's been amazing. Being here in Atlanta certainly gives us access to a lot of companies and a lot of business leaders who can come right down the street and speak in classes. You said you'd like for students to have a national job search, but has the school been able to encourage national recruiters to come and recruit students? We've had to reach out to companies around the country to come in and recruit. While we do have some of the Atlanta companies coming in, we don't rely on those companies to be the primary source of jobs for our students.