Friday, April 1, 2011

On Campus: Admission Season

On campus at Virginia's Darden School in Charlottesville
Around the country, applicants to the Consortium are being notified of their admissions. The special ones selected to become Consortium members are planning their June trips to the Orientation Program in Minneapolis.  This, of course, includes dozens of admitted students who will indicate an interest in financial services.

If this year is like those in recent years, between 80-125 prospective students will report they are interested in finance in some form. With improvements in markets and performance among major financial institutions, that number could exceed 125 this year. Prospective students won't likely fear being interested in banking or investment management or trading in 2011, as they were in 2009.

While the Consortium process has wound down, admission season continues at most Consortium schools, which tend to have "rounds" of admission. They review hundreds of applications in batches for each round and make admission decisions shortly thereafter. The deadline for the final round for many schools was this past week.

As business schools adapt,  change, update, reinvent themselves or conduct upheavals in the curriculum and core courses, admission to full-time programs at Consortium schools still tends to be selective. It's still not easy to get into Tuck, Stern, Ross, Tepper, Darden and most other Consortium schools.

Applications at Consortium schools (to the school, not merely the Consortium program) are still holding up, proving there is still a keen interest among young professionals to pursue the MBA--despite uncertainty in job paths, despite pockets of critics who say the degree needs to reorient itself toward different skills, or despite the continuing increases in costs.

Many Consortum schools (including Michigan, Yale, Cornell, NYU, UCLA, and Virginia) still must read through over 2,500 applications each year at each school and select less than 20% applicants for admission. Take NYU, for example.  In recent years, it hasn't been unusal for it to have over 4,500 applications, where only 13-15% are invited for admission to its full-time program. Dartmouth and Yale typically have around 3,000 applications (each), and about 14-16% are admitted.

Michigan, Virginia, Cornell, and UCLA are other Consortium schools have applications numbering close to or far in excess of 3,000. Just about all Consortium schools have average GMAT scores among first-year, full-time students at least above 635. (Average GMAT scores, in fact, at such schools as Michigan, UCLA and Dartmouth exceed 700.)

Consortium schools continue to have the luxury of being selective. It's not just high scores and solid GPAs; they expect years of quality work experience, evidence of leadership potential and passion for people and organizations. So getting into Consortium schools is still a challenge, but an exciting, not too daunting one for many who pursue the degree.

Most Consortium schools, from the mere fact they chose to be partners with the Consortium, are in the lead when it comes to diversity or assembling classes from all backgrounds and from many countries. Consortium schools, however, know they can't rest on laurels and must maintain an unrelenting effort to ensure they recruit adequate numbers every year. 

Sometimes it's not easy, as from year to year the number of, say, African-Americans at one school may surge one year, but decline sharply the next year. The percentage of women at top MBA schools is far less than 50%, although demographics and statistics show women are highly qualified to attend. At USC, for example, in a recent year, the school reports an admirable 30% of its first-year class as Asians, African-Americans, and Hispanics, but only 27% are women. Such a breakdown is not unsual at many top programs.

Even with the leverage of being selective in choosing applicants, Consortium schools still compete for top students by making themselves special, attractive and perpetually relevant.  Yale is making it a priority to build a new state-of-the-art (by 2011 standards) business-school campus--thanks to a $50 million donation. The new buildings are expected to open within the next two years.

Virginia's Darden school happily reports, as it does now, that it ranks no. 1 (at least by Bloomberg-Businessweek) in student satisfaction.  MBA students can and will be demanding. That's not a surprise, given most are paying full tuition at extraordinary ticker prices and are extracting two years out of the precious years of the early stages of a career to return to campus.  They want and expect updated technology, new facilities, access to top professors, facility comfort and business legends and leaders to come to campus. According to Businessweek, Darden is meeting many of those demands.

This past week, DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL's players association, gave a lecture on campus presenting the graphic and gory financial argument of the players' case in the current lock-out. The room was packed with interested students, who were enticed by his numbers-oriented presentation.

Carnegie Mellon's Tepper School will have a new dean next month:  Financial economics professor Robert Damon, who specializes in anaytical decision-making and wants to introduce such methods and techniques to the process of leading a top business school. (He also happens to have an MBA from Consortium school Wisconsin.)

With admission season winding down, next comes the countdown to the first days of fall session, 2011.

Tracy Williams

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