MBA Admissions Q&A: NYU Stern

NYU Stern on MBA admissions

When it comes to the MBA admissions process, the best insights often come straight from the source – the business schools themselves.

Isser Gallogly of NYU Stern, 2015So, as part of a series on TopMBA.com, we sounded out Isser Gallogly (pictured, left) – NYU Stern’s assistant dean of admissions – to learn why the school believes so strongly in its interview process, why applicants should already have a clear idea of where they want their MBA degree to take them before they apply, and why an MBA admissions essay shouldn’t resemble the kind of mystery novel that leaves it plot hanging in the balance until its very last lines…

What is the typical acceptance rate to the NYU Stern MBA program?

NYU Stern is one of the most selective business schools in the US. With a large number of applications and a medium class size, the admissions committee must make some very difficult decisions. Last year, our acceptance rate for the full–time MBA intake in the fall of 2014 was just 18%.

What are the most important aspects of the NYU Stern MBA application process besides GMAT score, prior GPA, and current job position?

The interview is an important part of the application process at NYU Stern.  We interview everyone we admit to the full–time MBA program, and nearly all interviews are done face-to-face in New York City by a member of our highly-trained admissions team. We believe that interviewing is a skill and we want to have our class selected by people who are experienced, professional assessors of talent. The interviews are by invitation only and are not blind – your interviewer will have thoroughly studied your application in order to have a deep and rich conversation about you and your goals. At Stern, we are looking for both IQ + EQ (emotional intelligence). The interview plays an important role in our evaluation, and is your chance to make your case directly to a member of the admissions committee.

What is one mistake you see applicants make?

One common mistake we see is applicants’ lack of research. Applicants need to research two key areas at a minimum – their future career and the schools to which they are applying. [This is] because recruiting begins as soon as you start the MBA program, so there is no time to ‘figure it out’ once you arrive on campus.

Before applying, applicants should have a detailed, in-depth understanding of their potential future career. Ideally, the applicant will have done at least a dozen informational interviews with people in their future field. These can be friends, family or alumni from their undergraduate college. Having a clear sense of your future career ambitions and how an MBA will dovetail with your past accomplishments, will also make writing your [admissions] essays and your interview more meaningful and productive.

Your research should go beyond reading rankings or listening to the opinions of a few family members or work colleagues when choosing where to apply. A detailed review of the school’s website is a good starting point. Attending an information session, sitting in on a class or visiting the school is a ‘must do’ for getting real insight into a school. At Stern we have information sessions each fall in major cities around the world and conduct information sessions almost every day on our New York City campus. In fall, we also have classes available to visit on a limited basis. We strongly recommend that each applicant visit each school being considered before applying. An MBA is something you do only once in your life. It is well worth taking the time and money to do the research and to visit the school.

What is something you would like to see applicants do more often?

We would like to see applicants take ownership of the application process and to be accountable. Surprisingly, a large number of applicants do not read application instructions or email correspondence, etc.  Ultimately, it’s your application and you need to be responsible for your part of the process. You would be surprised at the number of applicants who try to cut corners, do not do the work, or complain about something that was clearly spelled out on the website. That behavior does not put a candidate in the best light with the admissions committee.

How can a candidate overcome a lower GMAT score?

The most straightforward way to overcome a low GMAT/GRE score is to retake the test and to improve your score. At Stern we look only at your best overall score, so there is no downside to retaking the test. These exams have been statistically proven to provide a high level of correlation with how students perform academically in the MBA program, so they are important in ensuring that students are capable of meeting the challenges of Stern’s rigorous education.

Admissions Tips

MBA essays should not resemble a ‘mystery novel’: Answer the question asked. Each school has slightly different questions, so take the time to customize your response for each school. Answer all parts of the question clearly. For example, many times applicants are asked about short-term and long-term goals, but speak only about their long-term goals. Use clear structure and formatting. The essays should not be like a mystery novel with a surprising twist at the end. Think of the essays as an executive summary business document. Put the conclusions first and then clearly support them with direct evidence.

‘Be prepared and polished’ for your MBA interview: Plan on coming to NYC and doing the interview in person before you apply. Set aside some time and money for the trip. Be professional, including in all your correspondence, be on time, dress appropriately, use language appropriate to a business setting, write 'thank you' notes, and in general be prepared and polished. Treat the application process as if you were applying for a job at the end of your two-year MBA experience.

Give your recommenders ‘ample time’: You want to give [your recommenders] ample time to write compelling recommendations on your behalf and you may want to provide them with background materials on both NYU Stern and yourself.

‘Use good judgment’ in the length of your CV/résumé: At Stern we also have a work history form, which provides room for exact dates of employment and rationales for changing positions.  Use the résumé primarily to highlight your past professional accomplishments and not to explain the details of changes in your career. Be sure the résumé and work history form match up, too. The average applicant has about four to five years of work experience and in most cases that fits on one page. This doesn’t mean you can’t send a longer résumé, but use good judgment.

School visit - ‘Talk to as many students as you can’: Plan on visiting each school you are considering. Visit in the late summer/early fall, before you apply. Talk to as many students as you can during your visit to get a good feel for the school and the program.

Written by Mike Grill

Mike's remit covers content, SEO and blogger outreach. Outside of his work for TopMBA.com, he is an assistant coach for MLU outfit, the Portland Stags.

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