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MBA Admissions Q&A: Rotterdam School of Management

Students at RSM in the Netherlands

Rotterdam School of Management (RSM) is one of four business schools in the Netherlands to feature in the latest edition of the QS Global 200 Business Schools Report – and the highest-ranked among them, placing just inside Europe’s top 20 in the eyes of international employers of MBA graduates and academics in the fields of business and management.

The Netherlands is also the 10th most popular MBA study destination in the world, based on QS’s most recent survey of international applicants, so – for those looking to learn more about the ins and outs of applying to RSM’s MBA programs, we sounded out Maryke Luijendijk-Steenkamp, the school’s director  of marketing and admissions. In the following Q&A, Maryke outlines how RSM’s application process is designed with the intention of accommodating candidates from around the world and says that admitted students are even picked up at the local train station on their arrival in Rotterdam…

What is the typical acceptance rate to the Rotterdam School of Management MBA program?

RSM’s director  of marketing and admissions, Maryke Luijendijk-SteenkampThe acceptance ratio differs per program. For our full-time MBA program, we accept about one in three applicants. For our executive MBA offerings, this is much higher. At RSM, we will always strive to have our acceptance rate as high as possible since we value our personal approach to admissions. Thus, we try to ensure that we eliminate applicants who are not eligible and/or a fit for our program before they even apply.

This we do through the extensive CV assessments and pre-applications conducted as part of our recruitment process. With our executive offerings, we have the opportunity to meet almost every applicant prior to application, hence the high acceptance rate. Due to the geographical constraints, the same cannot be said of our full-time program, but we do try to reach as many applicants for this program as possible prior to application.

What is a typical ratio of domestic to international students accepted into the program?

There are about 97% international students enrolled in the full-time MBA program’s class of 2016 and our part-time EMBA program boasts an average of 50% international students.

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

One of the key aspects we look at when evaluating candidates comes in establishing whether there is a fit between what a candidate wants from an MBA and what the RSM MBA offers.

While this is challenging to quantify, there are some personality traits and mindsets that encompass our programs. Due to the dynamic environment created by the diversity of our students, we like to see applicants that are open to change and who can cope with uncertainty. We also need candidates that can cope with the fast pace of our MBA and that are willing to contribute. I always say that our MBA is not a ‘fly through, tick it off the list, have it on the CV’ type of experience. The program demands participation, flexibility and an open mind.

Another aspect our applicants need to be aware of is that we value and teach sustainability at RSM. Thus, candidates need to be willing to look at more than just the bottom line, while still ensuring the bottom line. With so many nationalities and diverse backgrounds reflected in class, you can imagine that this topic makes for very interesting conversations. We also value candidates that have a richness of experience to bring to our class. Our MBA works because of the people in the program – we need to ensure that all the candidates we admit will ensure this continues to be the case.

What is a common mistake you see applicants make?

Candidates often think ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to the application process. You can sense when a candidate is trying to use one essay template for different schools. I have even had instances where candidates neglected to replace the name of another school with that of RSM – not a very smart move if you are trying to get into business school (!) My advice is that candidates should treat every application individually and refrain from trying to incorporate aspects of one application into another.

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

I would like to see candidates trying to engage with RSM alumni prior to applying. They can gain so much from learning about their RSM MBA experiences. This can always help a candidate when approaching an application. More importantly, speaking to alumni can reinforce a candidate’s choice of RSM, ensuring that this MBA really fits with what they are looking for.

What does the RSM application process look like?

We have a fairly straightforward, albeit rigorous, application process. Candidates need to apply via an online application form. I always advise that candidates open an online application as soon as they are ready – they can save and go in and out as they wish. This allows them to familiarize themselves with the practicalities and process involved.

Once a candidate has submitted the application form, we conduct an initial evaluation. If a candidate is successful here, he/she will be invited for an admissions interview. These interviews can take place in any region of the world. RSM staff members regularly travel to all corners of the world and we have RSM MBA alumni that are trained to conduct interviews for us in various regions. If an in-person interview is not possible, a Skype or phone interview will be arranged.

After we have received the interview comments, the application file – featuring the initial evaluation and interview comments - are taken to the admissions committee. The committee deliberates on each candidate individually and then makes a final decision. Our admissions managers then phone candidates with the outcomes of their applications. We mention that this whole process takes between four and six weeks. However, in most cases it happens within a month, depending on the application volume and availability of interviewers.

An important aspect to note is that we are always willing to look at ways to accommodate candidates during the application process. We accept scanned copies of transcripts for the purposes of the initial evaluation, for instance. Furthermore, candidates can submit an application with their reference letters pending. (We have a standard reference form – candidates can supply the email details of their referees in the application form and they then receive a link to submit the reference form online – thus, it is not too cumbersome a process!) Candidates can also submit their application with the GMAT/GRE score (or, alternatively, RSM’s in-house business case assessment) outcome pending. This ensures that they can make full use of any upcoming interview opportunities, should this be applicable. However, we do need to have all documents complete before a candidate can register for our MBA.

What are some of the tests, official documents, and other hurdles that international students must negotiate?

At RSM, almost every application to the full-time MBA program is an international one! We require a GMAT/GRE score or RSM’s own business case assessment. (If candidates wish to be considered for a business case assessment, they will need to contact the admissions office). We do not require an English proficiency test certificate.

For candidates that require an entry visa to the Netherlands, our registrar’s office is there to help! The registrar’s office has a dedicated ‘visa person’ who applies for an entry visa on the candidate’s behalf. The registrar’s office communicates with candidates as soon as they register about the documents they will need to gather – as this differs from country to country. They will also try to ensure the timely arrival of a student’s visa so that they can get to RSM on time.

Once our candidates are on campus, the registrar’s office and housing office take care of a lot of the paperwork surrounding registration at the local council and other practicalities involved in relocation. We try to make the move to Rotterdam as easy as possible – we even pick candidates up from the train station on the day they arrive!

How can a candidate overcome a lower GMAT score?

A GMAT score will always be treated as just one aspect of a candidate’s profile. At RSM, we have never admitted or rejected a candidate based on the GMAT, or GRE, score alone. My advice to a candidate that is concerned about his/her GMAT score is to speak to the admissions office. The RSM MBA admissions managers see various MBA profiles every day and the core part of their jobs is to guide applicants through the application process. Thus, if a candidate reaches out to our admissions managers, they will be able to advise as to whether the GMAT is indeed taking away from the candidate’s profile and, if that is the case, what can potentially be done to overcome this. The admissions managers will also be able to discuss application timeframes to ensure that candidates can run their application processes in parallel with any discussion over a GMAT or GRE score.

MBA admissions tips    

Essay(s): I suggest that candidates give their essays to a colleague, relative or friend to read, but with the essay topic omitted. After they have read the essay, get them to guess what the topic was. If their guess isn’t even close, it might mean some more work on the essays (!) If they are in line with the topic, then candidates can know they’ve cracked it.

Interview: An MBA admissions interview is similar to a job interview. Thus, candidates should make sure that they are presentable (even if it is a Skype interview) and informed about the school. They should ask questions of the interviewer if given the opportunity but try to ask questions that you cannot find answers for on the web. E.g. “Do you offer scholarships” “What are the placement statistics” etc. are all questions that can be researched on the web or with the admissions managers. In an interview, candidates have a chance to ask about the RSM MBA environment and experience from people close to the school – make the most of it!

Letters of recommendation: If candidates have to choose between the CEO and a direct colleague and have worked more closely with the colleague – choose the colleague as a reference. Candidates should choose a referee that knows them well and can comment on their working style and performance. At RSM, we prefer commercial references.

CV/Résumé: RSM accepts CVs in any format. It is useful if candidates tell us about the depth and the scope of their professional background. Sure, we are interested to learn about their core work responsibilities, but we would also like to hear about interesting projects they were involved in, instances in which they had to work across divisions or borders and so forth. Also, candidates are free to include any information that can reflect the diversity of their profile.

School visit: If candidates happen to live in the RSM area or visit our area, we are always delighted to host them on campus. They can meet with current students and sit in on an actual MBA class. However, we realize that not all candidates are in a position to visit the RSM campus. There are numerous other ways to connect with us that can give them the same information and experience. We travel extensively all over the world to conduct conversations, info sessions and masterclasses. Candidates can also be connected to RSM alumni to gather more info about their MBA experiences. And our admissions managers are always ready to connect with candidates via Skype or phone.

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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