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The MBA Application Process: Interview with Michael Murphy

The MBA Application Process: Interview with Michael Murphy

TopMBA.com chats with Michael Murphy of Boston College about getting into a top business school, preparing for the GMAT and doing an MBA abroad. 

Our series of online chats featuring experts from the world's top business schools continues this month with Michael Murphy from Boston College in the USA. An expert on the MBA admissions process, Michael answered questions on a range of topics from how to get into a top business school, preparing for the GMAT and the requirements for studying an MBA abroad.Michael has been involved in MBA admissions and marketing since 2002. He currently holds the position of Associate Director of Graduate Management Admissions at Boston College's Carroll School of Management. Previously, he served as Associate Director at the Boston University School of Management, and as Assistant Director of MBA Admissions at Georgetown's McDonough School of Business. Mike holds an MBA from Georgetown University, where he also completed the Landegger Honors Program in International Business Diplomacy at the School of Foreign Service. He also holds an M.Ed from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Questions were sent in by MBA candidates from all over the world. Due to high volumes of questions we apologise to those Michael did not have time to answer but please feel free to join the next expert chat to ask your question again.

Q: What is difference between a college and university?

A: I'm glad you asked that question because there is some confusion around the name Boston College, especially among foreign students. At the time of its founding in 1839, the word college was generally used to refer to any institution of higher learning. Now, the word university is more commonly used. Despite its more traditional name, Boston College is, in fact, a full-fledged research university. We offer both undergraduate and graduate degrees at all levels (bachelor, master, and doctorate) across a variety of disciplines.

Q: What are the requirements for studying abroad?

A: All students, regardless of their country of origin, must submit a completed application form, current resume and work history, two personal essays, two recommendations, undergraduate and graduate transcripts, and a GMAT score. Applicants who studied outside of the United States as undergraduates must have the equivalent of an American bachelor's degree (usually a four-year degree). If your first language is not English, you'll also need to take the TOEFL exam. Some schools accept alternative exams like the IELTS, but BC requires the TOEFL.

Q: Do I absolutely need the TOEFL certificate or I can use the IELTS one for the MBA admission?

A: The answer to your question probably varies from school to school, so you should ask this of each of the programs to which you'd like to apply. Boston College requires the TOEFL, so we at the Carroll School of Management must also require our applicants to complete the TOEFL.

Q: Which would you consider the best moment to start an MBA? After x years of work experience or directly after a BA?

A: This is actually one of the most common questions that we in MBA admissions encounter. While there are some notable exceptions, most MBA programs prefer that students bring some work experience, usually at least two years' worth of full-time post-graduate experience. The reason for this is two-fold: First, much of the learning in MBA programs takes place outside of the classroom. Cases and projects that replicate real-world business problems are presented to teams comprised of students of diverse backgrounds. When each student shares his or her perspective with the rest of the team, each member comes away with a more complete understanding. This process simply wouldn't work as effectively if the team members didn't bring significant prior experience. Secondly, employers increasingly seek candidates who have relevant experience, in addition to the MBA. While this experience need not necessarily be within the exact field to which a candidate is applying, he or she should be able to demonstrate having acquired skills that are at least transferrable. In short, students who wait to attend business school until they have gained a good experiential foundation usually get more out of the experience, give more to the program they attend, and get better jobs afterwards.

Q: Concerning the GMAT, in Jan'07 I held it for the first time and scored 700. I am happy with the score, but not with the breakdown. My verbal score is in the 95th percentile and my maths score is in the 72nd. Since I am aiming for a specialization in Finance, I should probably retake the exam. Still I decided to first consult an expert.

A: The GMAT exam, which measures one's likely success in the core component of the typical MBA curriculum, is often seen by candidates as some kind of monolithic measure that will make or break their candidacy. In truth, while it's important, it's not the only aspect of a successful application. Significant relevant work experience, demonstrated leadership and team skills, clear and attainable goals, and "fit" with the program are all very important as well. A 700 is certainly a competitive score, and the 72nd percentile in the quantitative section would imply that you're capable of successfully completing the rigorous quantitative component of the coursework. Most schools would be very happy with that score, assuming the rest of the elements were in place. If you feel confident that you could improve your score, there is usually no harm in taking it again, since most schools take your highest score, rather than average them. I'd suggest that you compare your profile to those of successful applicants to schools to which you'd like to apply, and then decide if it's worthwhile to consider re-taking the exam. If you're already above those school's averages, you may wish to focus your efforts on other aspects of your application.

Q: Would you suggest a one or two year MBA Program? (I am 28 years old with approximately four years work experience).

A: As with the decision between full-time and part-time programs, an argument could be made for both one-year and two-year programs. While the opportunity costs (i.e., lost salary) are often smaller with one-year programs, for example, two-year programs usually provide greater depth of elective exposure and an internship in the summer between the first and second year. To borrow from Steven Covey's "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," I'd recommend that you 'begin with the end in mind'. That is, identify the job or jobs in which you could see yourself upon graduation, and 'backwards engineer' the process. Read whatever you can find in this area and conduct informational interviews so that you can get a sense of which firms hire from which programs. You'll likely find that geography matters. While one-year programs are popular in Europe, for example, most US firms prefer two-year MBAs.

Q: I feel that I have gained enough marketing knowledge in school, apprenticeship and university. Would you recommend going on in the marketing stream or should I expand my business knowledge with e.g. a finance MBA?

A: This really depends on your goals. Regardless of your ultimate concentration, you'll get a foundation in both marketing and finance as part of the core curriculum. Usually, you'll also be exposed to ethics, organizational behavior, accounting, strategy, economics, and techniques of quantitative analysis within the core. The question of whether to remain a generalist or specialize in a particular track really depends on your short and long-term career goals.

Q: Why are people interested in learn MBAs more than another Master's Degree?

A: I think the reason behind the increasingly popularity of the MBA is due to a variety of factors, but one main reason is that it's among the most versatile of all professional degrees. Students who complete the MBA go into fields as diverse as consulting, I-banking, real-estate development, and non-profit management. Just about every industry or function that one can imagine can be enhanced by the application of the fundamental management principles that are provided within the coursework of the typical MBA program. Research has shown that the acquisition of an MBA leads not only to higher earning potential, but also to greater autonomy and job satisfaction. Business week magazine did a cover story in 2003 called "What's an MBA Really Worth." You might wish to try to track that down to help you in your research.

Q: What do admissions officers look for in essays? What makes an essay good according to you?

A: I think the best essays are those that answer the question being asked, employ a few identifiable themes (i.e., leadership, interpersonal skills, overcoming diversity, etc.), and demonstrate a strong fit with the program to which you're applying. If your recommendations also highlight some of those same themes, this can make for a very compelling application that, when viewed holistically, has a certain completeness or coherence. Every year, we see essays that have been cut & pasted from those of other programs that don't quite come together as a strong Boston College MBA application. While we in admissions recognize that students are likely applying to several programs, it's important to tailor your application carefully for each individual school. When you think about it, this is your first MBA marketing assignment.

Q: I'm a 2nd yr BPharm student. I want to do an MBA after my BPharm but want to know if I'm taking the right step for my career or should I opt for the MPharm.

A: I think the answer to your question depends on your goals. Do you wish to work as a pharmacist or a manager? Biopharm is actually a very 'hot' area for MBA graduates these days, as advances in science and technology fuel new medicines, products, and technologies that need to be financed, marketed & sold, analyzed for increased efficiencies, etc. If an MBA is your goal, you will likely need some work experience prior to entry. In next month's expert chat take the opportunity to ask your MBA Admissions questions of RSM Erasmus in the Netherlands, one of the top business schools in Europe. An MBA Admissions expert will answer questions on 24th April 2008 at 1300 GMT but you can post your questions up to a week in advance. 

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