by Charles Krouse
I applied to 7 business schools, participated in 3 admission interviews, had 2 scholarship interviews, and accepted 1 offer. What was my experience like? And, what are my reflections on the experience?
Admission interview + 2 scholarship interviews
Overall, I’m pleased and excited about the outcome. I accepted a full-ride scholarship through the Batten Institute at UVA Darden!
I thought that all of the admission interviews were conversational and easy. And clearly, the admissions teams thought that the interviews went well, because I was admitted to 100% of the schools that I interviewed for.
The interview questions were pretty standard, and they were similar to the information that I found online. Some of the questions asked during my admissions interviews were:
Walk me through your resume
Tell me about yourself
Why an MBA? And why now?
What kind of leader are you?
How would your colleagues describe you?
What is something negative that your boss would say about you?
What is the weakest part of your resume?
Tell me about your childhood and college decisions. How did they lead you to pursue an MBA?
Tell me about a time that you faced a conflict at work. What did you learn from it?
Tell me about a time that you worked with people from a diverse background? What did you learn?
What is a challenge that you faced during the pandemic?
What are your short-term goals? And your long-term goals?
What have you learned about yourself through the application process?
What is your plan B?
Is there anything that you would like to add that we have not covered?
Do you have any questions for the interviewer?
One of my favorite parts of the interview experience was asking questions to the admissions teams, interviewers, and current students. I think that this is perhaps the most important part of the interview, because it is always the last part, and therefore, it is the part of the interview that the interviewer will remember most. This is your opportunity to make an impression by asking good questions. I think that by asking good questions, you demonstrate that you were actively listening, you’re curious, and you’re humble. Some specific tips, plus some of the questions that I asked:
Try to ask a question that is directly related to something you talked about during the interview. For example, one of my interviewers mentioned that she liked cycling, so I probed her further about this during my opportunity for questions.
Ask questions that you cannot find answered online. For example, do not ask about the application deadline or number of students in a typical class, because this information is easily found online.
Consider who your interviewer is and what position he/she holds. Questions will be different for alumni, students, professors, and admissions teams. For example, don’t ask a professor what it is like to live on campus, and don’t ask a current student what it is like to lead a class discussion.
What do students say is their favorite part of [insert school name]?
What are you involved in as a student at [insert school name]?
Why did you choose [insert school name]?
How do you recommend making the most of your time at [insert school name]?
What opportunities do you recommend that I take advantage of at [insert school name]?
Where do you work now?
Are there any upcoming changes to the program that I should be aware of?
Do you receive a large number of engineering applicants? How about aerospace applicants?
If you could offer one piece of wisdom, what would it be?
Is there something I can do to improve my application?
I interviewed for 2 scholarships at UVA Darden: Jefferson Scholar and Batten Scholar. These interviews were quite different from the admission interviews. There was lots of information regarding interview questions, however, I could not find any information regarding questions that the Jefferson Committee or Batten Committee might ask. Therefore, I prepared for the same questions that I prepared for during the admission interviews, but I also braced myself for the unexpected. I didn’t expect the scholarship interviews to be like the admission interviews, but I didn’t know what else to expect.
As expected, the scholarship interviews were quite different than the admission interviews. They asked questions related to content in my application, and they asked challenging questions that required me to think on my feet about many different topics. For the Jefferson Scholarship, the Committee asked me questions such as:
What is your favorite flavor of ice cream?
What are your thoughts about Lance Armstrong and cycling?
How did Lance Armstrong fail as a leader? What did Lance Armstrong do well as a leader?
How would you describe your leadership style?
What would your colleagues say is your biggest leadership weakness?
What do your friends say is your biggest weakness?
Why did you start a blog site?
What benefits have you seen from your blog site?
Do you think that Hydrogen power will be a reality in the future? Can we solve the engineering challenges?
For the Batten Scholarship, the Committee asked questions such as:
Tell me about your resume and what led you to apply for the Batten Innovation Scholarship
Why were there so many opportunities for innovation within the NPSS software?
Why was innovation so slow with NPSS?
What is it like managing a team of 8 engineers?
How can we as a community grow the Hydrogen economy? Can a startup do it?
What advice would you give to academics regarding how to bridge the gap between themselves and industry?
What advice would you give to industry regarding how to bridge the gap between themselves and academia?
In general, I thought that the scholarship interview questions were more challenging, but also more interesting, than the admission interview questions. Unfortunately, I was not selected to be a Jefferson Fellow. But I was selected to be a Batten Scholar!
Although I’m very pleased with, and excited about, the result of my MBA applications, I recognize that my application was not perfect. And, I’m not perfect. I didn’t receive interviews at several schools, so what did I do wrong? What was I missing? What else were these programs looking for? How can I be better? Am I simply unqualified? Did I say something wrong? Or maybe I’m just foolish?
Based on my understanding, MBA admissions teams evaluate the following criteria (in no particular order):
Years of work experience
Professional growth / career advancement
Reasons for pursuing an MBA
How do I rate myself in each of these categories? What is the most likely category that caused my application to flounder?
Undergraduate GPA (10/10): 4.0 in Mechanical Engineering. Honestly, I could not have scored any higher in this area
GMAT score (9/10): 740, which is in the top 3% of all test takers, and higher that the average GMAT score at all of these schools. With more studying, I could have scored higher. But, in my opinion, it wasn’t worth it. My GMAT score is high enough to make me an attractive candidate.
Years of work experience (10/10): 5 years. This is the average amount of work experience at these programs. It’s long enough to get valuable experience in your respective industry that is valuable to share in the classroom.
Intellectual curiosity (8/10): I tried to demonstrate intellectual curiosity by not only showing my career successes, but also highlighting my commitment to cycling, reading, and writing. I raced bikes at the professional level, and I’m also curious about religion, psychology, and mythology, which I demonstrate by publishing weekly summaries on these topics related to the books that I read. Something I could have done is shown more curiosity in career related goals related to aerospace and industry. Instead, my interests are broader. But I think this demonstrates intellectual curiosity across a number of different subjects, which is a good characteristic for consultants.
Leadership (10/10): On my resume, I highlight that I manage several million dollars worth of engineering work, plus several computer scientists
Professional growth / career advancement (10/10): In my 5 years, I have received 3 promotions, one of which was an accelerated promotion that leap-frogged a rung in the career ladder.
Career goals (7/10): Immediately after business school, I want to enter consulting. This could be a weakness, if the MBA programs do not think this is possible.
Reasons for pursuing an MBA (7/10): I have 3 reasons for pursuing an MBA. First, I want to transition my career from an engineering focus to a business focus. Second, I’ve learned that advancing state-of-the-art technologies requires more than great engineering – it also requires business acumen. And thirdly, there seems to be a gap between executive management and technical engineers. I’ve seen this gap when visiting our industry partners and speaking with the engineers. I think that these are some solid reasons to pursue an MBA, and I haven’t heard anything to contest these ideas.
Diversity/demographics (2/10): This is probably my weakest area. I’m a white male that comes from a farming background in Pennsylvania
Interpersonal skills (-/10): This is primarily evaluated during interviews. However, I was not granted interviews, so didn’t get to demonstrate my skills in this area. I think they can somewhat evaluate interpersonal skills through essays, but it’s not equivalent to an interview. Honestly, I thought my essays were well-written, and I felt comfortable completing interviews.
Total score (based on my understanding): 73/90 = 81.1%
I found an article from Menlo Coaching that explains, quite frankly, what admissions teams at top MBA programs are looking for. Reading this article infuriated me further. I can’t believe that admissions teams make decisions based on sex, diversity, economic status, and pedigree. Generally, the top MBA programs admit students that have attended undergraduate Ivy League schools, earned a 3.9 GPA, come from wealthy families, and have competed in athletics at a semi-pro or professional level.
Selection criteria from Menlo Coaching:
Demographics I. Sex (male/female) II. Country of origin III. Diversity/minority
GMAT I. Undergraduate education II. Undergraduate university
Using the scoring criteria from Menlo Coaching, how do I rank?
Demographics I. Sex (1/10): I’m a male, which is a disadvantage II. Country of origin (5/10): I’m from the United States, which is a neutral country. If I was a tech applicant from India or a finance applicant from China, I would be disadvantaged here. On the other hand, if I was from a small country such as Uganda or Bulgaria, my country of origin would be advantageous. III. Diversity/minority (1/10): I’m a white male from the United States, which does not help
GMAT (6/10): Since, I scored poorly in the Demographics section, I need a higher GMAT score to stand out. Therefore, according to this criteria, my GMAT score should have been 20-30 points higher, which would have been 750-770.
Undergraduate education I. Undergraduate university (5/10): Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), which is a technology school, is not known for business or liberal arts. Since it is not an Ivy League school, I’m disadvantaged here. The top MBA programs pull primarily from Ivy League universities. II. Undergraduate GPA (10/10): Still could not have done any better here
Employment (1/10): Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), which does not typically cultivate business students. SwRI is a R&D technology company, and there are very, very few students from technology firms in the top MBA programs. The few admitted students from tech firms were in sales or marketing roles. After learning this information, I realized that I score very poorly in this category, and I am severely disadvantaged by my current employer.
Volunteer work (3/10): I did not highlight my volunteer work, and I should have. I mentioned founding the cycling team and regularly attending church events. However, I should have highlighted any volunteer / pro bono experience. Again, this is another area that disadvantaged my applications.
X-factor (10/10): I was a semi-professional cyclist. X-factors can be semi-pro athlete, famous, military, or from a wealthy family with a successful business. Typically, a strong X-factor can make up for 1 black mark on your application. I have several black marks, so I understand why my X-factor was insufficient for an interview.
Total score (based on criteria from Menlo Coaching): 42/90 = 46.7%
Using my own criteria, I received a score of 81.1%. Using the criteria from Menlo Coaching, I received a score of 46.7%. If I remove the demographics from each set of selection criteria, then my scores improve to 88.8% using my own criteria and 58.3% using the criteria from Menlo Coaching.
If I use my own criteria, then it seems that I was rejected on the basis of my skin color, sex, and country of origin. All of these things, I have zero control over. If I use the criteria from Menlo Coaching, then I was rejected on the basis of these same things, plus my family’s lack of pedigree. Regardless of which criteria I use, I’m disgusted. We preach equality and non-discrimination. Yet, I’m denied admission based on skin color, sex, and socio-economic status. I thought this was exactly the type of discrimination we are fighting against. Our society embraces equality, but only when it’s convenient for the larger narrative.