The UCLA MBA offered by the Anderson School of Management is located in Los Angeles, the ideal place for getting an optimal mix of business, creativity and innovation. Its alumni list includes impressive names in leadership positions across a variety of industries (read our interview with UCLA alumnus Guy Kawasaki). Though Hollywood is just a stone’s throw away, the UCLA MBA offers much more than an entertainment focus, as is apparent from the placement statistics.
Sameer Kamat (founder of MBA Crystal Ball) interviewed Lindsay Haselton – Associate Director, MBA Admissions at UCLA Anderson School of Management.
Before joining UCLA in August 2010, Lindsay worked for several years in MBA Admissions and career services at the University of British Columbia.
MBA Crystal Ball: Welcome to MBA Crystal Ball, Lindsay. Let’s start off with a little more insight into the admissions process. What happens to an application since the time it is received? Who reviews it, how many times does each application get reviewed? What are the key milestones during the process?
Lindsay: Once an application round deadline passes, applications are assigned to members of the admissions committee for a first, detailed review. Once we have read an application and assessed academics, GMAT/GRE, essay, recommendation letter, and resume/work experience, a decision is made on whether or not a candidate will be invited to interview.
After the interview has taken place, the file will be read again taking into consideration feedback from the interviewer. Finally, the application will be reviewed yet again by our admissions director. In most cases, applications are reviewed several times by multiple members of the admissions committee.
It’s important to note that our application rounds are not rolling, so if you apply earlier in the round it does not mean that your application will be read any sooner. Therefore, interview requests can go out as soon as 2 weeks after a round deadline, or up until 2 weeks before a decision release.
It all depends when your file was read by the committee. So, don’t fret if you haven’t received an admissions interview right away!
MBA Crystal Ball: With so much variety among the applicant profiles (roles / industries / countries), it must be tough to have a common yardstick, right? How do you tackle this challenge?
Lindsay: The admissions team works very closely with our career management office (the Parker Career Management Center) in understanding the types of industries and roles our applicants come from.
Because we admit candidates with all different backgrounds, the emphasis is not necessarily on having a common yardstick for everyone – but rather, having a picture of how that individual will contribute to the class.
Leadership, teamwork, and interpersonal skills are important across all industries regardless of the position that person held – and we look for these qualities rather than focusing strictly on functional duties.
MBA Crystal Ball: To take a specific example, an Indian management consultant could be earning significantly less than (say) an investment banker in London. How do you judge the two on a relative scale?
Lindsay: We understand that different countries have very different salary ranges and evaluate applications bearing this in mind. Salary progression with an organization is often a way that we can tell how an individual is performing; not just the raw salary itself which varies between industries and countries.
MBA Crystal Ball: When applicants take external help (from friends, current students, alumni, admissions consultants), what do you think is acceptable and what isn’t? Where should they draw the line?
Lindsay: We expect that most of our applicants would have had some kind of input from friends, colleagues, etc. In fact, I would recommend that everyone have an outside party proofread one’s application for grammatical errors, spelling, and overall clarity. Despite other people’s help or input you will be the one interviewing with us and it is important that you are able to convey your own sense of purpose, passion, and goals.
The important thing to bear in mind is that the strongest essays we read have a feel of authenticity to them and show an applicant’s personality and voice. So, when taking advice and help from others, ensure the essay continues to reflect your own words and personal style.
MBA Crystal Ball: Can a high GMAT compensate for a low GPA or vice versa? What about less experience?
Lindsay: The range of GMAT scores and GPAs we see in each year’s incoming class really is quite broad. One of the reasons for this is that the committee weighs an applicant’s GPA and GMAT score hand-in-hand and an assessment of a candidate’s overall academic competitiveness is made by balancing a review of test scores with a thorough evaluation of transcripts.
It’s important to note, as well, that the admissions committee takes into context not only your actual scores or letter grades, but factors such as the competitive level of your curriculum and school, the course load you chose and academic trends exhibited on your transcript. We do give applicants the benefit of the doubt for the odd “blip” on a transcript, but admitted candidates tend to show a consistent level of functioning above their peers.
We see candidates from all different undergraduate majors (and love to see this academic diversity in the class!); however, in cases where we don’t see a lot of quantitative coursework on an undergraduate or graduate-level transcript, we may look for indication of quantitative proficiency through a candidate’s quantitative score on the GMAT.
Similarly, strong performance in quantitative courses at the undergraduate level may take a bit of pressure off a candidate’s quantitative score achieved on the GMAT.
My colleague, Craig Hubbell, just posted a very insightful blog post on how we assess GMAT/GPA:
MBA Crystal Ball: How much importance do you give to the GMAT Score breakup (verbal vs. quant sections) and the AWA score?
Lindsay: We do look carefully at each section of the GMAT and weigh each equally. However, as noted above, the quantitative score can be quite important in assessing an applicant’s ability of succeeding in an MBA program – especially if that individual has not had a lot of quant coursework in undergrad. AWA is very important for us in assessing international candidates – along with the TOEFL/IELTS.
MBA Crystal Ball: Have you started considering the IR score from this year? How do you compare scores across formats (e.g. with and without the IR scores)?
Lindsay: We expect that the IR score will start to become more important once most of our applicants apply with this score. As it stands, not all of our applicants have this score yet so we don’t assess it too heavily at the moment in order to ensure we assess all candidates equally.
MBA Crystal Ball: There is only one mandatory essay. What can applicants do to ensure that they cover maximum ground?
Lindsay: Aside from the required essay, we are able to obtain a lot of information about our applicants through the actual application. Many strong candidates fail to provide detailed responses in the application itself (job descriptions, extracurricular involvement, instances of interaction with UCLA Anderson staff and students, etc.).
Of course, the letter of recommendation is always an important evaluation tool that provides us with an outside perspective of your leadership, teamwork and management skills as well as your personality. Finally, the admissions interview is where we are able to truly assess how you would “fit” with the culture at UCLA Anderson.
MBA Crystal Ball: For the optional essay, can you give examples of relevant ‘extenuating circumstances’ that applicants generally talk about?
Lindsay: We typically see applicants address situations that may have prevented them from excelling in their undergraduate degree (medical, family emergencies, etc.) or gaps in work experience. This is a great place to address any leaves of absence that may not be apparent on your resume or reasons for choosing a certain recommender (i.e. not a direct supervisor).
Basically, this is your opportunity to explain something that you thing and admissions committee member will not be able to understand from looking at your application/resume/transcript by itself. The optional essay should not be an elaboration of things we have asked to see in other sections of the essay (extracurricular involvement, work experience, etc.)
MBA Crystal Ball: There is no scholarship essay. What are the factors you consider for arriving at scholarship decisions?
Lindsay: Scholarships are entirely merit-based and are awarded based on the overall strength of your application. There is no single metric that we assess more than another in deciding on awards; rather, we look to award to the best overall candidates who typically have a range of high GMAT/GPA, work experience, leadership, etc. We don’t distinguish between domestic or international students when awarding scholarships.
MBA Crystal Ball: What’s the typical range of scholarships in the class and how many students get it?
Lindsay: Typically, we award scholarships to the top 1/3 of the incoming class and range from $15K/year to full tuition. Thankfully, we have been able to increase the amount of funding we have awarded over the past 2 years and now award close to $9.5 million in entrance scholarships a year.
MBA Crystal Ball: Apart from reviewing the application they submitted to the program, finding out more about the program (by talking to students/alumni), is there anything else that applicants can do to prepare for the interview?
Lindsay: Admission interviews are ultimately how we assess your fit with our school and how you would be contributing to the program. So, the bottom line is to be yourself. Of course, you will want to do your research and practice as you would for a job interview.
Come prepared to the interview with well-informed questions as opposed to those you could easily find answers to on our website. Most of our interviews are conducted by our current students, so this is the perfect opportunity for you to learn more about the student experience. For international applicants we interview via Skype.
MBA Crystal Ball: Any tips for those who might find the interview a little intimidating (with so much at stake) and concerned that their less-than-perfect answers may adversely reflect their chances?
Lindsay: The interview is a two-way street. While you are being assessed, this is also your opportunity to assess how you see yourself fitting in at UCLA Anderson. Enjoy the experience as an opportunity to get to know our students and staff, and know that we’re not out to “trick” you or catch you off-guard.
Again, the interview is our chance to learn how you will get along with your classmates and interview with recruiters. After the interview, your file is read by another member of the admissions committee who assesses you based on the strength of your overall application – not just the interview alone.
MBA Crystal Ball: Tell us about the new changes to the first year curriculum where students have a chance to start influencing their specialization choices.
Lindsay: We allow students to “front load” their first year core courses in an order that makes sense for their career placement goals. Through an academic “track,” students get to pick marketing or finance in the first quarter. This is expressly intended to prepare our students for internship interviews, which get into full swing at the start of the winter quarter.
In the second year, students are able to choose from a number of specializations that can help further customize their degree.
MBA Crystal Ball: There are over 47 student clubs at UCLA. Can you share examples of how students have used them to develop their leadership abilities?
Lindsay: Our students are extremely active with student clubs and typically join 3-5 organizations. Taking on a leadership role with a student club can be a great way to develop leadership skills in practice rather than just theory. Students lead “treks” to companies, organize networking events with alumni, and often plan large conferences.
For example, our High Tech Business Association (HTBA) organized treks to notable tech companies from Los Angeles to Seattle, including Amazon, eBay, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Tesla and Twitter. These activities are entirely student-led, and a great way for our students to make key contacts with employers.
MBA Crystal Ball: The Applied Management Research Program (AMR) is a great way for students to get hands-on experience in solving real-world problems. But the duration is unusual long (6 months). How do students balance out the academic work with the AMR?
Lindsay: The AMR program is an actual class that takes place alongside other electives in the second year. So, you’re not necessarily doing any more coursework than you would have in a regular class. You’re not on-site with a company full-time as you would be with your internship; rather, you work with a company as a consultant and visit on-site as necessary.
MBA Crystal Ball: What proportion of the class gets placed as a result of their own initiative?
Lindsay: Last year, approximately 30% of our graduates sourced employment as a result of direct contact with an employer, their own network, or their pre-Anderson employment.
UCLA Anderson facilitated the majority of student placement via internships, job postings, recruitment events, our alumni network, and the network of classmates.
MBA Crystal Ball: What are the lesser known facts about UCLA that you’d like more applicants to be aware of?
Lindsay: The range of industries represented in Los Angeles is huge – so our students have the advantage of being exposed to all different types of employers.
On the road, I am often asked if being in Los Angeles we place a majority of our students into entertainment. Although it’s great to have film and TV studios on our doorstep, most of our students actually place into technology, finance and consulting!
Los Angeles is starting to become known as “Silicon Beach,” so we’re attracting a lot of students who want to be exposed to the large number of tech companies and start-ups in the region.
MBA Crystal Ball: You travel quite a bit each year to meet prospective MBA applicants. When will you be in India?
Lindsay: I will be “on the road” extensively for the next month or so, and will actually be back in India this September.
MBA Crystal Ball: With the application season just around the corner, I realise you have a pretty hectic schedule. I appreciate your taking the time from your busy schedule to talk to us.
Lindsay: You are welcome, Sameer. I enjoyed reading your book Beyond The MBA Hype and found the advice you provided to applicants to be quite spot-on!
MBA Crystal Ball: Thanks, Lindsay. Have a good trip. Hope you find many good candidates from India and across the world.
The UCLA MBA website has additional insights about the program, including information about the average GMAT, class profile, scholarships and placement statistics.
Read the interviews with the Admission Committee officers of other top bschools.