In the Bloomberg Businessweek rankings, the Smeal College of Business is ranked among the top 25 MBA programs. If you consider the years-to-payback aspect, the ranking shoots up within the top 10. Every year, all applicants are automatically considered for funding, without the necessity of any additional application. For instance, every single student of the class of 2015 received merit-based financial aid. Apart from these interesting facts, there’s much more to the Smeal MBA program.
Manish Gupta, from the MBA Crystal Ball team interviewed Stacey Dorang Peeler, from the Smeal College of Business to get a better understanding of the admissions process, GMAT score evaluation, scholarships, placements, and why you shouldn’t remove your shirt during the interview.
Stacey joined Smeal College of Business in 2008 as the Assistant MBA Director of Admissions. At the time of this interview she had moved on to become the MBA Admissions Director (in 2011) at Smeal. In more recent years (in 2016 and post this Q&A), she has taken on the role of the Managing Director of the Penn State Online MBA Program.
MBA Crystal Ball: You have a strong placements record on the Operations/Logistics side. What about the program and its resources enables this? Within this Function, which areas/companies are typically more open for international candidates?
Stacey: We have fantastic and experienced faculty at Smeal who are experts in their field, as well as the Center for Supply Chain Research (which typically offers one MBA graduate assistant position per year to a student pursuing a career in Supply Chain Management). Currently (during the interview as well as in current 2018 lists), Smeal holds the following SCM-related rankings:
Gartner Inc.’s Ranking of U.S. Supply Chain Education Providers
SCM World’s Chief Supply Chain Officer Report (2014) Ranking of U.S. Supply Chain Education Providers
Some of the companies that hired international candidates last year in SCM or SCM consulting roles include Deloitte, Apple, Dell, EY, and Nike (a full list of recruiting companies can be found on our site).
We have long-standing relationships with many employers in the Supply Chain function who rely on Smeal year after year to fill their SCM talent pipeline.
MBA Crystal Ball: Though you have mentioned only 4% roles in the IT Function, you have a healthy placements records in the Technology industry. Could you help us understand what kind of companies and functions within the Technology sector hire at the school?
Stacey: Some of the companies that hire at Smeal in the IT industry include Apple, Dell, IBM and Intel. We have many very strong relationships with IT companies.
MBA Crystal Ball: How many of your graduates manage to switch their career focus – meaning both industry and function? What resources at the school help in such transitions?
Stacey: Typically we see about 1/3 of the class doing a true career switch. Of course, this varies by year.
We have a Career Services team who is dedicated to helping students who are both career enhancers and/or career switchers achieve their career goals. Our team begins engaging students over the summer before they even arrive on campus and are ready to start one-on-one coaching meetings from day one.
Our team also provides extensive programming, including “Career Focus Fridays” every week during the semester. Our Alumni Advisory Board serves to provide career mentoring to all of our students. Every student has an AAB mentor assigned to them as they start the program.
Students are encouraged to meet with their mentor in person and virtually throughout the year. It is our hope these relationships will foster development not only while students are in the MBA program but as they progress in their careers after graduation.
MBA Crystal Ball: How many international students go back to their home countries after graduating? With the persistent economic downturn, has this been an increasing trend?
Stacey: Only a very small percentage of graduates return to their home country immediately after graduation. While attaining an H1B visa to work in the US can be a challenge, our students are proactive and ambitious.
Those who work diligently in their career search and use the resources provided to them seldom have issues landing competitive employment opportunities.
MBA Crystal Ball: What are some of the most surprising and unconventional post MBA jobs that Smeal MBA students have taken up?
Stacey: We have 2 alumni (who happen to be brothers!) running a non-profit organization called Poverty Resolutions which helps with the eradication of poverty in Haiti.
Another recent alumnus spent a year with MBAs Without Borders and is now working for a foundation which assists social entrepreneurs.
MBA Crystal Ball: Give us a few ‘put-offs’, ‘no-nos’ for the application essays. Maybe share a few stories that are just not-acceptable. It will be great if you can share some DOs and DONTs – especially for international applicants.
One specific example of inappropriate behavior in the admissions process is emailing multiple members of the program team the same questions. This is a time waster for the team, and it creates an unfavorable impression of the candidate.
If you do not get an immediate answer from the first person you contacted, please be patient. I assure you our team answers every one of the email inquiries they receive!
Another example of inappropriate behavior is submitting too much unsolicited material. One applicant asked for an exception to our 100 word additional essay word limit—which we granted (expecting perhaps 150-200 words). Instead we received a 5 page document. This clearly shows the applicant has poor judgment skills and cannot follow directions.
MBA Crystal Ball: You have a fairly small class size. What’s the philosophy behind keeping the class size small unlike many other schools?
Stacey: A small class allows for extensive interaction with both our faculty and with other classmates. Though Penn State University is large, the Smeal MBA Program is very small.
We want to ensure our students receive personal attention throughout their entire MBA experience, and also that we continue our tradition of a program that has a close-knit and collaborative community.
At Smeal, every student has his/her own unique story and ambitions. It’s very important to us that are students get what they need from their MBA education and are never just a number.
MBA Crystal Ball: Give us some more insight into the application evaluation process. Who does it, what is the level of rigor etc.
Stacey: We have a committee who evaluates all applications. We look at all elements of the application package to determine capability for academic success, fit with our community and culture, and of course, if the candidate’s career goals make sense and fit with our academic strengths and the opportunities we can provide.
Fit on multiple levels is imperative. A bad fit can negatively impact both the student experience and the program.
MBA Crystal Ball: MBA programs encourage diversity. Has the Smeal MBA class had any students with very unusual backgrounds?
Stacey: We absolutely DO encourage diversity on many levels! We have had students who are doctors starting a new career, teachers who are now interested in marketing, entrepreneurs who want to grow their businesses or start new ones, men and women transitioning out of the military or continuing military careers, and lawyers looking to add business acumen to their law expertise.
I think two of the most unusual backgrounds I’ve seen are the actor turned Digital Media Director, and the professional musician turned marketer!
MBA Crystal Ball: Any examples of bizarre ways in which applicants have tried to impress the admissions team?
Stacey: A few years ago, an applicant wanted to remove his shirt during an interview to show the interviewer his tattoo (which was a Penn State Nittany Lion) to prove his school spirit.
Needless to say, this was not appropriate—nor was it at all impressive in this context.
MBA Crystal Ball: There are a lot of scholarships and fellowships listed on your website. Approximately what percentage of the incoming class gets some sort of scholarship?
Stacey: In a typical year, more than 75% of the class receives some sort of merit-based aid. This can range from a graduate assistantship to a scholarships ranging from 2,500 to 20,000 USD.
MBA Crystal Ball: Are there separate scholarship/fellowship essays as part of the selection process? Are they assessed in conjunction with other parts of the application or are these evaluated on a standalone basis?
Stacey: No. If a candidate applies by our January deadline, they are automatically considered for merit-based aid. No additional application or essay is required for consideration.
MBA Crystal Ball: A question that we frequently encounter from candidates is, ‘can a good/great GMAT score compensate for a low GPA’. What’s your take on this?
Stacey: It can certainly help! We know that an applicant can’t “go back in time” to change a low GPA. The GMAT is a way to show us that you are up to the challenge of a rigorous academic program. If invited to interview, however, be prepared to discuss why your GPA was low.
MBA Crystal Ball: Have you started considering IR scores? Any thoughts on its relevance, timelines etc?
Stacey: While we don’t “officially” consider IR scores (as not all applicants have them yet), we absolutely look at them. The IR section measures critical thinking skills that are vital to success in our program. An unusually low score will raise a flag with the committee. On the flip side, we will also take positive notice of a very high score!
MBA Crystal Ball: Apart from the online events, what can international students do to learn more about the program and interact on a more personalized basis with the Admissions committee / students?
Stacey: We invite all candidates to engage directly with the admissions team. We can be reached at email@example.com. Additionally, we strongly encourage interaction with both current students and alumni.
For anyone who would like to be connected, please email us and we will make sure we find someone for them to talk to around things that are of interest to them (i.e. academic concentrations, career goals, family life, etc.)
MBA Crystal Ball: How popular is your Executive MBA program? Though you mention minimum experience of 6 years, the average is pretty high. Does it make sense for folks with less than 10 years of experience?
Stacey: The EMBA program is run out of Philadelphia, PA and targets working professionals. The minimum work experience required is actually 8 years. For those with less experience, a full-time program is likely a better fit.