by Kim Clark

We posed questions to admissions officials at the George Mason University School of Management regarding the application process, what they look for in applicants, and what sets their school apart. These are their responses:

1. What can applicants do to set themselves apart from their peers?

Just like people, no two completed applications are alike. Equal GMAT scores are seldom the result of identical verbal/quantitative scores. Undergraduate transcripts represent all types of colleges and universities. The transcripts reveal different courses of study and even different grade trends. Essays are completely unique in tone, personality, and perspective. So, too, are letters of recommendations. And, no two interviews are ever alike. Applicants who present themselves in the strongest possible light should never be concerned about setting themselves apart from anyone. They need to stand up straight and provide a clear picture of what has made them who they are and how the M.B.A. program will make them what they want to be.

2. What do you look for in the application essays? What do the essays tell you about a candidate?

The essays provide a great opportunity to share "who you are" with the admissions committee: your goals, your personality, and your interests, whether professional or personal. Realize that this one of the few areas of the application where you can showcase yourself and how you will be an asset to the Mason program. We want to know that you are a professional, but also want to know about you as a person and how you became that person. What we don't want is cookie-cutter platitudes based on what you think we want to read or hear.

Our essays are deliberately structured so that they can be written in any tense and voice and are a potential strong selling point for their authors. They are open-ended but proper spelling and grammar are nonnegotiable requirements. The best essays share information not captured by applicant statistics. Statistics don't tell a story and the best, most compelling essays usually do.

3. How important is the applicant's GMAT score? How do you weigh it against undergraduate GPA and work/internship experience? Which of these carry the most weight? The least?

No portion of the portfolio is weighted more than another; the admissions committee considers the entire application to ensure that they have a complete profile of a candidate's professional and academic qualifications. A demonstrated ability to handle the rigorous quantitative requirements of an M.B.A. program is always an advantage.

4. How much does prior work/internship experience weigh into your decision making? What's the typical or expected amount of work experience from an applicant?

The students in our program are demonstrated leaders committed to professional growth in their industries. It is recommended that students have at least two years of professional experience, but most average more than six years. They represent a wide variety of industries and specializations; this diversity of backgrounds fosters a dynamic learning environment from which all students benefit. Having an engineer sit next to a NGO executive sitting next to a military officer sitting next to a mortgage banker--that makes for a stimulating class.

5. What sets you apart from other schools? What can students gain from your school that they might not be able to find anywhere else?

Mason M.B.A. students greatly benefit from the program's cohort structure, which actively promotes leadership, teamwork, and communication skills. Within M.B.A. cohorts, students learn to think creatively, critically, and independently. Management problems solved in class can be immediately applied to the workplace challenges that students face each day.

Hands-on experience is the hallmark of our global residency program--and a valuable opportunity for M.B.A. students to gain insights into other business cultures. But the exposure to different business cultures begins in the classroom through the experiences of fellow students.

Rigorous and relevant coursework is a staple of the Mason M.B.A. Mason is located in a highly competitive and job environment in a metropolitan area that is still growing economically. Students leave Mason ready to be in the forefront of solving the nation's economic and business problems.

6. What do you look for in recommendation letters? How important is it that the letter's writer has worked regularly with the candidate in an office or school setting?

Although, like most schools, we provide a recommendation form, we care much more about what the recommender says than how they say it. The best letters cite specific examples of the candidate's leadership ability and growth as a manager.

7. Can you give a brief description of the life cycle of an application? What's the timeline applicants should expect?

Once all documents are in place the review time is usually four to six weeks. Admission decisions are communicated to students within 24 hours. The application process is the beginning of what we hope will be a long-term relationship. We want students to know they have been treated personally and professionally.

8. What are some of the most common mistakes that applicants make that hurt their chances of being accepted?

We cannot review documents that we don't have. Communicating expeditiously with the Mason M.B.A. admissions office goes a long way to submitting a successful application.

The key to selecting your best fit in an M.B.A. program is to understand its strengths, curriculum content, program culture, and student services. Do your program homework and query admissions officials based on that homework. Asking questions without doing due diligence is likely to leave unfortunate questions of your professionalism and commitment. If you want to get into the best school, you cannot fail to present your best case.

9. Which firms recruit heavily from your school? Which firms hire the highest percentage of your graduates?

We have a very diverse group of recruiters, which reflects our diverse student body. Organizations from Fortune 100 firms, to government agencies, to nonprofits and small start-ups recruit here.

10. Can you describe the archetypal student for your school?

There is no archetypal George Mason M.B.A. student. At Mason, we stress human capital as well as capital formation. The structure of the M.B.A. program and the culture of the Mason community aim to reinforce what makes an individual not only a successful business leader, but a good citizen of the world. Our students embody a culture that emphasizes that it's not only "what you do, but how you do it." We want our Mason M.B.A.s to succeed--in the classroom and in the community.

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