by Kim Clark

We posed questions to admissions officials at the Syracuse University Martin J. Whitman 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?

The students that make up the Whitman School graduate student population are comprised of individuals that, among other things, have developed well-rounded portfolios and demonstrated leadership. A successful candidate for our graduate programs should, through their application, demonstrate academic prowess, professional initiative, and a strong illustration of leadership in action. In addition, individuals that have participated in the development of community through volunteerism, active participation in professional and personal organizations, and an overall zeal for continuous growth constructs an impressive application.

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

Essays on the Whitman School application are designed to challenge the applicant to portray in many ways how they work through professional situations, exemplify their problem-solving skills, and use sound judgment and critical reasoning to solve complex issues. Moreover, we look for the applicant to clearly identify to us how they use these skills, where shortfalls may have been, and how they have used their experiences moving forward.

Essays are designed to communicate to the committee aspects of the individual's written expression, critical reasoning, communication skills, business acumen and leadership capabilities, and overall ability in working with others to maintain the integrity of a specific project. Lastly, this is one of the first forms of writing we have of an applicant. Solid construction of these answers is also anticipated by the admissions committee.

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?

The GMAT exam is a critical component to the full-time M.B.A. application. The GMAT is designed to provide the admissions committee with information regarding a person's logic, reasoning and data analysis skills to name a few. These pieces of information are critical in identifying one's ability to work through ambiguous case studies, complex consulting projects, and other various measures found in the M.B.A. curriculum. Important to note, however, is that the committee uses the GMAT as one measure. The overall quality of an application means that when the score is coupled with other items such as work experience, there may be a case for forgone performance on the GMAT. Certain on-the-job skills have proven to be a large asset to the classroom as well, and can hold weight on the committee's forecast of a student's success in the program.

Students without years of work experience need to demonstrate by virtue of their undergraduate GPA that they have the quantitative ability, motivation/work ethic, and drive to complete the rigors of graduate school.

For those with little to no work experience, two factors of an application that will hold the highest weight will be the GMAT exam score and overall GPA. While still critical components to the application, these items will hold smaller percentiles for those possessing years of professional and relevant work experience.

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?

Prior work/internship experience is a consideration in our decision making, but we do consider students with less experience who have evidence of strong leadership in their undergraduate program. The typical Whitman M.B.A. student has less than five years of experience. We are able to enhance students' real world experience through our unique experiential learning program where students build an experiential portfolio through internships, consulting, specialized courses, community engagement, and other practical experiences. Students complete six to nine approved experiential elective credits through at least two distinct experiences.

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?

Whitman's unique experiential learning programs sets us apart, as do our courses on the global economy and business that feature international study experiences that combine in-class lecture, company visits, and guest speakers. A recent course in Dubai combined experiential learning with global business by working on a project to propose to GE solutions that they can bring to the that part of the world using the principles of Islamic finance that they have learned. In addition, the small size of our M.B.A. program allows faculty and staff to work collaboratively with the students to help them achieve success.

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?

Recommendation letters, among other things, provide the Whitman School with the inextricable perspectives of an applicant that we use to determine both academic and professional abilities within the realms of the M.B.A. experience. We look for evidence of strong performance with one's work responsibilities, a demonstration of continual improvement, and overall mastery of functional skills. In addition, and perhaps most credible to the applicant is the comments regarding transferable and soft skills as a professional. How has the applicant demonstrated that he/she is a team player, is energized by challenges, and how their contributions have made an impact in their respective area. Lastly, for the admissions committee to adopt that the comments made by the recommender are valid, they must have had a considerable amount of interaction with them from various venues such as project work, business relationships, or a direct supervisory role.

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

Once an application is received, Whitman's Graduate Programs Office works directly with each applicant to ensure materials have been received, and what items are missing or still need to be completed prior to being evaluated for admission. Once the application is complete, the applicant can expect to hear back with an admissions response in addition to decisions regarding institutional support.

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

In recent years, Whitman students have been hired by companies such as Apple, Beech-Nut, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Corning, Cummins, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, Goldman Sachs, IBM, JP Morgan Chase, Lockheed Martin, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Xerox. The Whitman Career Center develops and maintains relationships with corporations across the U.S. and around the world, focusing on institutions with which Whitman students have expressed a desire to launch careers.

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

Business school applications are typically perceived as possessing two intentional components. These are pieces that the applicant has control over, and some that the applicant does not have control over.

Analyzed further, the pieces that the applicant does not have immediate control over are outcomes based on previous performance, interactions, and perceptions/observations. If any of these yield negative submissions, these are, in some way, "mistakes" that the applicant could have avoided. We aspire for consistency across all aspects of an application. Academic and professional performance, in addition to recommendation letters, provides two critical aspects of an application. Applicants have a unique opportunity, if planned enough ahead, to ensure these components are successfully and strategically portrayed.

Items that are more clearly identified as problematic are items such as written submissions and in-person interviews. Our essays and interviews are designed to provide answers to very specific questions. We are looking for an applicant's ability to clearly articulate their experiences and career aspirations. Applicants fall short on this task when they to not articulate enough or provide very general examples. We strive to see the story unfold through written and verbal expression. An applicant must also provide this through a résumé as well. Content, in addition to proficiency in grammar/spelling is an absolute must.

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

The typical Whitman Management School graduate M.B.A. student is one that possesses big ideas with realistic implementation. It is a student that thinks outside of the box to solve problems, personifies innovation and entrepreneurship, and is a change agent and effective leader with a global mindset. Students in the Whitman School are also contributors to community and champions of synergy.

Students in the full-time M.B.A. program come from a variety of undergraduate disciplines, and possess, on average, 30 months of full-time work experience.

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