by Kim Clark

We posed questions to admissions officials at the University of Florida Hough Graduate School of Business 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?

We look for students who have excelled in their chosen fields and areas of expertise. Our students come from a variety of backgrounds, have diverse skills and experiences, and each one brings a unique viewpoint into the classroom. Applicants should share their accomplishments and show how they will bring value to the classroom as a student and to the program as a future alumnus. At the Hough Graduate School of Business, we feel this adds to a richer, more in-depth classroom experience when discussions cover business issues from the point of view of a Fortune 500 company to a successful entrepreneur--all of whom are sitting in the classroom.

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

The essays are the best way to provide unique insights into your personality and character. Let us get to know you: where you have been, where you are now, where you want to go, and how an M.B.A. is going to help you get there. Show us your focus and determination. How do you define excellence? Why should we admit you to the program?

We find that our more experienced students are more open, relaxed, and confident in how they present themselves, which is exactly what we are looking for in the essays. When applicants try too hard to fit the mold of an "ideal" applicant or mirror their essays to ones they have seen in "How to Get into M.B.A. School" books, they come across formulaic and boring. Tell us your story, dreams, and goals.

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?

An applicant's GMAT score is an important component in what we evaluate. It shows us that applicants are ready, willing, and able to succeed in a rigorous academic environment.

There are three key components we look for in all applicants: GMAT, undergraduate performance, and work experience. We weigh all of them equally. Think of it as a three-leg stool: You need to have achieved a certain level in each area to be competitive. If a candidate is weak in one area, a strength in another can help offset to a point, but applicants must meet a certain threshold in all three to be admitted.

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?

As mentioned earlier, it is a key component to our program. We require a minimum of two years for any of our programs and eight years for our Executive program. For our full-time programs the average is four years, and in our part-time programs the average is seven. Quality of experience is key as well. What has the applicant accomplished? Is the applicant going above and beyond in their current role? How is the applicant adding to the company's bottom line with their unique skills and abilities?

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?

Top-tier faculty, nationally and internationally ranked programs, high-quality students and a vast alumni network at an affordable cost--The Hough Graduate School of Business combines all of these to provide a great value to its students, offering students the quickest return on investment (ROI) of any top 50 program. In June 2010, we are adding to that value with a brand-new graduate school building, Hough Hall. This 70,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility was made possible because of the generosity of 1948 UF M.B.A. graduate William R. Hough. The Hough Graduate School of Business also offers a unique student experience from small, selective class sizes in the M.B.A. program to national championship sports teams.

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?

At UF M.B.A. we want to hear from individuals who can provide us key insights into a candidate's work experience, background, and performance. We strongly request that at least one recommendation come from a current or former supervisor. Academic references are discouraged, and we don't take recommendations from friends or family members. It is critical that your recommenders have worked with you regularly in a professional environment. We provide forms for the specific observations and skill set evaluations we are seeking. Recommenders can provide additional insights in a letter accompanying the form as well. If an applicant knows a current UF M.B.A. student or alumnus, we do like to get their insights and perspective also. We require a minimum of two recommendations, but no more than three.

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

We encourage applicants to submit the online application first and submit the supplemental materials as they complete them. Submission of the online application lets us know you are a serious candidate and leads to immediate and regular interaction with our admissions team. We operate on a rolling admissions basis, so once all of an applicant's materials are received it will be reviewed by the admissions committee. For full-time candidates, decisions take about two to three weeks. Part-time candidates usually get decisions in about one or two weeks. If a candidate is waitlisted for a program, the admissions committee will share the reason why the candidate was waitlisted and if there is anything a candidate can do to move from waitlist to accepted student. If a candidate is denied, declines, or defers admission, all applications are kept on file for a year.

We highly encourage candidates to apply early. This affords full-time candidates the best opportunity for scholarships and gives all applicants the best opportunity for a positive outcome.

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

A variety of firms recruit from our program. Ryder, CSX, and Exxon Mobil are the most active employers. Additionally, Darden Restaurants, Johnson & Johnson, and BB&T recruit heavily as well. Corporate finance is the most sought-after area of expertise, but marketing, operations, and human resources talent is regularly sought after as well. Popular industries for our students include energy, government, financial services, and banking.

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

The biggest mistakes are not being thorough in answering questions and not following instructions on the application. Grammatical mistakes, short answers, incomplete sentences, and skipping questions make us wonder if you are taking the process seriously and if you will be able to succeed in a team and/or academic environment. Our deans want to know why applicants are seeking a UF M.B.A. and want them to define how they fit into the program.

We ask applicants to provide a résumé and a detailed work history. These are two different things, and many applicants just cut and paste their résumé into the application without providing the additional details we are looking for in the work history section. This is a critical mistake for applicants on the cusp of two years experience or lacking in quality of experience. Canned responses in essays or interviews are not good. Full-time applicants need to make sure they are prepared for interviews, dress appropriately, and speak appropriately. This seems to occur more often in online or phone interviews. Please note that every interaction with our admissions team is noticed. Being rude, impatient, or pushy with our staff does get passed on to the admissions directors and committees.

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

The archetypal Hough student is strong academically, successful in their chosen field, collaborative in their approach, and motivated to keep moving forward. This is demonstrated in our alumni network that is active and has regular gatherings around the state and Southeast. Our alumni are engaged with our current students and prospective students as well.

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