by Brian Burnsed

What can you do to set yourself apart in your application? Admissions officials have the answers

We posed questions to admissions officials at the Wake Forest University 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 do you look for in the application essays? What do the essays tell you about a candidate?

It sounds easy enough, but please answer the question and get or spell the name of the school right! Make sure that the message you deliver in your essays is consistent with the one you tell in the interview.

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

We have found a correlation between [lower] GMAT scores and performance in our first-year M.B.A. classes, so the GMAT is an important part of the application process. There's a little more flexibility with GPA; our Admissions Committee understands that competitive nature of different majors and universities and certainly takes that into consideration when making decisions.

3. 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?

Wake Forest has had a two year post-graduate work experience requirement for the past three years; our average work experience is about four years. We have found that students with work experience make better contributions in the classroom and to a team environment [than those who matriculate directly out of college]. Our recruiters have provided the same feedback. There is a level of maturity that comes along with being in the workplace for a few years, as well.

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

In the past 10 years at Wake Forest, we have increased our program offerings; we've added new staff and faculty; some of our organizations weren't even here five years ago. But the one thing that has not changed is the personal attention that our students receive. From admissions and career management to student services and the classroom, it's all for the students. Dean Steve Reinemund, the former CEO of Pepsico, invites students to meet with him to see if there is anything he can do to help them with their job search, perhaps even help them network. This is our culture and it's who we are.

5. 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? Do you put much weight on letters from prominent public figures who may not know the applicant well?

If your only interaction with a C-level person at your company was when they held the elevator door for you, a good recommender he/she does not make. Without question, ask someone who knows you and knows you well--someone who can tell us what makes you great, as well as what opportunities you have to be even better, and who has worked with you through both professional successes and failures. We all have improvement for growth, so when we read that a recommender "hasn't observed any weaknesses" in an applicant, we wonder if they really know them at all. We have found that academic recommendations tend to be more generic, unless they worked directly with a student over his/her college career and have kept in touch with the candidate since graduation. Considering that we require a minimum of two years post-graduate work experience, we are more interested in professional recommendations.

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

Wake Forest operates on a rolling admissions basis, and we make decisions typically about four weeks after an application is complete. "Being complete" means that we have all of the application components in a file: the application, recommendations, official GMAT or GRE score, official transcript, and TOEFL, if applicable. Interviews are by invitation only, after the application has been submitted. We continue to offer our Done in a Day program, which is an accelerated admissions process where candidates receive a decision in a day. Instead of writing the essays, the applicant must discuss them in front of a panel.

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

Applicants aren't always cognizant that the evaluation continues after the interview is over. If they make derogatory, inappropriate, or unprofessional comments to another student during their campus visit, the admissions office will hear about it. While it has only happened a few times over the last 10 years, it still horrifies us. There's no room for those candidates at Wake Forest.

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

Who doesn't want students who are smart, good communicators, possess strong team work skills and are willing to work--and work hard? But at Wake Forest, there's more. We consistently talk with our applicants about two things: The first is that there is nowhere to hide. Nowhere. We know who you are. We know where you came from and where you want to go. If you miss a class, we notice. The second thing is that there is a high expectation that our students will be contributors, both inside and outside the classroom. There are significant opportunities to get involved and to take on leadership roles, and we need students who will roll up their sleeves and jump in. If you want to be a student Wake Forest, you have to be OK with this.

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