Category Archives: 2011

HEC Paris Information Session (July 23, 2011)

This is the third in a series of information session reports written by our correspondent during his attendance at the MBA Tour’s July 23rd event in New York City. (Cecilia Wu Tanaka’s note: My apologies for the delay uploading this post…)

The HEC Paris representative, Marie-Laurence Lemaire, Development Manager, started off her presentation with a bit of history. HEC Paris was established two centuries ago and is ranked the #1 business school in Europe (I would later look this up; according to the website the source is The Financial Times.) The school is actually not located in Paris; they moved out because the students were too "distracted" (this drew a few chuckles from the audience.) This was good for getting to know each other anyway, the representative said (and the campus is not that far from Paris, about 18 kilometers.)

The student body is diverse: 85% is not French. There are 150 students in the September intake. Students are divided into working groups that rotate every few months. They also make sure a student is the only one of his or her nationality. HEC Paris wants students to get out of their comfort zone. Just when you get comfortable, your surroundings change. While other schools may do this, I like that this is something articulated explicitly, as change helps one grow.

Some general information:

Language. You don’t need to learn French as the program is conducted in English but if you don’t know French  you’ll study the language. Those who already speak two languages will study a third. A language is not just language but  about the culture.

Essay. Very important. Have people read your essays.

Recommendations. These can be from clients. Job titles of the writer are not important; choose people who know you, your work, and your personality.

GMAT (average: 690) is very important. If you have a low GMAT score then another part of your application must be strong. If you have a low quantitative score the admissions committee will look more closely at transcripts and calculus courses you’ve taken.

Interview. You will also be asked to give a 10 minute oral presentation in the subject of your choice. This presentation is very important.

Work experience. If you have more than 10 years of experience you’ll be rerouted into the executive MBA program. The school does not feel that less than 3 years of work experience constitute enough experiences to share.

Cornell Johnson School Information Session (July 23, 2011)

This is the second in a series of information session reports written by our correspondent during his attendance at the MBA Tour’s July 23rd event in New York City.

Cornell Johnson Graduate School of Management

Cornell was represented by Christine Sneva, Acting Director of Admissions and Financial Aid.

Sneva talked about meat and potato topics like “experiential learning” that goes beyond case studies and immersion programs. And she talked about areas of study including finance (and how Cornell has a trading floor on the premises, which I thought was very neat), sustainability, and entrepreneurship. (At which point she said either you’re an entrepreneur or you’re not, and if you don’t understand that, you’re probably not.) She talked about dual degree programs. And then–


This was only my second information session of the morning and I already was starting a bit of eye rolling. So every school prides itself on academic quality and community. She talked about how the Cornell community is tight knit, that students mingle with faculty in social events. There’s even a place for social gatherings, called Sage Hall. Because Cornell is in Ithaca I just picture people all hanging out locally on campus simply because there’s nowhere else to go. At NYU I imagine students probably have their own friends outside of school and socialize with them. Professors may be working at night (this is speculation on my part.) At Cornell people tend to live and work in one general area. Someone in the audience actually brought this up. He asked why on earth anyone would want to go to school in Ithaca. (OK, those are my words but he basically asked this question, just a bit more diplomatically.) Give credit to Sneva, who was prepared for this question. For one, it’s a beautiful campus. The classes are smaller and Cornell makes it a point to keep classes smaller rather than bigger. Then she launched into her spiel about the vast alumni network of Cornell. I wasn’t wholly satisfied by her answer and wasn’t convinced as to why I would potentially want to spend two years of my life in Ithaca but to her credit, she did not make a hard sell. Ithaca is not for everyone. (Side note: Cornell undergraduate alumni, whom she referred to as “Cornellians,” appear to have an edge in the admissions process because they, like no others, are intimately aware of what it’s like to live and study/work in Cornell.)

What reached me about this information session in a way that NYU did not was how Sneva talked about Cornell looking for leaders that will influence their organizations. If Cornell is successful in enrolling such people, I get the sense that Cornell is not populated with people who just want to make riches. I liked this criterion. And in speaking about alumni, she talked about “passion” and “legacy”–because after graduation these students, now alumni, will represent the Cornell brand. I found this appealing as this should make for a stronger network.

She then went into the application. The resume is very important. The essay is important. Why Cornell Johnson? Why an MBA? This was all quite conventional advice but this tidbit was gold: ONCE YOU MAKE IT TO THE INTERVIEW, 90% OF YOUR DECISION IS BASED ON THE INTERVIEW.

To me this was a bombshell because it would probably encourage me a little and scare the hell out of me a lot. So the weeks and months of preparation and essay writing and GMAT taking have brought me to this place. And the future course of my life boils down to this 45-minute conversation. Wow.

Actually, I think it’s good to know this because then it means, as an applicant, I’m close. She gave more information and advice. The nature of the interview itself is spontaneous, conversational. There are no staged questions. Show enthusiasm. Do your research. Visit the school (especially for New Yorkers, who are at least in the same state.) She mentioned the Cornell Club in midtown and buses that go to Ithaca.

The evaluation covers three areas:

1. Academics

2. Career decision-making and self-efficacy. This means one’s belief in one’s own ability. (She added, to my amusement, that this was probably “through the roof” for the people in this audience.)

3. Leadership and community.

They’re looking for people who are easy to talk to (extroversion/introversion doesn’t matter but outliers are obvious. In a small class, it’s easy to tell who sticks out.) Is the applicant proactive? Connects with people? Has a good sense of the school?

When the Cornell information session ended I felt that I had some sense of the school, and a positive one at that. I’m still not sure I’d want to study in such a remote location but at least now I’d be willing to look into the school, which I previously hadn’t considered before. On that level, at least, I think this session was a very successful one.

NYU Stern School of Business Information Session

This is the first in a series of information reports written by our correspondent during his attendance at the MBA Tour’s July 23rd event in New York city.

NYU Stern School of Business

The first thing the NYU rep did was have everyone stand up and introduce himself to the person next to him. After some spirited chatter she indicated that this kind of thing was what Stern was about: community. She spoke about the growth of professional relationships. She talked about the numerous professional and social clubs, some of which may lead to jobs; and that second year students mentor first years. Indeed, community was one of Stern’s core values, which follow:

1. Academic Excellence. Faculty with real life experience. (In mentioning the new dean, she briefly mentioned how NYU Stern wants its students to think of how the economy relates to society as a whole, or something along those lines. I would have liked to hear more about this philosophy because it was one of the few things that made Stern unique sounding.)

2. Leveraging Location.

3. Community.

4. IQ and EQ. The importance of “soft skills” (her words, not mine); interpersonal skills.

While it seems that just about every school includes these values as their own, NYU is unique in its location (aside from its noticeably absent rival, Columbia.) The NYU rep indicated that its students work with case studies involving the New York Mets, the Metropolitan Opera, and Steinway Piano. And the room was packed, in part I imagine, due to its location in lower Manhattan (Cornell, despite its Ivy League status, had noticeably fewer attendees.)

The Stern rep gave some basic pointers on the application:

An applicant is judged on:

1. Academic potential

2. Career aspiration and achievements

3. Personal characteristics


– Take practice tests.

– NYU only looks at the highest score.

– NYU now accepts the GRE as it reaches more people.


These should be from professional to convey how you are in the workplace.


Show where you are; where you want to go; how to get there.

Optional essay:

Explain anything. Don’t make the admissions committee make guesses about you.

The NYU rep ended by providing the various deadlines.

During the introduction the person next to me was a man from Maryland with a background in real estate finance. After NYU’s presentation was over he deadpanned, “Everything she said was off the website.”

Thinking back on NYU’s information session I can’t say I have a clearer picture of the school. I really didn’t get anything out of this session. My impression is that NYU is diverse (as she cited significant proportions of women and minorities) and is well located. And my feeling that NYU is hip is left intact. I may know nothing of its academic rigor or what companies Stern graduates go on to work for but I’ll probably get to meet a lot of people.

New York MBA Conference: How Admissions Decisions are Made

The MBA Tour sponsored an all-day MBA fair in New York city on July 23, and we sent our local correspondent to cover the scene:

I arrived at the Grand Hyatt in Midtown at 8:50AM and there was already a line of about fifteen people waiting to get their name tags. By the time I made my way to the front of the line, checked in, and put the lanyard over my neck the Admissions panel at 9AM had started so I sprinted up the stairs to the big Broadway room, which seated around a hundred people. It was mostly already full.

At the front were a panel of three women; I couldn’t see their names because of where I was seated. They had already started talking about the GMAT. I heard one of them mention as a resource. One said that the GMAT is a good indicator of how a potential student would fare in the core classes but not necessarily the MBA program as a whole. (After having sat through numerous information sessions later on I get the sense that  the schools really just want to make sure you can handle the quant classes in the core.)

The rest of the panel consisted of segments on the essay, letters of recommendation, the resume, and the interview, followed by a Q&A session that I’ve incorporated into their appropriate categories.

The Essay

The members of the panel kept using the refrain “but check with the school” so what they were saying was very general. They offered some basic tips like check the maximum number of words, check your grammar and spelling, and be sure to put the (right) name of the school.

Here’s what I thought was a useful tidbit, on optional essays. You don’t get extra credit so if you don’t have something compelling, skip it. You can, however, also take this opportunity to explain low GMAT scores or tell your personal story. One of the panelists brought up an essay by a student who climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. But if you don’t have anything compelling to say, this is just more for them to read.

Letters of Recommendation

Ask for letters as soon as possible. Aside from choosing your writers, you really have little control over this part. Prep your writers–give them your resume. Tell them why you want an MBA. And if your school is asking for a recommendation from your supervisor and you’re uncomfortable with this (as you intend to leave the company), explain this to the admissions office. In terms of whom to ask to write on your behalf, this panel and representatives from the schools whose information sessions I attended later on all echoed the same thing: choose people who know you well, not just people who have a high status and rank. In one example given, one high-ranking executive wrote a one-sentence letter of recommendation (though shame on him, I say.) Another piece of instruction I kept hearing is that the admissions committees want recommendations from people in the workplace. This makes sense; they want to know what you’re like in action. So should you have  professors write letters for you? Only if you’ve worked with them. And what if you’re an entrepreneur? Since you don’t have a supervisor, seek letters from clients, vendors, etc. One last thing they mentioned: If the letters are to be submitted electronically, let your writers now. And make sure they use the (right) name of the school.


Don’t merely provide a listing but really highlight what the school’s interested in. Know the emphasis of the program–what is your target school looking for? Do you have strengths you can offer to the school?–and the profile of the students. Show results. Show special special projects. Show that each year you’ve taken projects out of your comfort zone. Do you have cross functional work experience? Or team oriented projects and collaborative experiences? The more of this you can demonstrate the better.

In college, what did you do in addition to studying? They want to see well-rounded individuals. Include activities. What was meaningful to you? What were one or two that really excited you? And did you work during school to support yourself? If so, include this as it shows maturity and depth. Include interests, outside work, work at non-profits, sports, travel–they want to see the total person.

Other bits of advice:

– Make sure you can explain gaps in employment on chronological resumes.

– If you have different career paths, address them somewhere.

– Check page numbers. If they say two pages, they may automatically throw out your third page.

– Don’t include your high school. No one cares.

And one general takeaway: The admissions committee wants to know if you have strengths that fit the school. Don’t make them have to search to find out what they are. Make it easy for them.

The Interview

So you got an interview. Congratulations!

From the moment you step into the school for the interview until you leave, everything will be fair game for your evaluation. First impressions are important. This includes not just your professional appearance but how you greet the admissions staff upon arrival. Word gets around among schools, so don’t be rude to the receptionist.

How to prepare:

– In terms of research by now you should have done more than just visit the website. Hopefully you’ve spoken with alumni and even visited the school.

– Call ahead to see if the interview is a panel or one on one meeting. If there are other candidates present you will be observed on how you interact with them.

– Review your application before your interview as they are different between schools.

– Be prepared to conduct a conversation.

– Show your intellectual ability about your sector. Be current on recent events in your sector (read The Economist, The Financial Times, etc.)

– Think about what you want to talk about. What can you contribute?

– Don’t repeat what you’ve already written about (in other parts of your application.)

– Be prepared to talk about weak points.

– Show energy and enthusiasm about their school.

– For international students especially, your communication ability is important.

In the following Q&A session questions fell into the above categories so I’ve already incorporated them here. One question of note was when to apply–in round 1, round 2, etc. While of course earlier is better, especially if you’re applying for scholarships, it is less about the rounds than when you are ready. Apply when you have the best application to present yourself.

Will follow up over the coming two weeks with summaries of some of the individual school presentations.