Saturday, August 18, 2007

Q&A with Rose Martinelli

Greetings from all of us at the Dean’s Student Admissions Committee! A very warm welcome to the class of 2009 – congratulations on your success, and best wishes for a wonderful and exciting time at the GSB! We hope to see you soon on the campus.

Our warm wishes also go out to all the prospective students out there, gearing up for this year’s admissions cycle. As you navigate through the exciting, challenging – and often times exhausting – process of b-school applications, we will try our best to assist you in all ways we can. This particular blog entry is another step in that direction. Rose Martinelli (RM), the Associate Dean for Student Recruitment and Admissions, answered some of the most important admissions related questions posed by 2nd year student and DSAC co-chair Saurabh Sharma (SS). We hope that the conversation below will help clarify the admissions process to all prospective students out there.

SS: Good morning Rose, and thanks for taking the time out for this chat.

RM: Good morning. It’s my pleasure.

SS: Let me start by asking some specific, application-related questions. I'll begin with a question that is probably on everyone’s mind. The Adcom recently came up with the application questions for the Class of 2010, and there has been one significant change – the PowerPoint slides. Can you talk a little bit about the motivation behind adopting such a non-traditional format?

RM: Well, as you know, the Chicago GSB has a reputation for challenging norms. In some respects that is what the PowerPoint is doing. Traditional essays, although helpful in the application process, tend to be confining. Essay questions do not allow applicants to fully stretch beyond the question and communicate their strengths, weaknesses, passions etc. The PowerPoint slide is our way of giving applicants a blank slate on which to communicate with us. There aren't many restrictions for an applicant, and they have free reign to communicate to the committee whatever they feel is valuable for us to know. An applicant can expand upon their application or they can go beyond it and reveal something completely new. This is their opportunity to express themselves without guidance or restriction.

SS: Compared to the usual essay questions, how differently should an applicant think about the slides? What is similar, and what is not – in terms of how the AdCom will be looking at the responses?

RM: In many respects we are looking for similar things in the slides as we would in the essays. We are looking for organized thoughts, strong communication skills, and the ability to convey ideas clearly. We will also be looking at an applicant's ability to be insightful and their willingness to express themselves in a new medium. In some respects, this question adds an element of risk to the application that has not been there before. There is no question to guide you, or any history to use as an example. Therefore, an applicant's success will largely depend on his/her ability to think and reflect on those things that capture who they are as a person and a potentially successful member of the GSB community.

SS: It appears that there is an option to attach a word document to provide an "explanation" of the slides. In what cases do you think this option might be used? Is there a restriction/suggestion on the length of this document?

RM: The word document is there as a safety net. We recognize that interpretation of material is not always consistent across languages, cultures, socio-economic differences, etc. The intent is that the slides will communicate the messages without explanatory notes. However, we want to ensure that the meaning conveyed in these slides is clearly understood in the evaluation process. If a notes document is included, it should not exceed one paragraph per slide.

SS: While reviewing applications, how would you weigh the actual content vs. the presentation style? Obviously, different applicants will have had different levels of experience creating slides and presenting ideas in that format?

RM: This question is not designed to evaluate the applicants’ PowerPoint expertise, but rather to reveal how people think and communicate their ideas. This question, like the rest of the essay questions, is designed to provoke critical thought and self-reflection, not just their creativity. It is the message within the slides that is important, not the presentation.

SS: Thanks for these responses. Let me now switch gears, and talk about the application process and GSB in general.
Hopefully by now, prospective students would have started thinking about their applications in detail. As they make up their mind regarding this significant change in their lives and decide upon their target school(s), what, in your opinion, should be the key aspects they consider?

RM: For applicants to be successful in this process, they must be effective at doing two things:
1) Self-reflection – Know why you are applying for an MBA. Know your strengths, weaknesses, and why you think an MBA will prepare you for the future. Know your goals and be able to communicate how you think you can achieve them.
2) Understand fit – Every school is different in terms of culture, courses and extra-curricular offerings, so make sure you know what makes an MBA from a specific school so important for you to achieve your goals. If you know yourself and you know how each school can help address your needs, you can make a compelling case in the application. If you do not fully understand or reflect on either of these points and rely solely on your credentials to carry you, chances are you will fall short in a very competitive application process.

SS: Wise words!
As you wrap up the admissions process for the class of 2009, what is your view of the applicants and the incoming class? How was this year?

RM: We had a great year, and are very excited to welcome the Class of 2009 to the GSB. This class is not only bright, but incredibly diverse in terms of background and future goals. We are eager to have them start the program and have high hopes that they will add tremendous value to the GSB community as students and beyond.

SS: I personally have been super-impressed by the knowledge and the helpful attitude of the Class of 2007. What is the buzz in the market, and among recruiters? What are the most common strengths of GSB grads?

RM: Recruiters are big on GSB students for two reasons: 1) Our students leave here with incredible critical thinking skills. They understand the fundamentals of business, are well-equipped to break down complicated problems to the bare essentials, and make smart, well-informed decisions. Which leads me to my second point: 2) Our students leave the GSB with tremendous confidence. They thrive in challenging environments and are not afraid to ask questions. Our entire community is about challenging one another, and companies appreciate people within their organizations who think differently and push for the best answers, not just the expedient ones.

SS: My final question for you – as they go through the application process, what are some of the avenues that prospective students can use to get to learn more about the GSB?

RM: All prospective students should visit our website. There you can learn about our people, our programs and our culture. Through our website they should check out our discussion boards, chats and this blog. All these things give a prospective student an in-depth and revealing look at the GSB through the eyes of our students and staff. I would also encourage students to visit the school. You can sign up for a daily visit or a GSB Live event starting in October. If you can not visit campus, then try to visit us at one of our information sessions being held all over the world. The more you interact with us, the more prepared you will be to write a compelling application. We are a school that is all about transparency, so take the time to explore and ask questions. We want you to be successful, so take the time to engage and get to know us better.

SS: Rose, once again, thanks for taking the time out to answer these questions. I am sure applicants will find your insights quite useful.

Want to discuss this topic some more? Head on over to the Chicago GSB Discussion Forums