8 Essential MBA Admissions Tips from the Gatekeepers at UCLA Anderson, Cornell

September 24, 2018 | by Matt Symonds

Did you know that the Admissions Directors at UCLA Anderson and Cornell often read MBA resumes from the bottom up?

Or that WashU Olin assigns a personal recruiter-advocate to every MBA applicant’s file? From tips on overcoming a weak GMAT score to advice for international students, the Admissions Director Panel at CentreCourt Los Angeles was popping with practical insights for any business school hopeful.

Fresh from the Admissions Directors Panel with Stanford GSB, Berkeley Haas and Imperial at CentreCourt San Francisco (don’t miss this highlights summary of top tips), I had the privilege of moderating another candid conversation with Admissions Directors, this time with Cornell’s Camilla Morgan, UCLA Anderson’s Alex Lawrence, and WashU Olin’s Ruthie Pyles.

Below are eight top tips on what MBA Admissions Directors are looking for, directly from our panel discussion in LA. Catch the full conversation in the video link above.

 1. UCLA Anderson on your community involvement:

“It’s not always about high GMAT scores or high GPAs. We’re looking for people who have had different levels of success in a number of different dimensions. And what’s their community involvement? The best people we’ve admitted and who are now alumni have contributed back to the school in a variety of different ways.” – Alex Lawrence, Assistant Dean of MBA Admissions and Financial Aid, UCLA Anderson

2. Olin on overcoming a weak GMAT score:

“It’s not the end-all be-all if you haven’t gotten that perfect [GMAT] score… This is a humanistic process. We’re humans too, we’ve gone through this before, we know what you’re going through and we know that each and every one of you brings a tremendous strength to any cohort that you’re going to join. If you’ve demonstrated really strong quantitative abilities and qualitative abilities in your undergraduate transcript, but are just struggling with the test scores, there are always other ways that you can demonstrate those abilities. You can take community college courses, there are tons of prep courses out there that you could take. Get to know the people at the school, talk to them, let them know who you are. Knock your interview out of the park. These are all things that you can do to really strengthen your application.” – Ruthie Pyles, Assistant Dean and Director of Admissions, Washington University Olin

3. Cornell on choosing between the Full-time or Executive MBA:

“For those in their early 30’s that are looking to make a bigger career change coming out of the MBA experience, I would encourage them to think more about the full-time program – because with those programs you get a larger concentration of electives and internship opportunities. In most instances, the fulltime MBA is more designed for that career change. If you like what you’re doing, you like your industry, but you’re looking for that catalyst that’s going to move you into a management or a leadership position, the executive MBA may be an option for you to take more seriously. You can continue to work while you’re earning your degree, and you’re gaining those same core business fundamentals.” – Camilla Morgan, Senior Director of Admissions, Cornell Executive MBA

4. UCLA Anderson’s message to international students with visa concerns:

“One thing I would highly encourage is to talk to current students. When I go overseas, I always talk with the current students representing the different countries at our school and they want me to share that they’re having a great experience. A lot of the lens that overseas media projects when looking at the US is definitely is not reflected on our UCLA Anderson campus. Our international students talk about being welcomed by the domestic students, they talk about the different programs to help them get acclimated to the school and the region. And they talk about the career services because, quite honestly, that is probably the top priority of any student, whether they be domestic or international.” – UCLA’s Alex Lawrence

5. Cornell on reading your resume for career growth and transitions:

“I’m really looking to see your career transitions and how you’ve progressed over the years… I start at the bottom and work my way up… looking to see what you’ve done in your career, looking to see the choices and the transitions that you’ve made – do they make sense? If they don’t, that’s a great topic for us to talk about in the interview.” – Cornell’s Camilla Morgan

6. Olin on AdCom’s holistic review of your MBA application:

“It’s interesting when you get to the committee to see what everybody finds in an application. That’s why we have diversity on our admissions committees – because somebody sees something different. I’m looking and saying ‘oh, wow, they’ve traveled to all these places, or look at how many languages they know, or, they surf and they snowboard and they do this.’ That’s the stuff that I gravitate towards. But other people will say, ‘did you see that they were in that position for that particular company? – That’s really interesting!’ So everybody’s looking at something different. Just know that while some of us may have favorite things that we jump down to, you do have a committee that’s really looking at all of those things that make up your resume, such as career progression, what are the projects that you’ve been working on, what are your accomplishments.” – WashU Olin’s Ruthie Pyles

7. Cornell on your recommender strategy:

“Often it’s what the letters don’t say that stands out more than what they do say – in a bad way. If a letter is extremely short or just very factual versus going in to some specific details about experiences or contributions that you’ve made, that’s a bit of a concern – not only about the lack of detail in the letter, but your judgement about why you might have chosen that letter writer if he or she is not really writing a glowing recommendation on your behalf. I really appreciate it when our recommenders state a weakness – that is something that we ask them to do, to describe a weakness for the candidate – not that we go back to the candidate in the interview and say, ‘so-and-so said [this about] you by the way.’ But when we ask you that question in the interview, it’s interesting to see if there’s alignment and a self-awareness of what others see in you. So the letters, for the most, part are positive, but they do give us some very valuable information, and if nothing else, they give us some topics that we’ll take further with you in the interview stage.” – Cornell’s Camilla Morgan

8. Olin on your personal MBA admissions advocate:

“We have a recruiter that is specifically assigned to your application. So you have your very own person on my staff at Olin who is your advocate, the person that is looking out for you. And that person is really there to just help guide you, they’re there to make sure that you get connected, that you have all of the things that you need in order to make a good decision about where you want to go to school. We really try to personalize the experience as much as possible.”  – WashU Olin’s Ruthie Pyles


View the full panel discussion for all the details.

MBA admission tips

Sign up for a

Free Consultation