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Advice from heads of MBA Admissions at Stanford GSB, UCLA Anderson, Berkeley Haas, UW Foster

View the candid insights shared by these elite admissions gatekeepers on topics ranging from Covid-19 admissions changes to what they’re seeking in applicants, recommender advice, mistakes to avoid, and more.

On April 28, 29 & May 5, the CentreCourt MBA Festival – in its debut virtual format – brought together the Admissions Directors, Career Services Directors and Deans from all 25 of the world’s top business schools. More than 3,000 MBA hopefuls around the world tuned in online to view and participate in its dynamic panels and discussions.

Fortuna Admissions Co-founder and Director, Matt Symonds, partnered with Poets&Quants to host the event. This is one of the six Admissions Director panels Matt convened and hosted, capturing perspectives and advice from:

  • Amber Janke, UW Foster
  • Kirsten Moss, Stanford GSB
  • John Lee, UCLA Anderson
  • Pete Johnson, Berkeley Haas

You can view their entire conversation above or read the transcript below for their reflections (noted in caps by theme/category for easy skimming).


Matt Symonds, Fortuna: I know a lot of you are looking forward to this panel. This is one of the highest registrations that we have and it’s a West Coast affair. I’m delighted to welcome back to center court, Kirsten Moss who is the director of admissions at Stanford GSB. With her, we have Pete Johnson, who has returned to a very hands-on admissions role at Berkeley Haas – he’s the assistant dean there. John Lee, the associate admissions director at UCLA Anderson and of course, there’s more to the West Coast in California. And we’re delighted to be joined by Amber Janke, who is the director of MBA admissions at the Foster School at the University of Washington. So, thank you all four of you.

You know, we’ve been talking with your colleagues—unprecedented circumstances, an extraordinarily busy year. Just to get started, given current circumstances, I’d like to get your perspectives on the last few weeks. I guess all of you completed round two applications and we’re starting to set up interviews. The first clues that we had, the world was about to be turned upside down, was when you were scheduling Zoom or Skype interviews with applicants from China. Well, of course things have moved on since then and both as you look at the intake for the fall of 2020, but also looking further forward to the coming years. We’d really appreciate your perspectives on what you’re seeing at your different schools. So, Kirsten perhaps so we can start with you at the GSB.

Kristen Moss, Stanford GSB: Matt, it’s so nice to be here. It’s always a pleasure to be your partner on a panel, so thank you for the invitation. And if I heard the question right, it’s what’s been happening over the next couple months and how does that impact both current folks on the pipeline as well as those who will apply. Is that fair?

Matt: Absolutely.

Kirsten: Great. Well, I certainly can’t speak for the other Admissions Deans on the call, but I’m guessing they feel similarly that this is definitely an event that has been once in a generation, and my feeling is the need for leaders has never been greater.

I’ve been involved with admissions for two decades. This is absolutely the most challenging time that we faced and for us it’s really been struggling to make sure that we balance all of our constituents. That we can really stay candidate-centric, whether you’re a prospect, you’re an applicant in the pipeline or you’re someone who has just been admitted. How do we make sure that we keep our process with equity with integrity and also treat you in an appropriate thoughtful way, given that everything’s changing around you? So, for me personally, as a Dean of Admissions, that’s been incredibly challenging.

I think the upside is the optimism, the positive feelings that come from here, is there just so many things that we’re reinventing, and we can talk about that on the panel. What’s the implication for you as a prospect in the pipeline? As I just think about our summer instead of visiting you around the world, we’ll have many different kinds of content out there as an example, rather than just being in one city. It might be, “what’s it like to come with NSO to business school” or “what’s it like to be part of a particular industry community when they’re applying”. So I think you’ll have lots more resources, even though you’ll see them from home, than you’ve ever had before for all of our schools. In some ways, watching how our current students have responded, but also how we have ­– they may give you opportunities in the process that you haven’t seen before.

Thinking back over the last few months, what we’ve seen, at least at Stanford is our application volume has remained strong. That means that our selectivity has also remained strong. This third round, we’ve seen an uptick in application volume, which probably isn’t surprising given the onset of this early recession. And then we’re looking at our yield, our yield in first round tracked well and it’s also tracking well on second round. Today is our decision day, so we’re not sure 100% what will happen. It’s always an exciting day and that means and if we look at what our changes for those who have been in the funnel, it really means that because application volumes have stayed strong, and it’s been a selective, we also have a really a wonderful wait list that we are able to have at this point in time.

What does that mean for folks out in the audience? If you have been an applicant and you are in a waitlist, even though things have been going relatively well, the whole summer and future is unknown. I think that’s my biggest concern right now, is everyone is impacted by Covid but in a different way. So perhaps many of our applicants right now think that they’ll be able to become our admits, but in the future may run into challenges before the fall hits. If you’re on the waitlist, my best advice is hopefully you’re flexible and this may be the summer for you.

As we go forward and thinking about the future, you know, we have tried to work with our applicants to make sure that our policies have been a little bit more flexible. Whether it’s on the tests, our recommendation on deferral, so really you should check with each of the schools. I know personally we’re trying at Stanford to handle every applicant individually and think about what the impact of Covid on them is and what does that mean for their admitted decision. Or even when they’re applying, when they can get us their test scores or the letters of recommendation. Because we know this is really difficult for you.

And then finally, if I’m looking out to the future for next year, I know what I’ll personally be looking for is for admits who are resilient, who are flexible, who are committed.

I had a wonderful note from a waitlist individual, I think it was yesterday, that basically said, ‘You know, this is not a sprint. You wanting to come to Stanford, it’s really a marathon I’m there for the next four months. I don’t care what the fall looks like. I’m there and I know this would be an important part of my journey. My candidacy is still strong.’

So that note touched my heart because we don’t know what the fall will look like. So even next year if you’re applying, letting schools know that you really are committed to them as an institution and that you’re excited and willing to work with whatever the morning environment looks like, I think will benefit you.

Matt: As you think Kirsten and thank you for that sort of candid introduction. As you look of course at previous admits that the currents and the sort of qualities and characteristics that you’ve looked to for them, are you seeing that sort of collaborative, “we’re all in this together” and the solutions that they’re coming up with?

Kirsten: I must say I’ve never been, and I’d love to hear from the other Deans of Admissions. More inspired than I have been now and being affiliated with Stanford to watch our student body rise to the occasion. I think personally this is a crucible moment where it’s each individual has to say, ‘ok things are very different than we expected so how do I step into that and what can I personally do.’ Whether its students who have been recently trying to source health care items from across the world globally, or, I think there’s a group of students on our campus called positive contagion who have done over a hundred events to try to recreate our community virtually. You know it’s up to each person to make this what they can. So yes, and I’m hoping as we turn that to prospects, that’s the minds that people have. Your options now are very different than they were even three months ago. Business School is not going to be exactly what you thought it might be nor is your work environment. So, as you stand in this moment, what do you need to learn to reinvent to innovate to figure out how to do things differently?

Matt: So it’s a nice mirror to the work that you’ve done in previous years and the candidates that you admitted to the program. John, I mean round three was going to be filling some diversity gaps and then of course you’d have the summer off and refresh before coming back for the fall. But I don’t think the calendar – what are you seeing for us?

John Lee, UCLA Anderson: It was actually really funny, when the pandemic started, we had round two for us and around January 8th. I think my colleagues and I were like, ‘really, oh, thank God and totally missed it.’ You know, we didn’t have to worry too much about it. And then two months later I think I was proven wrong completely. I think, round three is a lot different for us. We originally had it slated to end about a week ago. And then given all the different circumstances, we’ve actually extended it to June 1st. Just to give students more options. It’s always been a really small round for us but we’re starting to see a lot of people wanting to go to business school from this perspective.

And I think one of the best things about to come out of this was the fact that all of us really have been involved and really pivot in a way to really reach out to students that we’ve never been able to reach out to before in so many different ways. One of the biggest things I think that I actually just accomplished, maybe as of yesterday, or 9:00 a.m. today, is we finally finished our Anderson Days. Normally, its a day or over a weekend, that usually draws about what 200 of your admits. And what we did was, because we made it a month long and now we were able to engage 600 out of it from across different time zones and I thought that was very inspiring. The students loved it, we’ve had so many students and throughout the entire month hosting coffee chats. We’ve got the Career Center engage with us to have a week-long event. We had welcomes from all over the world so that was really exciting, and I think the same thing is going to happen this summer as we divert a recruit. You know, we’re probably going to see that to where we’re going to be hitting cities that we normally don’t hit. We do go to the main countries, but we usually go to the tier 1 neighbor cities. Now able to go into different regions.

Like Kirsten said, we would actually have other people be involved. We can probably have an alumni and current student involved. And normally in the summertime, you really don’t get current students. Just naturally with you traveling, so now with them all sitting at home doing a virtual internship. Which I actually find that part to be really exciting. Seeing the support from our corporate partners, as well not necessarily giving up on the internships and allowing students to fit into this virtual world. We’re able to have them help so it’s been interesting.

I’m really excited to see what round three brings for us. Again, it’s not ending till June 1st. But you know, we’re seeing a lot of candidates interested and the GMAT and GRE, I’m glad they are being flexible as well. We have a return of options for our students to take the exam and still make that possibly come true for the fall and what the fall looks like. We never know, I think most of us are West Coast. If you’re in Georgia, it might be a different story for you. But you know, here in California, we’re kind of stuck with whatever so it’s just what it is right now. For us, is we’re playing it by monitoring it day by day and playing it by ear, and hopefully that there’s still a normal start for us.

Matt: With those Anderson days, any of us that can tick an accomplishment on our to do list is a real achievement. But the fact that you’ve achieved such outreach and such a global audience – that’s phenomenal. I will come back to home testing of the GMAT and round three applications for the fall versus a round one application. But if I can turn to you, Amber. Of course, Foster in the last few years. You’ve been identified by the Financial Times as the number one job placement MBA program. It’s a wonderful growth story that you’re enjoying, being on Gray’s Anatomy – everybody wants to move to Seattle. Tell us a little bit about that momentum, and of course how recent months, the sort of dialogue that you’re having was with admitted applicants and then those still looking at the school for the Fall.

Amber Janke, UW Foster: Yeah, like many of my colleagues, we have moved quickly to make changes as we face the situation. We weren’t able to extend our round three because that was mid-March, right as this whole situation was unfolding. And so what we did instead was at round four for our students or at prospective students. So that deadline is at the end of May and we understand how the situation is really evolving for prospective students, that their personal situations may be changing. That perhaps they were considering pursuing an MBA next year and now is the time for them to pursue an MBA.

I do want to encourage those of you who’s plans have changed, and you might have to accelerate your personal plan. Just know that now is still a good time and we’re very willing to work with you. As you consider what your timeline might be looking at like how that might be different.

We’ve been very excited to be able to offer so many more virtual options and like here’s I mentioned and John we’ve been able to connect with people all around the world in ways that we haven’t been able to in the past. And I expect we’ll be able to do that continue to do that over the next few months as travel looks unlikely at this point in time.

As John mentioned we’re facing a similar situation with UCLA. The University of Washington is going to abide by the state of Washington guidelines with this. We’re unsure what the fall looks like at this point, but we’re definitely contingency planning and looking for ways to make sure that the program integrity and the offerings are still there, even if it looks a little bit different. At the same time, that’s really exciting because as we look forward in the next few years, business is going to look different you know. This remote work that we’re all doing may stick around much longer than maybe people had originally thought in the first couple weeks of this.

And so the innovation that I think we’ll see from MBA programs, as well as what leaders are looking to do in business in the future, is really going to change certainly those skills of resiliency, adaptability, entrepreneurial thinking, innovation. All of those are really important as we work with our current students and we look for working with our prospective students. And you know even though this is an uncertain time, we’re excited about the changes ahead.

Matt: Right. And with that inability whether in California or the state of Washington, to predict whether the campuses will be open, receiving an admin letter from any four of your schools. You know met with joy and excitement, preparing for the fall. Perhaps also then being flexible with and some of those different presents based events that you would have had you know welcoming the new glass and how those might even shift in the calendar to be able to build the sort of bonds that characterize each of your MBA programs.

Amber: Yeah certainly with our welcome weekend. We just wrapped up, we call it the ‘so-called welcome weekend.’ It’s not a weekend anymore. It’s many days in length, but like Kirsten and John mentioned, we’ve been able to have people participate all around the world. They’re able to get to know current students in a way maybe they wouldn’t have had the opportunity to before. And that’s been very exciting. For people to be able to experience the culture in the community, even if they can’t get to campus and it’s great how involved our current students are. And they’re thinking of new ways that we can continue to connect with their admits over the next few weeks and months.

Matt: Of course, Peter, you’re fairly new to the industry. So, this is deadlines and I guess just an ongoing dialogue that you have with applicants to the program. What are you facing and seeing at Haas?

Pete Johnson, Berkeley Haas: Things that I’ve been really pleasantly surprised about is how willing candidates are to work with us and to be flexible as the situation changes for everyone. And I think that’s been a really wonderful part of this experience and I think is helping all of us to develop skill sets or maybe different than what we expected. And I would echo what I think Amber said and certainly that Kirsten said:

This is a great opportunity to go to business school. It’s a great time to be learning how to lead in very uncertain times. This is not the last crisis that our students are going to experience in their careers and having the resilience to come up with creative solutions in the midst of a very uncertain time, I think is a skill set that is going to serve them well throughout their careers.

In terms of our conversations with students, we’ve tried to stay close to applicants to understand what their challenges are. And along with the number of other programs, you know we did hold to our original three rounds to respect people who had been able to submit their applications on time, etc. But we had an extended round for students who were stuck not being able to get a test score, not be able to get letters of recommendation, to extend the timeframe for them to be able to participate in the process. And I think a lot of our applicants have appreciated that, but have been really thankful, saying, ‘That’s great, we’ll roll with that, here’s what I’m planning to do.’ And we tried to communicate with them as much as we can all the ways in which we can help them.

Our goal is to help people get through this process. I notice actually on the chat box someone’s asked me a question already about round three extended applicants. And what I’d say is, one of the challenges is, although it’s possible now, to get test scores either GMAT or GRE online. It didn’t come online for a few weeks and of course there’s a backlog of people trying to test. And so we pushed our extended round three out further. And the question was will this be a problem for international students if we don’t get an answer until July? We’ve historically been very fixed with our deadlines. If we say you’re going to get a decision from your application on date X, that’s when we release them. We are going to be doing rolling decisions in the extended round partly because a July answer would be too late for an international student and we’re aware of that. So, we are continuing to have these conversations, we’re trying to maintain a process that is fair to all the candidates who are applying. But at the same time, recognize that everyone’s dealing with circumstances that are completely unprecedented and we have to be flexible also to provide and experience the candidates you’re looking for.

Matt: All four of you, for different reasons. Perhaps you know with GSB and early applicants what you’re describing in terms of test scores, I guess some of those concerns include, we have candidates that are saying, ‘I no longer have my summer internship, hiring is frozen.’ They even have concerns about applying to school and they’ve been furloughed or you know given the sort of economic conditions that people are facing. So, it’s not business as usual. And this is an open question perhaps to all of you. Just to emphasize the level of empathy and understanding, that you all have in this admissions process. And it is a focus on admission, it’s not about rejecting people, it’s looking for those reasons to admit them. But that you understand the conditions that people face.

Amber: I was just going to mention, you know I think as we go on into the future anyone that has 2020 on their transcript, that they’re graduating this year, is whether you’re looking to an MBA now or down the line. We’re going to understand the challenges that you face as you graduate. Just as we do if we saw 2008 on somebody’s undergraduate transcripts.

I would just say, know that we do have empathy for you, we understand that you’re going through a very uncertain time and we understand that you might not have as many opportunities available to you at this moment. And that is okay. We will take your application under consideration as a person, you know an individual person. And we understand that your pathway may not be the same as somebody who has had different circumstances around this. So I just want to emphasize that and know that it will not be held against you. And if you really want to think about what you can contribute as an applicant and the other things that you have achieved outside of this particular situation, and just know that we completely understand what you are facing at this moment in time.

Matt: Kirsten for early admissions at the GSB, you know proceed for next year. Universities that are looking at pass/fail, you know for the final semester, all of these different conditions this is something that you’ll take on board.

Kirsten: Oh, absolutely and echo what Amber said. You are so much more than one summer internship, so much more than one set of semester grades. And we really are looking at each candidate holistically within that within their entire application. So often, I think one of my favorite stories, it always happens and maybe the other Deans of Admissions can echo this. It’s admin weekend, you get to meet people for the first time. They come up and they’re like, “I was so close to not applying to them for this reason. You’re like, you know you’re breaking my heart, because any one thing about that application absolutely would not keep you out of our process.

So, one, we will understand that it’s a moment in time, and two, we’re looking for the strengths you will bring. And what usually happens in our applicants at least, what I see is they may bring a couple of spiky things but maybe testing wasn’t their strength. Maybe their GPA is not their strength. But there’s so many other places where they’re adding something to the class.

I really want to break the myth that you have to have a perfect application and you should not apply until it’s perfect because it could be nothing that’s farther from the truth.

Matt: Well, GSB along with others, we all published these incoming class profiles every year that sometimes strike me as being reductive or somewhat misleading because it shares averages on GPA, on number of years of work experience. And applicants perhaps then setting themselves the goal of matching that GPA, matching those years of experience. But there is no perfect candidate, Kirsten.


Kirsten: Absolutely. And sometimes I think people even have this in their head of what we do value more. For instance, you know here’s someone say, “I went to San Jose State, I just can’t apply,” and I’ll be like “actually that would bring diversity to our class. I would love to have more candidates from San Jose State.”

I was speaking of someone this weekend – we had our admit day and he was a construction engineer. As an example, again, the same thing – he wasn’t going to apply. I can only imagine what it’d be like in a real estate class to have you in there!

Constantly what we’re looking for is how the distance you’ve traveled, given what you have. And Covid, it in a way is a context that everyone will struggle with. What have you done with that opportunity? And what’s most important, at least for Stanford, beyond your industry or college or your test score, is how have you made the world around you different? What if you weren’t in your team or your university or your organization – what? What footsteps have you left? What would be different if you were not there? And that’s instead of thinking, do I have the right test score, the right industry, the right college? 

Think about the three stories that you’re most proud of. Those will be your most proud of them because they mean something to emotionally. You probably worked hard at it. It could be frankly getting to college and being the first person your family to do it and that is your most proud story. Those are the stories we want to hear; those are the stories we admit people for. It’s not about just one of these other pieces of data that you think we are looking for.

Matt: Well, let me take that idea of those footsteps that people have left. Because even as we look towards next year, how people have responded. You know perhaps in the first week as we were coming to terms with lockdown and we were binge watching whatever, but then you know, the sort of a curve that attitude perhaps that emerges. And whether we’re doing things virtually, still thinking about how we could contribute to our communities our friends our family.

John do you think that this sense of how people have responded over the last two months is really something that you’ll be looking for in future applications?


John: Yeah, we think so. We all publish our averages and our ranges, that gives you context on what 80% of the incoming class looks like. Normally if you fall into that 80% you’re typically good. So, where we really do want to look at it is how we fit in with the culture. How do you fit for us? For example, Anderson. What is it that makes you unique and what can you bring? And for us, we are a student-led curriculum and one of the things that we will be looking is how you will lead?

So students who are in this Covid environment right now, what if they are able to talk about what they’ve done for their jobs? How are they building community around their work environment right now? What they’re doing with their broader community, different opportunities they’re looking at.

We’re definitely going to see that they took the initiative to go do something. Really just didn’t necessarily sit home and watch Netflix all day. Although there’s nothing wrong with that. I think it’s given us a chance to get off the pedal for a second. But what students bring to the table is really what matters in an application. That’s what makes the whole process. If 80% of you look the same, well then, how are you really going to stand out?

It’s time to really think about and reflect on what you’re doing. How you’re helping your community your job and even you know using the optional essay to talk about how Covid impact it uses great is another way to let us know what your situation is like. Because it is a really unique time and although I think actually we may be reading a lot of Covid optional essays, I think it still adds an extra layer to an applicant’s profile.

Matt: Right. Pete, you once commented to me how deeply the four pillars of the value system at Haas were in, not just for students but for staff as well. And I think at your annual review with Rich Lyons, you’d be expected to talk about how you had questioned the status quo. And of course, forever a student, you in your own community have been working to make sure that seniors have meals. Will you be looking at again how people have responded and the value system that emerges from that?

Pete: Absolutely. In fact, I remember an application in 2008 from someone who had been a typical early career path with an investor make and found himself unemployed very suddenly. And one of the things that that he had done was one of his colleagues that said, ‘hey, I volunteer for the food bank and I’m going to be doing some work with them. Why don’t you come and join’ And so he joined, but when he found that the food bank was that they had more than enough volunteers to deliver food and packaged it. But they didn’t have a development plan they’re short of funds. So he and the friend put together a fundraising plan and went out and started raising money for them. And he did that for a few months until he got back into the job market. But it’s sort of the idea that he’s in the situation where he might have been tempted to, you know, binge watch Ozark and eat pints of ice cream. And he said, ‘I’m gonna go out and do something worthwhile and make good use of my time.’

I think any big disruption like the financial crisis, or like the Covid crisis, creates opportunities for people to really show how they lead and how they lead with heart.

So, it doesn’t mean necessarily that in your professional life, you’re going to have the opportunity to suddenly lead the big team. And it be might something you’re doing outside of work altogether. And I hope to see a lot of really interesting essays next year about how people have used the opportunities that have presented themselves.

Matt: Of course, we don’t we don’t want to imply to viewers that you know that there’s something that the school really wants to hear from you. I have to frame it in terms of the four pillars, you talk about integrity above all. You talk about inclusiveness I guess in the current state of isolation that we find ourselves with, how people have found ways to be inclusive. So important to align with the culture and at the same time not to think in terms of what Amber and her admissions team want to hear, ah ­– I’ll reach for that value system and try to push it back to the mind. It’s that it needs to come from the heart.

Amber: Yes absolutely. And Foster has a fairly small program especially compared to some of our peers, and so that community and culture piece is very important to us and we want you to start to do the work to get to know our community.

Our students are very accessible, they really want to talk with prospective students. They want to answer your questions, they want to answer your questions candidly. And so I always encourage prospective students to reach out and to also to figure out, is that the type of MBA program? Is Foster the type of place that I want to be? Is that the experience that I’m looking for? Because we expect our students to be very collaborative, we expect our students who want to be part of a community and being featured to contribute to that community, we also want them to take on leadership roles, but we also want them to help each other out along the way.

You know it’s we don’t have a cut-throat program here. We’re very collaborative. And Matt, you mentioned our job placement numbers, the way that our students collaborate. That has an impact on our job placement numbers because they are helping each other out along the way. We have had students who have gone in for an interview with a company and at the end of the day, if they weren’t offered the role, they say “ok, you know I totally understand, but I hope you really hire my classmate because my classmate is awesome and they will bring all of these things to the table.” And so those are the things that we look for with our students.

You don’t have to regurgitate to us, the things that we list on the website. We want you to be able to personally identify how you feel like you’ll be affect for the program. And so doing that homework ahead of time for all of our programs – or any of the programs you’re interested in – is really important, and also making sure that you’re doing that research so you can find an MBA program where you can truly thrive.

Matt: Kirsten, when we sat down for our first Center Court event together, three years ago. The Nasdaq Center in San Francisco, you’ve been in the position for three weeks and you said how excited you were. You know to be reading applications, people talking about what matters most to them and why. But within the framework of a school that talks about you know change lives, change organizations, change the world. Again, it can be a pitfall as individuals look to project what they think that you want to read and somehow lose themselves in that, and say well, there’ll be lots of us strategy consultants, I need to share with Kirsten and her team this this big vision eradicating poverty, whatever they they’re going to do. But really, they should stick to perhaps those three examples that you suggested earlier of a way that they’ve had positive impact rather than overstating it.

Kirsten: That’s the answer to your question, I think, Matt. It’s a yes, and I really believe that starting with what you’re most proud of in any domain will be most impactful for us.

I want to actually go back a little bit to what we were just talking about. I don’t want people to get the impression they need to go out with Covid and take on leadership roles. I mean, it could be. I was just talking to one of our recent MIT’s who now is full-time in charge of her younger brother because her parents have immunity issues and she’s no longer working because she’s getting meals on the table, getting him to do his homework and I think that would be a great story of what matters most. So it really it means an impact that’s important.

Yes, we are personally a school of big ambitions and our students tend to have big dreams. But those dreams are often linked to things that they’ve been excited by and proud. So just saying you’re going to solve world hunger so we can hear it, it’s not going to be very successful in an application. But working on something that you’ve shown an interest on that you want to take further, absolutely. Or saying I don’t know exactly but this is an area I keep coming back to that I really want to investigate and make my mark on. Definitely. The whole point of our program is to give them the confidence that they can have big dreams but that’s from their inner motivation. Not from what we would ever want to hear.

The worst thing you could do in an application is write it for Dean Moss. I hear it all the time what they think I want to know about. The best thing you could do is tell me what you care about and how you spent your time and why that’s been meaningful.


Matt: Sometimes I think of you, your work almost like detectives as you look at people’s resumes. Of course, the voices that emerge from those recommenders and share in the bio-data forms and the essays. I didn’t find patterns whether it’s in a professional setting, whether it’s in the community, whether it’s with family members and the care that they require. Is it that you can then see these patterns emerging in each of those situations, and that’s a source of real inspiration and affirmation to you?

Kirsten: That’s a great question. I would change the word from pattern to behavior. We’re trying to get more and more articulate. I can’t speak for everyone, though I’m guessing there’s some similarities for other schools, that leadership is the ability to guide others towards a common goal and we believe there are some big domains of what that looks like. The problem though is you can see it many places. I like your idea of patterns but it’s really domains of behaviors.

One of them may be setting high standards, goals, overcoming challenges, being persistent, being gritty. For one person, I may see it an application as an example that they have been a runner and they started with a 10k and now they’re working to a marathon. That’s their grit. For another, it may be having two jobs at college – or even getting to college. And for another it may be overcoming a challenge at work where they’re building a new technology infrastructure and they’re seeing before anyone else could how to do something differently. But the behavior stays the same.

Another one we think is important is engaging others. How are you getting people to jump in the boat with you and understand what they need so you can work together? Another one for us is developing others, which is critical to all leadership. So have you mentored someone? How do you think about your family in your community? What are examples where you’ve helped someone grow?

And then the last, is really thinking about your insight and using your brain and how have you connected what you’re thinking the actual action that can make a difference? And what’s interesting is people may spike in any one of those. You don’t have to have all four. When I ask for people’s three favorite stories, it’s about helping them connect with which of these strengths do I have and I might be able to show. So yes, I’m looking for that and there are just so many ways you can show it and that’s why bringing you know your proud moments will help us dig through that. Does that answer your question?

Matt: It’s a great answer. We’ve reframed from patterns to behaviors, but we still have the idea out there that you might be a detective.

Kirsten: I absolutely feel like that every day in the most positive way.

Matt: Where can the trail of the voices of recommenders and even I suppose as we think about putting together applications in the coming month or two recommenders are not necessarily as available as they might have been sitting down with them over coffee talking about your business school plans. But perhaps just you share the perspective the value of those voices and sort of insights and perspectives that you’re hoping to uncover in my supportive.

Kirsten: I love ‘that you’re actually a detective,” Matt – it’s like being a detective looking for the best bits of someone if that makes sense. So, from their asking your recommenders, when you do sit down, even if it’s virtually, to help them think about the stories that you’ve had. What are the impacts in your organization? I don’t care about the level, the title, we prefer a supervisor or someone who is overseen your work because we want their bird’s-eye view of how you have changed that team or organization or what you’ve contributed. The more specific they can get for us about why the place was different since you’re there, the better because then we can find that information about how you’ve impacted your teams.

To prep, I guess my best advice is yes, it would be wonderful to sit down. Please don’t give them anything in writing because we want it to be in their words, but certainly talking about things you’ve worked on that you think are particularly important, so they’ll you can jog their memories and they can be specific about it.

Matt: John, of course we’re in this current situation but the fundamentals of your work and those clues that you’re looking for in terms of behaviors and personality types haven’t changed. It might be more challenging to work with recommenders in the next month or two for those looking to put together full applications, but you know as you look at recommenders and just some of the other core elements of the application. Maybe talk us through you know but both what you’re looking for and perhaps one of the pitfalls that you see that candidates would be better trying to avoid.

John: Yeah, I’ll address that question. I think someone asked about resumes, I think when we look at recommendation, you really do want to look for someone who’s able to speak really highly of you and talk about you in a way that someone else really wouldn’t be able to write. Like in terms of detail, what you have done, and also there’s really important part of the recommendation where I at least I like to read, is how you take feedback. Because the MBA is really such a transformative experience, if you don’t take feedback well or you’re not going to want to change, then this program – really any program – is not really something for you to be honest. We want to make sure that you’re humble, you’re open, and that you’re open to changing.

So, what the recommendation should do is bring to life your resume so it shouldn’t give me details of what you already have read on your resume. It should give me a story. Writing a story about a time that you really rallied a team together. A story about a time when you really develop leadership skills. A story about a time that you failed and you pick yourself back up. So that’s what the recommendation is for and that’s why titles don’t matter.

If you find the CEO of your company writing your recommendation – and I’ve seen these before – they fall really flat because it’s a boiler template that just basically says this person is a good person. That tells us nothing; it’s not a bad recommendation in the sense that it’s bad. But it’s not good either.

You want someone who will be able to tell those stories about you that that will add value to your resume.

But in terms of what your resume should share, I don’t think most of you in your careers would have longer than one page. Your resume really should kind of highlight three parts: It should have career progression because we want to see how you move up in your company or within different organizations. It should have great impact; we want to see what you’ve done for your organization and we’d be honored your job responsibilities, quantifiable things. And also, transferrable skills.

Most of us who are going to full-time MBA programs are looking to make either an industry or a function pivot. That’s the best way to see or be even both. So for us, we’re looking at all these things because we might not necessarily know if you’re going to be good in an investment banking if, say, you’re coming from a marketing background. But if you’re able to talk about some transferable skills that you think will lead well to banking, then we’re able to make that jump in our minds as we’re reading. And then also the interviewer who is interviewing you would be able to kind of you know shed some light on that as well so that’s how kind of the recommendations would tie together with that resume question.


Matt: Got a head start on the Q&A and these questions do keep them coming in. But Pete if I can pick up on Jon’s comment about career pivots, which of course you know for many the idea of the full-time MBA and the opportunities. But of course you’re going to spend two remarkable years with an extraordinarily talented, diverse, open-minded, ambitious you know 284 classmates at that Haas. And can go in so many directions so when schools talk about career goals, there’s a level of pragmatism. Given the opportunities that they will then explore. So what are you really looking for when you talk with candidates about their post MBA career goals?

Pete: Well I think what’s particularly helpful is for candidates to have a sense of the direction they want to move in if they’re pivoting in their career. And why I think one of the things that we occasionally see that isn’t necessarily helpful if someone says, “yeah you know I’ve been doing X and now I want to do something else.” But they don’t really have a sense of what something else is. And even though you don’t have to be able to tell any of us, you know, this is exactly the job at exactly the company where I want to be post MBA. I think you need to have some direction because it creates a lens through which you consider the opportunities that you’ll have over the cheers program.

In all of our programs, you will be bombarded with lots of shiny wonderful opportunities and you can’t possibly take advantage of them all. And I think we’ve all seen students who struggle because they don’t have a framework for making decisions. And so they try to grab on each of the shiny things and they end up with have this jumble of things, as opposed to saying, “Okay based on my experience I know that I want to move in the direction of this industry. I’m not 100% certain of what my role is going to be, but here are the reasons I’m moving in this direction and here are the things that I’ve started doing to prepare myself for that transition and here are the things in your program that I think will help me to do this.” If you have that kind of direction, I think it’s a much more compelling case for us than someone who really is sort of fleeing something but not exactly sure where they’re going.

Matt: But equally, shouldn’t we be trying to be memorable? You know, sometimes an applicant will say well of course that I do see this possible transition to consulting, but they must hear that all the time, it’s terribly dull. And yet it could be a very natural segue, even consolidating the two years that they might spend at any of your four schools. That would set them up for future ventures beyond that.

Pete: And I think all of my colleagues have seen this. Every year there are a number of applicants who give a really compelling example of what they’re trying to do and why they want to do it. We also see some people every year who clearly are writing – to paraphrase something that Kirsten said earlier – they’re trying to give you the answer they think you want to read. I can’t tell you how obvious those are because there’s nothing if, you following the analogy, if you’re being the detective as Kirsten is, none of the clues add up. It’s like you want to do this but there’s nothing to indicate that you’ve ever had interest in that or ever taking a single step towards exploring that kind of career opportunity. I think being authentic is important, because if you’re not, it comes across loud and clear even if you don’t attend that.

Matt: Amber, on your doorstep of course, you have you have Boeing, you have Starbucks, you have Nordstrom, you have Microsoft, among many other Fortune 500 employees, and that must be a big attraction, the sort of relationship that Foster has with those schools. Do you like to see when applicants consider tie certain aspects of the program the opportunities that might give them?

Amber: Certainly. You know, we published much of our employment information so that people can see where our students have ended up and our alumni currently are. And so, understanding what your goals are and does it align with the program they are looking at. That is important for us because we want to help you achieve your goals. And if your goals are achievable based on what we we’ve been able to deliver in the past, well certainly we want to be able to do that.

We’re also really candid with people who might have goals that don’t really align with Foster and making sure that they’re aware that if they truly believe they want to be Foster, then that pathway it might be a little bit tougher and there’s going to be a little extra work there. They’re likely going to need to do indoors. There needs going to need to work on opening for themselves and so I think understanding any program you’re applying to what those outcomes are and do they align with what you’re looking for. But it’s a combination effective to you. Know there might not be one perfect program for you, and you’re interested in some real different programs. Understanding those different pieces, you know, what are the outcomes, what is the community, what does the culture look like. All of those things play together, and I just have to echo being authentic and clear and open about what your goals are is going to allow us to understand if you are a good fit for a program as well. Because again, we want you to be successful, we want you would be able to achieve your goals.

And if we can add just one more thing, the flip side of maybe what that detective role looks like on our end is, I always encourage candidates to work on every individual aspect of your application, but I also include you to take a step back and look at all those components together. And is that telling the story of who you are? Are there pieces missing that’s really important to you and that you want to make sure it’s demonstrated to the schools? It may not fit into every single essay, but usually there is some sort of optional essay portion of the application, and so I would encourage you, if there’s a piece of you that’s really important to who you are person and you believe is important for the admissions committee to know about, make sure that you share that. That gives us the information we might be looking for as we look at your application. I encourage people to think about their application holistically because that’s the way we’re looking at it as well.


Matt: I’m going to try to dovetail one of the questions that’s come in. Perhaps as we look towards next year and what may well be an increase in application volume. Already between your four schools, you handle 16-18,000 thousand applications. That’s an extraordinary volume and one of our viewers has wondered if you use artificial intelligence – what they are asking if you use any intelligence at all. Now they do want to know if it’s after facial intelligence that you’re using to filter to make those assessments. Perhaps as we look at next year that may see a record volume just a few reassuring words to individuals that you’re not necessarily competing with seven and a half thousand others or three and a half thousand others because it is your individual story and to trust you as the admissions office to be able to identify that.

Kirsten you receive a large volume of applications, but each story is distinct.

Kirsten: You know it’s always this balance, we get feedback from our admits. It takes so long to have my decision. Why can’t you just, you know even some other schools maybe get them out, why can’t you? And part of it is because we don’t have any artificial intelligence that we’re using the pattern finding and the most positive way we’re talking about at least at this point we don’t believe could be done by artificial intelligence. So we, no matter what the volume is, next year each one of you who puts an application I feel personal commitment to make sure that your application has been thoroughly reviewed by a human being. And what’s going to make you stand out is the fabulous advice that you were just given by all four panelists! I was nodding my head, what’s going to make you stand out is you telling us your story about what you’ve done and what you’ve cared about. Period. So I think that’s your best strategy.

Now there is some responsibility for prospects for listening in the audience. Application volume may be up, but you have a nice long runway. Some of you may want to put in an application right now, some of you will have the runway to the fall and you have far more information than you’ve ever had before. I know, for instance, we are doing ‘meet an admissions officer’ where you can go into a chat with 15 people every week between now and when applications are due. So even though applications will be up, and we’ve given you crystal clear advice about how to put your best foot forward, it’s still up to you to do the homework that is now possible given we’re in Covid-19. You’ll have the time and many more resources to really understand our schools and your fit.

I think if I had one last piece of advice on the essay, I bet everyone has one, is why Stanford. That essay to me, it’s amazing how many of our candidates do not take advantage to really help me understand what they’d like to get out of our program and why they are particularly interested in our school. So, if there was one thing that I encourage you all to do is yes, think about the stories that you care about, what you’ve done. But also spend this time figuring out and targeting the schools and writing a good essay. So that you can float above the frost. It will impress your admissions officer that you’ve done your homework and you know what outcomes you’re looking for.

Matt: John, on that beautiful Bel Air campus in Los Angeles that you have. Of course, you know we’d all love to have freedom of movement and visit. Picking up on Kristin’s point about this runway of time and you’re taking the opportunity to do the homework, what would be a couple of pieces of advice that you would have in terms of how to really connect with the school through alums current students? What would you recommend?

John: We have a super open student environment. The students really love to talk to students. We have an admission ambassador core, which is made up about 120 or so volunteers and all the info actually on their website for you. So you go to our website that says connect with a student, and you can actually choose the club you’re interested in, whether professional or other interests. And we have their email and LinkedIn info there. So we’ve actually made cold calling very easy. And even if they don’t resonate with you, they’re happy to connect you with someone.

I’m on the Slack workspace and every day I see someone saying like, “hey I have someone who’s interested in you know pivoting from consulting the tech and is moving from New Jersey,” and you’re like does anyone know someone like that? And someone will always say yes and make that connection.

I think the biggest misnomer is that you have to visit this school, and usually you can, but there’s a lot of reasons why you can’t now, so the best way really is to understand our culture through the eyes of the student.

And they’re very candid, I will tell you, about what’s really going, the good words and also the really bad parts. Just because we want to make sure that that piece of advice, because they don’t want you not following the legacy that they’ve really put in place. You know that’s one of our values, is really kind of like you know shared success, driving change. So you really want to make sure that whoever they bring and they are the gatekeepers, they are the ones who also interview, so you know that they’re bringing and student that’s really going to you know match their caliber or even better than who they are. And then, same thing, make sure that you really do the research and put that into the essay because we really can tell how much work you’ve done. And make sure you pay attention to detail. Funny story, I was actually reading a round three applicant yesterday, who told me why they really want to go to Haas. And I might not know what day it is, but I certainly know where I work. So that is not really a good look – so just be careful with that.

Matt: Zoom has a chat function so you can share that candidate’s email details with Pete and he’ll take things from there. But Amber, our schools deal with that. They have their strengths and sometimes suffer from their stereotypes. If you would encourage any viewer to explore the foster as a school, the culture, everything that you have, what would one be one thing that you’d really want to bring to their attention?

Amber: Yeah, certainly. I think we’re known as a technology school and we have many companies in our backyard that our technology companies, Amazon, Microsoft, but a lot of our students are going into finance and consulting and marketing roles as well. And those are three other big areas that we’ve seen. We also have students of all different sorts of backgrounds, experiences and if interest post MBA. And so you know, just because we do happen to be known for placement and technology, doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities elsewhere. And we really pride ourselves on having a larger community where we have different perspectives in the program. We’re not just looking for one type of student. We really want different perspectives in the classroom.

Matt: My last question is to please others, because the energy and the enthusiasm with which you share your work, it just comes across. And I think in the current conditions with levels of anxiety all of the questions that people have, it’s really unhelpful for people to see that. Pete, what do you love about your job?

Pete: What a great question to end on. What I love about my job is it gives me the opportunity to get to know some really fascinating people. Both on the applicant side, but also some of the great colleagues that I get to work with. Some of whom we’re here on the chat this morning. I get to interact with the most interesting people you can imagine, who have big dreams, small dreams, ideas of how to change the world, and a desire to actually put in the work to do that to make themselves a stronger leader. To make the kinds of connection and get the kind of support they need to achieve their professional dreams. And it’s very inspiring, I mean I would say at least once a week have a conversation with someone either a student and I think wow this person is really amazing. And I know that they’re going to go on to do great things and I hope that we get to be part of that so that’s what really inspires me about my job.

Matt: Right. Well, that might influence that the tanks that I wanted to share with all four of you for the last 60 minutes because Kirsten spoke earlier about individuals that she’s seen through their applications, through to year one and year two. You know that they’re about a thousand individuals that the four of you bring into your programs every year. We can’t rely on those daily press briefings at the white house at 5:00 p.m. It’s those admits. It’s the people, the talent that you’ve seen in them. I think that is going to come up with solutions for what we’re currently facing, and I think make the world a better place. That might seem somewhat romantic, but I think it really is your talent and ability to see that in people. I always want to emphasize that you are admissions officers and how you’re then looking to give opportunities to those people.

So, in addition to the hour that you’ve just spent and all the insights, thank you for the work that you do. I love sharing these panels with you. It’s a real privilege for me, I’m sure that there will be many individuals that now want to ask you some of those direct questions on the Hoover platform and thank you for the time that you’ll spend with them too. But just as I look at some of the QA and the comments that people have left, people have really got a lot out of this session. So thank you Kirsten, Jon, Amber, Pete. It was a real pleasure.

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