Report From AIGAC Conference: Buzz vs.Substance

By - Jun 22, 09:42 AM Comments [1]

The AIGAC conference this year was fantastic. The first day consisted of presentations from Pete Johnson of Haas, Christie St. John of Tuck, Cassandra Pittman of INSEAD, Wendy Huber of Darden, Soojin Kwon Koh of Ross, and Bruce Delmonico of Yale's SOM. During the second day AIGAC was hosted by NYU Stern and Columbia Business Schools. Thanks to Anna Ivey of Anna Ivey Consulting and Jeremy Sheinwald of MBA Mission for all their efforts in organizing the event. Thanks also to Manhattan GMAT for hosting AIGAC on the first day and to Columbia and Stern for hosting us on Day 2. Finally, thanks to Graham Richmond of Clear Admit who spearheaded AIGAC's survey. More on that another day. The entire event was simply outstanding.

Certain terms came up in almost every presentation. Co-author with me of MBA BlastOff: 45 Terrific Tips to Launch Your MBA Application to Acceptance and MBA I.V.: Mainline to Top MBA Programs MBA Interview Questions and Tips, Maxx Duffy, has a useful term for words that tend to be overused in admissions because they represent important values: "umbrella words." As a consequence of this overuse, qualities like leadership are best broken down and demonstrated than talked about in their umbrella form.

Similar treatment is appropriate for umbrella-words-in-training -- the terms that came up over and over again in connection with almost every school at the conference. It's important for you to know how to relate to the latest and greatest buzz on the MBA scene. Merely parroting it won't do. Like the school representatives, you need to go deeper. Let's examine the most common of these terms:

  • Experiential learning. Almost every school touts its experiential learning opportunities. So don't write or talk about "experiential learning." Discuss how each school's particular experiential program is right for you. Reveal how Haas@Work will help you achieve your goals in your Haas application; or why Stern's Industry Mentoring Initiative is the perfect program for you because you are a career changer committed to a particular direction; or how Columbia's Master Classes represent the ideal opportunity to put theory into practice, a process you have enjoyed on a previous, specific occasion. Understand the nuances and points of difference between these programs to show that you have done your homework and really belong at your target schools.
  • Sustainability. Green is the color of the day, and I'm not just talking about Twitter avatars in sympathy with Iranian demonstrators. Don't write vaguely about "sustainability." Will you participate in INDEAVOR, The Energy Club, The Africa Initiative, or all the above at INSEAD to further your interest in renewable energy and entrepreneurship? Which of the almost twenty courses that study sustainability at Darden are you most interested in? How will you take advantage of the Batten Institute's resources as you dive into sustainable development in emerging markets?
  • Global. Global everything was everywhere at the conference. Ross sends roughly 50% of its MAP projects outside the US to roughly 30 countries. Yale has a required International Experience in its core and hosts a Global Leadership in Healthcare Conference with other professional schools at Yale. Which aspects of your target schools' global offerings are relevant to your goals and interests? If they are relevant, don't talk about study abroad or international projects; talk about the particular programs that are attractive to you, and why they appeal.
  • Flexibility. Several programs emphasized the increased flexibility of their programs. Both Tuck and Columbia have decreased the number of required courses and introduced mini-courses or seminars. Stern gives you a wide range of options in terms of designing your program. Yale allows you to take almost all second-year electives outside of SOM. How does your school's flexibility assist you in reaching your MBA goals? What level of flexibility is important to you?

These terms reflect important concepts in graduate business education today, but if you write about them superficially, you will appear .... superficial. Don't reflect merely the shallow buzz in your application. Study and understand the points of difference by scouring school web sites and attending presentations. Just as the AIGAC presentations went beyond the superficial to the substantive, so will your receptions and presentations.

Ensure your applications reveal a profound grasp of the distinctive currents among outstanding MBA programs, like those that presented to and hosted AIGAC last week.

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