A 20-Year MBA Admissions Veteran Shares His Insights
Today we welcome Keith Vaughn, a highly experienced MBA admissions professional. He started as an Associate Director of MBA admissions in 1994 at USC Marshall, moved up to Director in 1997 and to Assistant Dean of MBA Admissions at USC Marshall in 1997. In addition, he served briefly at different points in time as Interim Vice Dean of the MBA Program and Interim Executive Director, MBA Career Services. And his experience is not at all limited to USC Marshall. Keith also had multi-year stints on the board of GMAC and on the board of the Consortium for the Graduate Study in Management. He has met and worked closely with all the leaders at a array of full-time part-time, and executive MBA programs.
Not only is Keith bringing his insights and qualifications to this episode – he also just joined Accepted’s consulting staff and will be helping Accepted’s clients one-on-one. Welcome, Keith!
His background & how he got into admissions [2:15]
I was a military brat – I was born in West Point. For college, I was accepted to the Air Force Academy, but went to Amherst instead. When I was studying for my MBA, the dean pulled me in to work on a career project. When you work on output, you have to work on input, so that’s how I got into admissions.
There’s a lot of travel involved with admissions work – I traveled over 3 million miles in my career, all over the globe.
Initially, I thought I’d do the job for about 3 years. After 3 years, I became the Admissions Director.
What did you wish wish applicants understood or knew that they just didn’t get? [4:55]
There are no tricks to this process, and there’s no formula. Admissions people are trying to get to know who you are. Even if you get a curveball question in an interview, it’s not meant to trick you – it’s meant to see how you think on your feet.
What did you review first when you reviewed an MBA application? [7:12]
The obvious first answer is the GMAT score. But just like I look at the average rating on Rotten Tomatoes to get a sense of how good a movie is – I would look at the AWA score, which gave me a good sense right from the start whether I was in for a good read. It was a great indicator of writing skills.
Then I would do a quick review of the resume.
How should MBA applicants approach the essays? [9:38]
Be authentic – tell your story in your voice. Think about the stories you’re telling. It can be helpful to show friends and colleagues to get input.
You don’t have to be an Olympic athlete – you’re unique. It’s about self-reflection.
Understand what motivates you and how. Peel the layers back and really get a sense of who you are.
Can you tell us a little bit about the Consortium for the Graduate Study of Management and applying via its application process? [11:55]
I’m actually a Consortium alum, in addition to having served on the board.
The mission of the Consortium is to increase the number of people of color in the ranks of business. Now anyone can apply if they support the mission: increasing the number of people of diverse backgrounds in management. You have to show how you’re helping, how you’re supporting the mission.
Again, there’s no trick to the application. The process is the same.
There are some benefits to applying through the Consortium: it costs less to apply to more schools. And you gain access to another network.
There are now 18 member schools.
What did your GMAC board experience show you about how applicants should choose the programs they will apply to and ultimately attend. [17:40]
Making decisions about schools is a very individual decision. People need to think about where they see themselves 5, even 10 years out.
Geography is a big consideration. There are great schools in Asia and Europe as well as the US.
And there are a lot of aspects to “fit”. What size school are they most comfortable with? What curriculum are they looking for? Across the globe, 1st year is pretty similar – you’ll get the nuts and bolts. But research whether the schools deliver what you’re interested in for specializations.
Try to visit if you can. (Not everyone is in a position to do so, but if you can, it is helpful.) Visiting can give you a gut feeling: what it’s like to be on that campus.
Being on the GMAC board – it was a time of transition. It gave me a sense of the political forces in the business environment. It also led to international opportunities for me, such as an exchange to LBS.
Realize that admissions committee members at different schools know each other and respect each other.
What’s your advice for MBA applicants invited to blind interviews? [23:30]
Preparation, preparation, preparation. Take it seriously.
Come prepared to ask questions – that aren’t answered on the website or materials you have.
Be able to relax. It’s not meant to be a stressful event. You need to be able to get across what you’ve prepared to get across.
With 2 months to Round 1 deadlines, what can students do now to prepare? [25:25]
For many schools, the essays don’t change that much. So even if you don’t have the actual prompt yet, you can start doing some brainstorming: think about the story you want to tell, and make notes. You can even start writing an initial draft.
And research the schools.
There are so many ways schools put you in touch with their students. For example, if you’re interested in the high tech club at School X, go on their website – they’ll list the president, and you can email them. Start making connections and researching opportunities.
You can also visit schools, or schedule school visits for when school is in session.
What should applicants look for when visiting? [28:20]
Check your gut feelings: walk around the campus and get a feel for the area.
Sit in on a class. Talk to students.
Talk to students in informal settings, such as cafes or lounges.
If you’re visiting a class – remember you’re there to visit, not to participate. Don’t draw attention to yourself in a negative way.
Any advice for reapplicants? [31:10]
Reapplicants should already be well-informed about the schools and the process.
Take advantage of “deny counseling” if the school offers it. Stay positive and do the things that are necessary to make a fresh package. There needs to be something new.
What irritated you when you were Assistant Dean of MBA Admissions? [33:00]
The difficult thing from an admissions perspective was yield management – handling the waitlist, along with people who may make deposits and then decide not to enroll. The earlier and more confident you can be that people are actually coming, the better you’re able to handle the waitlist.
Every interaction you have with admissions is a potential plus or minus in your application. [37:00]
The impression you make on the receptionist; the impression you make on students you interact with – it all comes back to the admissions committee. You want it to be positive.
What did you love about your career in admissions? [37:50]
There was a lot of learning and a lot of interaction with peers. You also get positive feedback from students. I’m in touch with so many students and alumni who are doing very interesting things. We work with a lot of great students.
It’s a challenging job, but it’s very rewarding.
Do you have any last advice for applicants? [39:45]
Stay positive. There’s more than one school you should be applying to and more than one school you could be at. Be positive you’ll make that match. Research the schools. You can get an MBA.
If you’re going to be successful, you’ll be successful no matter which school you go to.
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