USC Marshall’s Kellee Scott: Don’t Be Rigid, Boring or Tedious! [Episode 255]
It gives me great pleasure to welcome Kellee Scott. This is Kellee’s first time on AST, but she is no stranger to Accepted, having participated in our old online chats.
Kellee earned her bachelors in business at the University of Miami and worked in business for companies like Unilever and Ernst and Young. Then she became a Trojan through and through, joining the Marshall admissions team in 2001. She also earned her MBA at USC. In addition to her duties today as Senior Associate Director at Marshall, she has served on the Boards of the Forte Foundation and The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management.
Can you give an overview of the USC Marshall FT MBA program for those listeners who aren’t that familiar with it? Please focus on its more distinctive elements. [2:40]
The flexibility of the program is one aspect – we really are a “Make Your Own MBA.” We start with a pretty tight core but students start taking electives pretty early on in the program, to provide breadth and depth, and students are also welcome to take classes outside of Marshall.
Communications is part of the core, which is rare for MBA programs at this point. We feel it is a critical component for success - knowledge and expertise don’t matter if you can’t convey your ideas. In fact, The Bloomberg BusinessWeek jobs skills report named us as a school consulting companies love to come to because of our students’ great communications skills, and this will remain part of our core.
We also were the first school to require international travel as part of the core, so everyone at Marshall needs a passport since you will be going overseas. Additionally, we have an intensive case competition. Even if you are not going into consulting it helps with leadership and critical thinking skills, and allows you to apply things you are learning very quickly. Finally, we are the only MBA program that presents at the annual Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), another major project where students present to CEOs of APEC.
When I think of Marshall’s strengths I think of entrepreneurship, media and entertainment, and global business, especially on the Pacific Rim. What else should I be thinking of and why? [5:55]
We have a very active tech club, and the tech industry is now 2nd to consulting for MBA hires. Being here in LA, which we call Silicon Beach, is great because of the tight start-up culture, which is very important to lots of MBAs. There has been lots of growth in the interest in gaming, and it has grown such that our Gaming Club was created as an offshoot of our Tech Club. Also, Business Analytics is part of our core. We were one of the first schools to add it, and we now have a new Masters in Business Analytics, and MBA students can take additional courses in that area as electives, or can concentrate in it if they like.
USC Marshall states that its four core values are: Transformational courage, collaborative ambition, impactful service, and unwavering integrity. How do those values influence admissions decisions? [7:49]
The wonderful thing about those values is they came from our students. As we look at applications in the admissions process we assess these values in different ways. With transformational courage, we are looking for applicants who transform and find ways to stretch themselves - constantly learning, taking extra classes, or taking initiative to develop themselves. With collaborative ambition we are looking for teamwork and a network orientation, for people who help themselves but others as well. With impactful service – how do you serve and impact your community, not just your work community, but with volunteerism, family, and social communities, through things you’ve done, organizations you’ve been a part of, and how you made them better. With unwavering integrity, we want to see a demonstration of accountability – if something good happens, sharing the success with other people, for example.
What advice do you have for applicants preparing to respond to Marshall’s essay questions? [12:16]
Don’t be rigid, boring or tedious! Applicants often answer based on what they think we want to hear instead of giving themselves license to be a bit more creative and talk about something we might not find in other parts of the application. The first question is asked so we can understand where you are trying to go with regard to goals, but for the second essay you have four questions to choose from. So many people pick the question about why they will be a great student at Marshall, but we want more people to answer one of the other three questions so we can learn more about an applicant. We also look for depth to answers. Focus on one topic – depth on one as opposed to surface on several topics. Authenticity really stands out in the admissions process.
Marshall accepted last year just under 30% of its applicants, which means it rejected just over 70% of applicants. Who gets the interview invitations? From those invited to interview, who gets accepted? How do you winnow it down? [20:07]
The interview process is our favorite because we love to talk to people and get to know them. We realize not everyone is going to be at a certain level with writing – it’s hard to convey who you are on a two dimensional piece of paper, so there are different ways the interview can be a point of influence. We interview 40-50% of the applicant pool so as not to miss any candidates.
Winnowing it down is really tough. When I started in this business you would see a bigger difference with who was and wasn’t prepared. Over time, candidates are getting more sophisticated and so much better. I have so many fantastic interviews, so it is really tough. We have definitely had candidates who bombed the interview who looked great on paper, and probably weren’t admitted. Also, we’ve admitted borderline candidates who looked not so great on paper but wowed us in the interview. It can really be a make or break piece of the application.
What can those invited to interview at Marshall expect? [22:32]
They can expect a conversation. Of course we want you to be prepared and know your story by the time you are interviewing. The invitation indicates we like you already, and we want to like you even more. This is a great time for candidates to talk about something not in the application. That is one of my favorite questions - “Tell me something about yourself that is not in the application.” This allows the candidate to show breadth and depth and talk about their passions.
The interview is also about the culture fit. At a certain point we want to see some demonstration of initiative, that you are a team player, and can articulate your goals and talk to us and have a conversation. I do not allow applicants to look at their resume during the interview – I tell them to put it away and tell me your story, let’s have a conversation.
What mistakes do you see applicants making? [24:26]
You can tell when someone wrote an essay and didn’t have someone review it. I understand the temptation to reuse an essay when questions can be so similar, but you need to be more diligent – I’ve seen essays with a different school’s name in them, or answers to questions we haven’t even asked. We also want to talk to someone who has done more research than just looking at the website – it concerns us when an applicant has never been on campus, or engaged with students or alums. We provide that opportunity to connect with those folks, so if you are applying to a place blind, it easily shows that you are doing that, and doesn’t give us a good feel for sincere interest in our program.
Any tips for waitlisted applicants? [26:12]
The first thing I tell people is always contact the admissions team to see if there is anything they can do to bolster their application. We usually don’t give too much feedback at this point, but you can get an idea of areas in your application that you can control and shore up. We might suggest retesting, for example. You also can send in additional letters of recommendation for another viewpoint. Being on the waitlist is tough, we know, since you are in limbo. We don’t try to do it for long, but it is hard to winnow it down.
Let us know if anything changes - if you retest, get a promotion, or other good things are happening in your life. We don’t assume Marshall is the only school you apply to. If you hear from other schools let us know so we know what we’re dealing with. We still might not be able to make a decision right away, but the info lets us know we should maybe put a candidate as a priority. It helps us know, too, that you are truly interested in Marshall. Sometimes with waitlisted people we never hear from them again, so if we do hear, we know there is interest. At the same time, don’t be a stalker. Don’t go overboard or bombard us, but peek in every now and then. There is no ranking on the waitlist, but any positive information will put you more top of mind when we look at waitlisted candidates.
What advice would you give to someone thinking ahead to a Fall 2018 application? [31:06]
It’s never too early to start visiting or engaging with students, alumni, or people you know, to get a sense of the school, program, and the environment. Our new application is up in July, and by early August we have the new class profile so you can see the average student in the program. Our recruiting calendar starts in the fall so we may be visiting you or be on virtual platforms. The sooner you engage the sooner we can look forward to receiving your application.
What do you see coming down the pike for the MBA program at USC Marshall? [32:49]
We are reviewing our curriculum this year, which we do every 2-3 years. We are looking at incorporating more ways for critical thinking to be involved in the classes, and more ways for classes to be more coordinated across disciplines, so as not to be a silo for each discipline, but rather for students to learn as they go, with more of an overview of each subject. We will shift the timing – there will be the same amount of classes, and students will still need 63 credits to graduate. Students have expressed that the front load was too front-loaded, but students will still get a really in-depth high quality core before they start going into elective classes.
What’s an example of something entrepreneurial and really cool that a Marshall student or alum is doing? [34:34]
We have an alum who is an uber-outdoorsman. He founded a company called Beyond Gear, where with every piece of equipment sold a portion of the proceeds is donated to the favelas in Rio de Janeiro to allow a person there to learn to rock climb and participate in the outdoors. This same guy recently cofounded a new hotel called A Lodge which is outside of Boulder, CO, and you can go there in the middle of the woods to rock climb, mountain bike, and essentially do all the things that outdoor adventurers like to do.
We also have an alum who started a subscription service for surgeons and nurses called GIBLIB. This service provides ultra HD videos of actual surgeries, allowing surgeons and nurses to train through these videos. They show what the OR looks like, and what team interactions are like.
USC Marshall has a menu of MBA programs. FT, PT, online and EMBA. It also has the IBEAR program which is a distinctive program. Can you tell me about that? [37:52]
The IBEAR program is for mid-career professionals, beyond fulltime but before EMBA - and looking for a one year program. 75% of students are international. 32-38 is roughly the age range, with many sponsored by companies. It is a straight, 12-month curriculum, fulltime, is relatively lock step (just three electives), and taught primarily by faculty who have very extensive global expertise. There are about 55 students per year and 1/3 are sponsored. It’s a tight-knit network of students with an active alumni association, and is very family-oriented. Self-sponsored students can actually get subsidized if they live in the IBEAR apartment complex.
What would you have liked me to ask you? [40:25]
I wish you’d asked about milestones. We have a big one coming up – the incoming class of 2020 will be graduating at our 100th anniversary of the School of Business, which was founded in 1920 as the School of Commerce. There is lots of planning going on, and there will be lots of things to celebrate then.
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