What MBA Students Can Expect at UCLA Anderson [Episode 371]

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What MBA Students Can Expect at UCLA Anderson

Are you dreaming of an MBA from UCLA Anderson? [Show summary]

UCLA Anderson’s Assistant Dean of MBA Admissions, Alex Lawrence, explores the opportunities awaiting future MBA students, as well as the changes Anderson is making to campus life this fall to provide its students with a safe, rewarding MBA experience.

Learn about Anderson’s unique MBA program, as well as tips for submitting an acceptance-worthy Anderson application [Show notes]

Alex Lawrence is the Assistant Dean of MBA Admissions and Financial Aid at UCLA School of Management and an Anderson alum who earned his MBA in 1999. Prior to that, he earned bachelors and masters degrees in electrical engineering. After earning his MBA, he worked in management consulting for four years and then returned to UCLA Anderson as director of the Riordan Programs before becoming Assistant Dean for MBA Admissions.

Can you give an overview of the Anderson full-time MBA program, focusing on its more distinctive elements? [2:08]

Anderson emphasizes early specialization and hands-on experiences. We’re like the typical two-year MBA program, having core classes with electives following that. I think one of the distinctive features, especially since we were the first school to have this as part of the requirement, is that all of our students have to complete one of two hands-on exercises or opportunities, that being the applied management research project, where you get a chance to work with an organization on a real business challenge or a business creation option. We were the first ones to create that opportunity for our MBA students.

In addition, we’re not a one-trick pony in the sense that we’re not just a consulting school or a finance school. There’s a lot of different areas that our students can be interested in or focus on. That variety makes our campus, our culture, so much more distinctive than other campuses, because students come in with diverse backgrounds and diverse interests.

Other than the lockdown and pandemic, what’s new at UCLA Anderson? [3:37]

One of the big things is that we launched a brand-new campus, a brand-new facility building, which is spectacular. Before this virus situation went down, the students were really enjoying it, the visitors who were coming, prospects, as well as those who had just been admitted and are still coming, the class of 2022 and beyond. Fantastic facility. Our new dean at that time, Tony Bernardo, he’s still short of a year of being in the program, though he’s been here on the campus for over 20 years, so we had a new dean in place as well. Those are two of the biggest things.

What don’t people know about Anderson that you would like them to know, on a bigger scale? [5:03]

I alluded to it a little bit earlier, talking about the variety of choices that students can look at. Very few people know that in the Los Angeles area alone, it’s number one in the world for small business activity. I say that because when you look at the culture, when you look at the opportunities that many of our students are exploring and that our alumni are currently participating in, it’s a very entrepreneurial culture. It’s a very entrepreneurial environment.

That’s why I made it a point to mention the BCO (Business Creation Option), which is younger than the AMR (Applied Management Research)  opportunity as well. With our accelerator that is on campus, many of our students do still look at that opportunity of becoming an entrepreneur. Many may still focus on some of the traditional career choices (tech, finance, consulting), but as a secondary, they all also are pursuing some entrepreneurial ventures as well. When you look at the types of companies that alumni have started or are currently engaged at, it’s so diverse.

The last thing I’ll mention is that for as long as I’ve been here, I’ve seen this increase in the number of students who are doing internships beyond just the summer opportunity. They’re doing internships during the academic year as well, in addition to the summer. Many of them, especially first-years, will start exploring the opportunity in the winter quarter, which starts in January. Again, this is something that’s not required as part of the graduation requirements, but our students (probably about 60 to 70% of them are career switchers) are looking at bolstering their resume by looking at these different opportunities.

For some of them who are coming from big companies who want to look at a startup, it’s a great way to get inside and see the activity level, the roles and responsibilities of people. Because as you and I know, especially in your entrepreneurial venture, there’s probably no day that’s similar to the previous one, and you probably have to wear a lot of different hats at the same time.

I don’t keep track of the highest number, but I’ve heard some students do as many as six or seven of these short engagements of these internships during the academic year.

What can applicants applying to Anderson this year expect that they could not expect last year? [8:03]

As you might imagine, on the technical side, we extended our Round 3 deadline. That being said, we’ve been seeing some of those individuals who may not have thought about applying this year in particular. Anybody who has applied in the later rounds for the class of ’22, we have made some adjustments not only with the deadline, but people being able to apply without a test score, though they still would need to submit a test score in order to get a decision.

For obvious reasons, we are one of those schools that has decided to adjust our starting timeframe for the class of ’22. We announced on May 15th that the official start of school is going to be September 28th. We still intend to start some of our virtual experiences the first week of August. In comparison to last year, we won’t have those in-person offerings, but we will still have a number of different resources and services available, skill development, career development, academic development, all those things that are going to help with the person making the transition to the in-person experience starting on September 28th.

What about students who can’t get a visa? Are they going to be deferred? [9:35]

For those who can’t come on campus as of September 28th, our plan is that when you arrive, you can still come to Anderson. You mentioned one of those magic words, because right now a lot of schools are saying that they have deferral policies, adding deferral policies, etc. 

Our deferral policy is one that, if the individual decides that they are not going to join us in that particular academic year, we will allow them to apply in the following year with a much simpler application, no application fee.

We don’t reserve seats for those who can’t join us, but we want to make sure, especially when we know it’s a very difficult decision to decide not to come, we want to make it that much easier in the future. No guarantees on the admission, but from my perspective, if you’ve been admitted once, it’s a good chance that you’re a great candidate again.

For those who cannot physically be there (rather than those who don’t want to come because they’re nervous about exposure), will there be remote options for them? [10:38]

Absolutely. While I can’t say for certain right now what those particular options will be, I spoke with my boss and the faculty chair earlier today, actually, and there is a task force. They’re looking at those types of options, because again, we don’t want to make it a significant burden, especially for those who are overseas and having to wake up in the middle of the night just to attend a class. I’m sure, like you, I’ve read many of those sorts of stories going on right now, especially in the undergraduate market. They’re exploring different ways to deliver pre-recorded classes to those who are overseas and still trying to make it over here to campus in Los Angeles.

I assume there would be accommodations made for those domestic applicants who, maybe for health reasons, don’t want to be in a classroom environment also? [11:30]

That’s a great point. While I’ve been talking about the international market, for anybody who has difficulty making it here to the campus for a variety of reasons, we’re going to work with them. We look at each case individually. Again, talking about those who decide to defer, over the years I’ve fielded all of those phone calls, talking with them to make the process as humane as possible. Many times they understand. I always tell them, “When you’re ready to apply, contact me,” and many who decide to reapply, they do reach out to me and say, “I just submitted the application. Just wanted to let you know.” Again, they appreciate giving an explanation as well as the step-by-step process, which is on our website, but the step-by-step process on how to reapply.

How can prospective students engage with the Anderson community if they can’t physically meet them, go to events, attend your receptions, or visit campus? [12:36]

On a weekly basis right now, we do have online virtual general information sessions that are facilitated by our current students. Now, as we transition to the summer with expectations that some of these travel bans and/or some of these physical gatherings will be lifted, many of our students and alumni do host coffee chats. Now, if that’s not possible, we also will be hosting, on a weekly basis from a staff perspective, also the opportunity to call in and speak with staff in a smaller environment. Because like you, I have participated in some of those 200-person information sessions where there are panels, there are breakout rooms. We’ll be doing those too. We’ll be reaching out to specific regions around the world. We’ll be adding alumni from those regions and areas, not just from a geographic standpoint but from a career background as well. Because again, here it is early in the cycle for those applying for the class of ’23 and beyond, but we know that getting information out there is going to be important. Also, we want to make sure that especially, like I said before, we demystify some things for people who may never have been to Los Angeles or even know about UCLA Anderson, and may think that we’re just an entertainment school, which we are not.

<< READ: What Should You Do If You Can’t Visit B-Schools in Person? [A COVID-19 Special] >>

For students starting their MBA program this September, what’s it going to look like and feel like? [14:13]

Again, this is without having the final master plan. For those who can’t make it to the campus, definitely there’ll be offerings available for them in a virtual format. There will be some hybrid types of delivering as well. From a typical class size of 70 to 75 people, we know that we’re not going to be able to put everybody in the room. Possibly having people in more like a pod structure, where having the same group of people who we know with confidence are healthy and we can deliver the instruction that is the same for all the so-called pods, versus having a big lecture room or a big classroom like that. That’s what’s being discussed right now. I’ll be honest with you — I haven’t heard anything about putting shields up in between students or anything like that. I don’t think there’s need for those drastic measures.

Again, when you look at the typical Anderson start, a lot of the activity is in the fall quarter. All of our students are here. Then as you get later into the academic year, because the core classes that are no longer required are available, then you start getting into electives. Students are really starting to hone in on some of their career choices. I mentioned the internship opportunities during the academic year. A lot of our students are taking advantage of that off campus as well. They’re even doing this now.

Some students aren’t local to Los Angeles, right? I know a few. I speak with some of the students on a diversity task force. Some are living in New York and New Jersey right now, who plan on doing their management consulting summer internship or their finance internships. They know that they can still do the class instruction, but I know a couple of students who are doing an academic internship, primarily research-focused, but at the same time, there are those opportunities as well.

Are you anticipating any changes to Anderson’s application for the application for the class of 2023, the upcoming application cycle, and specifically the essay questions? [17:18]

I don’t anticipate any major changes. Since our application for this cycle is still currently open, we haven’t had a chance to really do a deep dive to see the outcomes. What I will tell you is that we don’t anticipate any major changes. We did go through the same process last year, looking at our essay question. I will say with total confidence, we do not want to make the application harder or more challenging. That being said, we will look at the essay question again and see if it did serve us what we wanted to get out of it. If necessary, we will make some slight changes to it.

How are the co-curricular activities and events going to take place if social distancing rules are still in effect? [18:24]

Once everything went virtual, they just made some modifications without shutting things down. One of the popular activities from a social standpoint, the dinner, they still facilitated those, paying for people’s dinners, having it shipped to their homes. You don’t have the face-to-face, in-person activity, which is unfortunate, but the spirit, having the right people at the table, having a lively conversation, having exchange of information, ideas, with the key hosts, that still goes on. The faculty, they put in some courses that were right in line with what’s going on. There were economics, supply chain classes, marketing classes, what the impact of COVID has been in certain areas. Those were very popular with students.

For those schools that pride themselves, like UCLA Anderson, on the culture, how can you keep that still in effect? I think this is the great feedback that we continue to get, even in this year, from those students who we admitted and who attended our virtual admit month, they told us that of all the schools, Anderson was so engaging, so open to answering questions, just being there to open emails, start a Zoom conversation. Those things in our DNA, as you well know, are still there even if we’re not in person.

Yes, this is a crisis, that will hopefully be short-term, but that’s not something that we’re just going to retrench and just wait it out. We’re still going to go out there, seeing how we can help people, delivering the resources as best we can. If it’s even a delivery model, food, whatever it may be, we want to make sure that we’re going to help people as best we can.

In light of the pandemic, are you going to read applications with a slightly different perspective in terms of the qualities that you’re looking for? Are you going to be weighing qualities differently than you did before the pandemic? [20:31]

Today, I don’t think so. When you think about it, there are going to be some people who are going to be negatively impacted from a career standpoint. We know that some people are going to be losing their jobs. They’re going to be worried about how that’s going to be reflected or reviewed by the admissions committee. The good thing is that, when you look at the admissions committee and the staff that I work with, these are experienced professionals. They were around 10 years ago when the last big recession occurred.

Again, while this is different, we always have made it a point that we give applicants, I believe, a lot of information space to explain their story, whether it be with the optional essay. As we are reading these essays, looking at the application, some of the things that are still going to be consistent will be, why do you need an MBA? Why now? Why from UCLA Anderson? We will definitely understand if somebody says, “My company laid me off,” or, “I thought that this was a great time for me to make a career switch.” Like we’ve talked about in the past, whenever there’s a crisis, there’s also a great opportunity to do something different, to do something bold. For those who may just say like, “I’m just going to go get an MBA,” there’s still going to be the questions why.

We’re still going to interview the best candidates and make sure they’re going to be the right fit for our community, our culture. We just know that we’ll probably see more people who are unfortunately unemployed or impacted in a different way by the virus situation. At the same time, we’re still going to be looking for the best people who are going to be the best individuals for our culture and have the best stories that talk about why Anderson, why MBA. I’m really excited, because I think those who are going to take the opportunity to look at what an MBA can do for them at this point in time will be a larger number.

As we talk about trends, we’re hearing the different stories right now about how some individuals are having to take care of parents or siblings. Just seeing those trends and those stories and seeing the grit behind those individuals, the courage behind those individuals, are going to be some things that, again, just resonate with who we are at UCLA Anderson.

Some applicants are worried about starting the MBA, taking on the cost of the MBA, graduating into a weakened economy, applying when deferrals may have shrunk the number of available seats or during a spike in applications because everybody figures it’s a great way to sit out a recession. How would you respond to those concerns? [23:41]

About how deferrals are going to take away seats, a lot of times it sounds worse than what it actually is. Knowing a lot of my friends at other schools, we know that those are on a case-by-case basis. It’s not going to take up as many seats as you may think. That’s one thing.

The spike in applications, you can’t get caught up on the numbers. I know a lot of times you see these big GMAT numbers or big GPAs or whatever it may be. I always tell candidates, even when you look at UCLA Anderson, look at the range of the scores. You don’t need a 720 to get into Anderson. Look at the range of scores. The thing for us is, can people do the work? Can they do the academics? That’s where the transcripts are going to come into play. That’s where the additional coursework is going to come to play.

I would never tell somebody not to apply. I always tell them just like, again, “Tell me why you need an MBA.” I start there. I want to find out why you think you need an MBA at this point. If somebody is more in the herd mentality, is like, “I think this is something that I just need to do,” then I would be worried. I want to know that you have a plan. When you look at our application, Linda, it’s just like the best ones we’re going to ask are, “What are your short-term and long-term goals?” People are going to have to put a lot of thought into that. They’re going to have to tell us how they are going to leverage their pre-MBA experience, and what they are going to do during their time in business school and afterwards. We want to know people have a plan.

The interview is an opportunity to close the deal, right? If you get an interview request from us, then it’s really for you to come and sell us on why you want to be at Anderson. A majority of people can close the deal a lot of times, but I would say don’t put the cart before the horse. If you’re a great candidate, if you think you’re a great candidate, I would say continue with that, but look at the process. As they go through that journey of researching, some things are going to stay on the table and some are going to fall to the floor, to the point where they narrow their schools down to the right choice, and even the degree.

I’ve got my MBA and I work at Anderson, after getting a master’s in electrical engineering as well. I can still do a few calculus equations, but I’ll tell people that between the two master’s degrees that I have, the MBA is so much more versatile. It’s a pivot in my career. For that young person, that 20-year-old who may have some thoughts about it, let me tell you, it’s going to exceed your expectations if you go and get an MBA.

For the 2020 graduating class, what percentage of the class had rescinded offers, and for the class of 2021, what about rescinded internship offers? Are UCLA students having this problem? [27:29]

I have heard of a few stories of people who have had rescinded offers, and it’s in the industries that you might expect like retail, travel, and entertainment. As a school, we did reach out to the alumni community, which has always been very supportive of our students, as a call to action for them, asking if there are options within their organizations to please reach out to the school. Just within a matter of two weeks, 20 opportunities did come up, which is fantastic. I won’t say that it’s sunshine and rainbows everywhere. There are some students who are still trying to figure out what’s going to happen for them because they had some niche interests.

One of the best things I think is that some of these companies (those outside of the industries that I mentioned) are still committed to the offers that they provide to our class of ’21 students doing their summer internships. I’ve heard stories where, say in the management consulting space, they’ve had to adjust the timeline of what those opportunities may look like, especially from a virtual standpoint, but I even have heard of commitments for full-time offers after the summer internship. Those are great signs.

At least for the few students that I counsel and stay in touch with, I tell them that this again is a great opportunity right now in this crisis. Don’t just sit back and relax. They can appreciate that, especially as they talk to alumni who went through this sequence of events back in 2008, 2009 timeframe. Talented individuals in general, they just don’t sit back, right? Here’s a great opportunity to possibly learn a new language, learn coding. Think of some of those skillsets that at the end of the day are going to differentiate you. We’ve asked, “Well, so what did you do while you were laid off? Did you just pine away, or did you decide to maybe start your own business?” Or maybe you got involved more with your community.

What advice would you give to a potential MBA applicant thinking to apply in fall 2020, this upcoming cycle? [30:40]

When you’re looking at UCLA Anderson in particular, there’s so much great information on the website on how to engage. We have a community of individuals who definitely want to talk to you about their own experiences with the school. I would also, again, think about that question: Why do you need an MBA now? You may not be able to answer it, say, in a 30-second pitch now. That’s where I think coming and talking to students, alumni, staff, and trying to see what the MBA experience at UCLA Anderson is like. That’ll give you some ideas.

Then as you start figuring out, “Okay, if I’m going to be applying to UCLA Anderson, what are the deadlines? What are the requirements?” If you’re thinking about starting in the fall, put all those materials together, getting letters of recommendation, hopefully taking a standardized test score. We still require that, so hopefully that’s on your radar too. I think that’s where that whole idea about having a plan comes from.

First thing is go to our website, see how you can get engaged with our community. Start building out a plan on how to submit a competitive application. As many people know, I’d be willing to speak with anybody, time permitting. Or if I can’t do it, I have an army of dedicated individuals who would love to share their own experiences about why you should apply to UCLA Anderson.

Then after that, I think what you will find, especially if things go well and you apply, you’re interviewed and you’re admitted, your expectations are going to be exceeded as somebody who’s going to enroll at the school. It’s one of those things that I can tell you all of this, but you have to experience it yourself. Then you’ll see like, “Wow, I can’t believe the two years have gone by so quickly.”

A funny story, again because of all my global travels, so to speak: I’d be on the road right now. I would be flying to different cities, Atlanta, Chicago, New York, welcoming those who’ve been admitted. Just a few days ago, I saw somebody on LinkedIn announce, “Okay, my time at Anderson has come up. I’m happy to announce that I’ll be starting at Amazon in the summer.” I thought, “Oh, my gosh. You’re a second-year? You’re graduating? It just seemed like maybe last year we were in Atlanta,” and he was just like, “Yeah, I remember that dinner.” The time just goes by so quickly. Not just for them, but for myself as well.

Are there any questions that you would have liked me to ask you? [33:28]

When you start looking at the ROI and the investment, think about that investment piece. At Anderson, we give out fellowships. We’re one of the more affordable MBAs. When you see these price tags, you’ve got to go deeper. That’s what talking to students is all about. Very few students are going to say, “I went to school for free at Anderson,” even if they did get fellowships of a sizable amount. That’s where the academic internships, as I like to call them, come into play, where people start piecemealing to make the MBA affordable: being a TA, obviously from the summer internship, scholarships outside of Anderson.

Today’s prospects are probably coming in with some student debt already. They’re already thinking, “Why would I want to pile on more?” If you start looking at the numbers on a long-term basis, 10, 20 years out, it’s a great investment, not only from a financial standpoint, but also from your social capital as well in building up your network.

Networks are another big thing. We didn’t spend a lot of time on it. The people who listen to your podcast, they’re very good, competitive individuals, great profiles. They’re probably going to have multiple choices. I think that, once you start looking at the different school cultures and things like that, the ones that are going to really resonate with you are going to probably be the best choices for you. Of course, again, like I said, I’m biased, right? I think Anderson is going to be the best choice for you.

Where can listeners and potential applicants learn more about Anderson’s full-time MBA program? [36:08]

www.anderson.ucla.edu is where you can find more information. Of course, I can’t hide; I’m all over the internet. You’ll even see me in the staff directory. Don’t hesitate to reach out to me. My email’s up there too as well, and I would love to talk to you more about the Anderson MBA.

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