Everything you need to know about the UCLA Anderson MBA program [Show Summary]
Alex Lawrence, UCLA Anderson's Assistant Dean for MBA Admissions explores the hallmarks of the program and discusses what makes a competitive application.
Interview with Alex Lawrence, Asst. Dean of MBA Admissions and Financial Aid at UCLA Anderson School of Management [Show Notes]
Welcome to the 484th episode of Admissions Straight Talk, Accepted’s podcast. Thanks for tuning in. Before we get to our wonderful guest, I want to invite you to take advantage of a fantastic tool at Accepted, the MBA Admissions Quiz. Are you ready to apply to your dream MBA programs? Are you competitive at those programs? Accepted’s MBA Admissions Quiz can give you a quick reality check. Just complete the quiz, which should only take about five minutes, and you’ll not only get an assessment but also tips on how to actually improve your qualifications. Plus, it’s all free.
It gives me great pleasure to have back on Admissions Straight Talk Alex Lawrence, Assistant Dean of MBA Admissions and Financial Aid at UCLA Anderson School of Management, which just happens to be where I earned my MBA. Alex is a fellow Anderson alum who earned his MBA in 1999. Prior to that, he earned a bachelor’s 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 Program. In 2012, he became first the director and then the Assistant Dean for MBA Admissions.
Can you give an overview of the Anderson full-time MBA program for those listeners who aren’t that familiar with it, focusing on its more distinctive element? [2:15]
The UCLA Anderson MBA is obviously near and dear to my heart, being an alumnus of the program and now running the admission side of things. My relationship with the school goes back over 25 years.
It's a two-year program that balances the opportunity to go through the traditional core elements while also taking what you learn in the classroom to actually participate in a number of different experiential or practicum types of activities. We actually started school yesterday and today is day two for the class of 2024.
One of the things I think shows how we’re always innovating in our program is that beyond traditional summer internships, more and more of our students are doing academic internships. Part of the graduation requirements is to satisfy a global requirement. Our students have been taking on some of those different opportunities for almost 10 years now, where they do a consulting project with a global company or perhaps they travel overseas.
We’re a smallish class size of around 330 students. We don’t necessarily look at students with just a business background. It’s really diverse domestically, internationally, and across genders also career interests as well. We have students who go to a lot of different areas, not just consulting and finance, but real estate, entertainment, and more.
We’re always trying to push the envelope, and we added a course in ethics to the core classes students need to take in order to graduate. Students have to participate in that. In our career services, there’s a required class as well that our students have to take. There are a lot of different elements. Once you peel back the layers and learn more about Anderson, there’s a lot to find out. I hope we’ll get a chance to talk about a lot of that and more.
How does the Anderson course in ethics differ from traditional corporate social responsibility courses? [5:08]
Many times ethics are woven into some other elements of the curriculum like elective courses or case studies. Before the pandemic, we were working with students, who we always work hand-in-hand with to innovate our curriculum, and they wanted to create an all-day conference on ethics that would include a case competition at the end. That really showcased the interests of not just the current students but also this wave of interest of even prospective candidates in the topic itself. The faculty got together with the administration, and while it took a while to make this part of the core, students now have ten weeks to get a bit deeper into the foundation elements of ethics.
Like most MBA programs, on the first day of school, students will sign a code of conduct spanning accountability inside and outside the classroom. Some of the other things that I think show the innovation of building up this ethics course are case studies and the opportunity to do practicum around it as well. Of course, there are featured speakers. These are all things that students can take into their summer internship and even after they graduate. It’s an opportunity that resonates with our students who are looking to change the experience, including grade non-disclosure and things of that nature.
All of these things are connected to the idea and topic of ethics that we’ve been teaching throughout different courses in the past, but now it’s a main focal point of one particular class as part of the graduation requirements.
Can you touch on internships, the Applied Management Research program, and the option to launch a business during the MBA? [7:12]
The Applied Management Research program gives students an opportunity to basically do a mini consulting project. You create your own teams. You bid on one of over a hundred different projects that span a number of different industries. For those like myself, who was a career switcher and wanted to go the management consulting, it’s a really great opportunity to work with a company that has a real business challenge. That basically starts with you creating your own team at the end of the first year, and you actually have a deliverable in the middle of the second year.
Another option for students, especially if you’re focused more on the entrepreneurial sort of roadmap, is called the Business Creation Project, or BCP. You get an opportunity to work with our Price Center for Entrepreneurship, one of our eight research centers. You get to leverage our venture accelerator, one of our eight incubators on the UCLA campus. And in that sense, you build out your plan and get access, depending on what you need, to funding, board members, etc. You get exposed to a lot of those different partners.
There’s more now than just the AMR and the BCP, but you can also be a part of the Anderson Strategy Group. It’s a partnership model, and all students get a chance to pick the type of projects they want to work on either on the UCLA campus or outside. You can do asset management by being part of the Student Investment Fund, where you manage over a million dollars of the school’s funds. There are a lot of different ways to now satisfy that graduation requirement that was really just sort of singular in nature when you and I were in school.
And the internship is totally separate? [9:41]
That's totally separate. We see over 70% of our current students participating in some type of engagement. While the Parker Career Management Center does support our students, it’s not necessarily a graduation requirement. Some start that opportunity because they’re career switchers, and they see the opportunity that they need to transform their resume. Some start that opportunity as early as the winter quarter of their first year, so January. Some I’ve heard have done up to five different academic internships during the course of two years.
That might be in an area like entertainment media where they know that the recruiting process is definitely different than financial services or consulting. They know that getting the opportunity to do these short-term projects, getting their name out there, and doing some networking are benefits that will help them make the career switch.
It’s become a great phenomenon where some of these opportunities get handed down from second-year students to first-year students because the so-called clients or some of these engagements have had such a great experience. Maybe some of these groups aren’t necessarily looking for something as long-term as a summer internship and they need a short-term academic firepower.
How has COVID affected the global graduation requirement and the global immersion courses and experiences at Anderson? Have you been able to resume those? [11:31]
Yes, we have. An email came through yesterday about an opportunity for students to travel to India in December, and they’re taking applications for that. In September, students are going to be visiting the Czech Republic. A number of students went on a trip to Dubai in December 2021. It's definitely in full swing. Of course, we make sure our students and faculty travel safely. We're taking all the necessary precautions, but our students are right back on track exploring all these great opportunities on and off the Anderson campus.
What don’t people know about Anderson that you would like them to know? [12:35]
That's a great question. As much travel as I’ve been doing before the pandemic and afterward, what I see is that few have taken the opportunity to come to the UCLA Anderson campus. I understand it. One of the things that people should know about is the work-life balance. I’m going to put all of the beaches and sunshine aside, but being in a part of the country that's not only the entertainment media capital of the world but also has Silicon Beach, which is great for those who are focused on a career in tech. You can definitely go up to the Bay Area as well. We are very vibrant and have great career opportunities in the finance arena up and down the West Coast. You can still make that transition back to the East Coast.
I would mention our Parker Career Management Center, which is a top-ranked career management center, especially as it pertains to boosting the ROI. I think that’s something that’s always on people’s minds to stage the value of the MBA.
Do you see Anderson accepting the Executive Assessment for the full-time program or other aptitude tests in addition to the GMAT and the GRE, or perhaps issuing test waivers or going test-optional? [14:19]
I won’t say no, because we are constantly talking about what we need for our applicants. The old model that many of the schools, including Anderson, have leveraged is a standardized test and transcripts. When different testing vehicles have been released, our history shows that we have adjusted to the market. We accepted the GRE like other schools many years ago. Again, we’re looking at evaluating the EA. Some of the other programs under the UCLA Anderson portfolio suite do accept the EA, in particular, our part-time MBA program. I’m not going to say no because we’re looking at that.
We’re not providing test waivers, but we’re talking. We’re talking with all our partners, including current students to try to understand some of the challenges of applying to business school. That includes the financial burden that some of the students are coming to the program with. Right now, in the short term, we’re not providing test waivers or looking at other different types of testing vehicles, but we’re talking about it. We're looking at all of our so-called competitors in the market to see which ones are providing those resources and which ones are not.
One of my major concerns, and I think it's shared throughout UCLA Anderson, is that when we’re looking to bring people onto our campus, we want to make sure that they are going to be successful inside and outside the classroom. We don’t pride ourselves at all on admitting people and not having them finish. That’s why throughout the application process and even before that, we're communicating and letting people know what they’re going to be up against. It’s not an easy process.
We’re trying to collect as many data points and pieces of evidence from an individual to make sure that once they are put in a group of very talented individuals with different backgrounds, they are going to be successful. Of course, there are going to be moments when there will be challenges. Everybody’s going to have some moments where they stumble a little bit throughout the MBA experience, but we don’t want anybody to have that experience from the beginning until graduation.
Anderson is very admirably clear about what it values, which is people who share success, think fearlessly, and drive change. How can applicants convey that they share those values via their application? [18:47]
Great question. When you look at all of the different materials that people need to submit, there are some natural parts in that real estate where people can put those things down. For example, the resume is a great place to put hobbies and interests. You can obviously share that in your essays as well. There’s a lot of control around that, and that’s where we really want to know who you are as a person. We want to know you have a plan about getting an MBA.
Another area is the interview itself. That’s a great way to have a conversation with a current MBA student who facilitates the interview. In that sense, the interviewer, who’s been trained, is going to be looking for those qualities. They’re going to be asking you not only why you want to get an MBA but also why you want to get an MBA from Anderson. That’s a great way for a candidate to showcase their knowledge about the program, their interests, or plans on how they’re going to make an impact on the campus. The transcripts and standardized test score are going to show us your ability to do well academically and, if you had an academic challenge in your undergrad, it will show us how you have rebounded. The letters of recommendation are another way to demonstrate from a third person how you respond in certain situations, your highest level of qualities, and what you did in the workplace or community organization.Â
There are a lot of different ways to be strategic about showing UCLA Anderson it's a community you want to be a part of. Many schools talk about how they have very smart people who are changing the world. Anderson values that too, but we really believe we own that third piece, the shared success model. Like I mentioned before, in all those areas, there are just different ways that you can showcase that and say, “I’m part of a community. I made it better. Now, I’m going to do the same thing at Anderson.”
What happens to an application after the applicant hits submit? [22:09]
There are a couple of parallel processes going on between our admissions and operations teams. One part of the process is that we want to make sure that we do an assessment of the entire pool of applications for analysis purposes. We want to make sure we share it with the right key stakeholders here on the campus as we get ready and prepare for other parts of the application process. For example, we’re going to be having some people evaluate the application in and of itself. There are individuals who have a specific skill set and awareness about different regions around the world, professional backgrounds, and academic institutions.
At the same time, we’re also getting our interviewers ready. We’re doing some tweaks on that to make sure that when we identify the applications that we want to push forward for interviewing invitations, we can quickly invite those individuals so they can see the different interviewing slots in person or hybrid.
Do applicants have the option to have a virtual or in-person interview? [23:21]
Yes, exactly. We’ve been doing that even pre-pandemic. Many times people ask, “Is there a knock against my application if I don’t do it in person?” That’s not the case at all. We were using video technology before Zoom. Our interviewers are trained and they know what to look out for. They write up their report and another set of eyes reviews the application again. I get an opportunity myself also to read all the applications and to wrap up the process.
We have a faculty committee that looks at the applications that we want to recommend for admission. Then we have a graduate program here at UCLA that verifies a lot of the application materials, including the official transcripts from different institutions. And then eventually, we send out the notice for being admitted to the program.
The fact that I see these applications very early on in the process and then days like yesterday where, in some cases, I’m able to put faces to the written parts, even though I do see the photos in the applications themselves, it’s very full circle.
What is the interview like? [25:00]
As I mentioned, our interviewers are second-year MBA students at Anderson. While our training does include asking individuals, “Please walk me through your resume,” these are things that our students have already done. They’re going to ask you why you want to get an MBA. Why is this the right time in your career to do so? Why do you want to get an MBA from UCLA Anderson? They do it in such a way that they’re looking for awareness. They’re looking for the fact that you have a plan. They’re looking for evidence about how Anderson can get you to that specific career focus.
They also want to know if you’re knowledgeable. When people say they want to go into management consulting, they'll ask about a specific firm or the service lines. They want to see you've done your homework because at Anderson, we put everything out there. You look at our website, our employment report, et cetera, it’s all there. People should be aware and know how the different resources, faculty, classes, career management center, or anything else are going to help. Not that you have to name every single thing, but being knowledgeable about the school is important.
The last thing I would say, which is really important because it’s more of a casual thing, but the MBA students will be looking to determine if this is the kind of individual who they want in their community, who’s going to be giving back, who’s going to succeed in the classroom and outside the classroom, and are going to be a lifelong member of the UCLA Anderson family. All of those things are very important and will get covered in 30 minutes.
I would say that for most people who do receive the invitation to interview, it’s really an opportunity for you to close the deal. You put all of the hard work into the application, you wrote the essays, letters of recommendation, et cetera. It is a blind interview, so all they get is your resume. It's a great opportunity just to close the deal. I would say the applicants who do extremely well or who are successful are the ones who have done all the homework. They’ve come to campus. They’ve talked to students.
Can you share what percentage of interviewed applicants are sent offers of admission? [27:49]
We interview about 70% of all our applications and then much fewer are actually accepted. I’m going to hold the cards to the vest right now on that specific number.
Unfortunately, I have seen in some cases where everything looked great on paper and then I read the interview report and could immediately tell by the answers there was not much awareness about UCLA. They couldn’t name a specific club that would be instrumental to them or how they would give back. It was just a really flat interview. That makes it easy too.
Let’s say I applied to Anderson last year or two years ago and I wasn’t accepted, but I really want to go to Anderson. What advice would you have for me? [28:45]
Great question. Every year we get feedback from people who have applied and were denied. We have a short window of time at the end of the application so people can call and we give them specific feedback. As I mentioned earlier, if you look on our website, we give the profile of who we're looking for. We're not looking for people with high test scores or GPAs. I always tell people, “As it pertains to these numbers, you just want to be in the ballpark.” That’s why we give ranges. Make sure you’re in the ballpark. If not, take the opportunity to improve those numbers. Maybe your quant profile is a bit low. Take an additional class, get an A, then move on to the next part.
The other thing that I would say is that when you think about what are your goals for getting an MBA, don’t tell us what you think we want to hear. Tell us and be authentic about it. If you’re a career switcher, be authentic about that. Be very intentional about transferable skills that you can translate to the next job function or industry that you’re trying to make a transition to. Talk to students as much as possible. I know it sounds like such an easy thing to do but once you start talking to them, you get a good sense of how they applied successfully.
Trust me, some of those students who may have been in that position who applied the first time and then didn’t necessarily get admitted, applied again and became some of our biggest advocates for being a part of our Admissions Ambassador Corps, which has over 140 students. There are plenty of resources to get feedback on your application.
Maybe you applied at a period during the application year when there were very few seats remaining. Maybe you didn’t put together a competitive application from that timing standpoint. It's a great opportunity because we don’t hold it against anybody who’s applied and was rejected. Tweak up your resume a little bit. We have application bootcamps that occur in November and December of each year.
There are a lot of different resources that started a couple of months ago that allow you to learn about the UCLA Anderson experience. Talk to a lot of people. I’m on the road myself, so I get these type of questions too. I was just in Houston, Dallas, and Chicago two weeks ago. I don’t want to make it sound very easy, but there are so many opportunities for people to take control over and put together the best application that they possibly can.
What would you say to applicants who want to apply this year but are concerned about the possibility of a recession? [32:05]
I think at the end of the day, when you see or hear external forces that may worry you or encourage you, I’m always going to say that you should apply to the MBA when you’re ready. Don’t do it because it’s something that is in vogue, or somebody’s telling you to do it. Why do you want to get an MBA? On the horizon, there’s going to be potentially a recession, and a recession has happened in the past. When you talk to people who went through that period and applied during that period, they’ll tell you it was still the best decision for them at that time, and it really set them up for the long-term. Again, an MBA is not for everybody.
I’m a little bit of a Homer in the sense that I got my MBA and I’m also selling an MBA, or the power of it. I got another advanced degree in engineering and I see the MBA as so much more versatile. I’ve used it to make a couple of pivots in my career, and I’ve seen others do it too. When people are worried about cost, recession, and things of that nature, I always tell them to think about it as an investment in themselves. Make sure you do your homework, because it is hard. It is a big time commitment. There’s the opportunity cost as well. I’ve been around the game for 25 years and I haven’t met anybody who said, “Getting my MBA was a bad decision". Most people are really glad they got it. Some will talk about the career advantages or the network or the experience. Some will talk about how it changed their lives. I think those are the things that should be part of your research. At the end of the day, it’s got to be the right choice for you and at the right time.
What candidates are you not seeing enough of in the applicant pool? [34:37]
I think particularly this year, and we’re not alone, there are just not enough domestic applicants. It's a tight labor market. Things are going really well for people. Even those who did apply, in the end, some decided to stay in their jobs because their employers aggressively recruited them to stay. That’s one area.
I think in general, the overall industry is such that we are always looking for more women to apply to business schools. There's not enough of that great talent that can supply all of the top business programs. The same goes for underrepresented minorities. There’s just not enough great talent to supply all the top business schools.
I wish that, again, being greedy, we would get all of that coming to UCLA Anderson, but I know that we’re competing from coast to coast, worldwide for that type of talent. I’ve been around for so long here at the school and I’ve seen how much our community has grown each year when we’ve diverse talent like I’ve described coming onto the campus and into the classroom. I’ve seen conferences built up. I have a mighty team of five, and that gets expanded to 500 when I start including the students and the alumni. When I’m traveling to different cities and meeting people, I can connect them with students doing something they're interested in or alumna from the same undergrad institution. Next thing you know, I see the connections start to happen and the relationships build.
I'll add one more and mention people, especially in the finance arena, who might think they need to go to school on the East Coast if they want to end up on Wall Street. Our students who want to make that transition from the West Coast to the East Coast do extremely well. They’re on Wall Street, or even stay out here on the West Coast and pursue a career in finance as well. I would love to see that type of profile or career interest as well.
For students thinking ahead to a 2023 or 2024 application, what is the one thing they should do now to prepare to apply? [37:30]
Do the research. What does that mean? We put so much time and effort into our website. There’s so much information on there about how to get started. If you’re like, “Wow, that’s a lot of work. I’d rather talk to somebody,” that’s possible too. You can go to our events webpage and see if there is something coming to your town where you can speak with an admissions officer, an alumnus, or even a current student. I know that dialogue is important. Maybe sometimes just being in the room with somebody who is applying now and hearing their journey can help you understand what you need to do.
Go to the website because then it’ll connect you with the type of resource you may need at that time, whether it be a person or some type of context about a timeline or even an information session hosted by myself or one of my team members or even alumni of the program.
What would you have liked me to ask you? [39:41]
I think you asked a lot of great questions, and I snuck it in there earlier when you asked what people don't know. I always throw in the Parker Career Management Center piece. Our research shows that one of the top two reasons you’re probably going to get an MBA is career related. If career services is going to be a critical part of that process for you, then looking at a school’s services in that area is going to be important. Our Parker Career Management Center voted each year in the top three for career services in terms of student satisfaction. They have so many resources available that many students can even take advantage of everything, but I mentioned some earlier. You have to take a class in order to graduate, where they’ll talk about how to negotiate your offer and how to interview. They’ll do days on the job events.
You not only get a counselor who has industry experience and works with you one-on-one, but you also have a second-year student who can be a TA and can talk about the process of a specific industry. The thing I love about the Parker Career Management Center is that I see the relationships and the care and the dedication that each one of those individuals puts into our students to help them understand the opportunity. It’s a partnership. They put you in the best position to succeed. They keep that continuum going, and they're going to put you in a great position for you to close the deal.
Many times the happy challenge or problem that our students have is that not only did I get my dream job, but I’ve got a couple of other offers that I wasn’t considering before. Now which one do I take? I think that’s a great position to be in.
Where can listeners and potential applicants learn more about Anderson’s full-time MBA program? [41:58]
You can go to anderson.ucla.edu/fulltimemba and learn more. Of course, you can always email me or my team. We would love to hear from you and share more about the opportunity in our program.
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