Welcome to another installment of our MBA expert series! This week, we were fortunate enough to sit down with MBA admissions expert Walter Hutchinson, founder of ApplicationAdvantage.com, the boutique international admissions advisory, and also founder of MBAdashboard.com, the admissions supersite powered by proprietary technology tools designed specifically for global business school applicants. Walter holds degrees from Columbia University and has lived in North America, Asia and Europe while advising professionals and students representing more than 20 countries.
Do you think the admissions process is very much a science? Or is it unpredictable and human?
It depends on who you talk to, but I think of the process as a blending of both; to label it as one or the other, misses the mark. For my part, I base my opinion on perspective I gained first as an applicant to top universities, then as an admitted student, admissions office staffer and later professional consultant to students from all over. My sense is that the process cannot be distilled down to points on a single examination – committees could not select a well-rounded class of students solely on that basis. At the same time, the human factor alone is not effective in filtering hundreds or thousands of applications in a systematic way.
I have been analyzing this compelling paradox ever since my high school and Columbia days when I first worked for admissions offices. Those experiences combined with an early tool I developed for one of those offices, enabled me to define unique challenges the process poses for students depending on where they are from. For instance, future MBA and graduate students from countries where the educational and career advancement system is examination-oriented, usually perform better across the board on GMAT, TOEFL and other standardized tests, than students from countries where soft skills and leadership training are more-typical paths to career success. Between those two extremes, there is a lot of variation among countries, regions and cultures, but the point is that the local frame of reference tends to influence whether future students are more comfortable with the process as a scientific or a human, unpredictable one.
This is why countless students perform incredibly well – almost effortlessly – on some aspects of the process, while revealing stark weakness on others. To help students improve their profiles and become better-prepared to be well-rounded competitors, I designed and commissioned construction of an admissions platform in 2007 called MBAdashboard.com, which draws on experience advising people from many of the countries and cultures I alluded to; it will become available between 2010 and 2011.
The admissions process is always going to challenge students to excel on multiple levels, because rising to the top of a profession demands the same or more. So my idea was to create a way for all types of applicants to turn the entire admission process to their individual advantage regardless of whether they approached it as a scientific effort or an unpredictably human one.
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