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Admissions Director Q&A: Shari Hubert of Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business

shari_hubertIn our continuing series of interviews with admissions directors at leading business schools, we spoke most recently with Shari Hubert of Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business. Hubert joined McDonough last year as associate dean of MBA admissions, where she leads recruitment efforts to attract highly qualified, diverse students to the school’s full-time and part-time MBA programs.

Prior to joining McDonough, Hubert served as director of recruitment for the Peace Corps’ Office of Volunteer Recruitment and Selection, where she was responsible for recruiting 4,000 volunteers annually and managed the operations of nine regional recruitment offices across the United States. Before that, she led campus recruitment for Citi’s Global Bank in North America and served as the manager for campus relations in corporate recruiting at GE’s corporate headquarters. She also led the Executive Leadership and Civic Development Program at the Partnership for New York City, a business advocacy association focused on public and private partnerships.

Hubert, who herself holds an MBA from Harvard Business School, is delighted at having her career come full circle. “I have been on the other end, helping companies recruit students out of business school, and now I’m thrilled to be working with prospective applicants from within McDonough.”

We’re very grateful that Hubert made time to participate in our Admissions Director Q&A Series. Read on to learn what she’s most excited about in terms of new developments underway at McDonough. She also shares details about the school’s new essay question – including tips on how to answer it and how not to – and highlights a few of the school’s lesser known programs and initiatives.

Clear Admit: What’s the single most exciting development, change or event happening at McDonough this coming year?

Shari Hubert: I’m afraid I can’t limit myself to just one! For starters, we launched a brand new website this summer. It is much more appealing visually and provides better ways of accessing information on our different programs. It really represents a huge overhaul in terms of the ways users experience our website. It is also responsive so it can be viewed on mobile devices. Our goal is to make it much easier for prospective students to dig deep and find information readily. The admissions site in particular is now more organized and easier to navigate.

We will also soon be welcoming World Cup winning goalkeeper Briana Scurry to campus to speak on leadership. And our dean, David A. Thomas, is traveling the world talking about what’s great about Georgetown McDonough.

We just celebrated our first full year in the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, and we’ll have ten new Consortium students joining us this year. There are also more and more social interactions taking place across many of our student affinity groups, including the Korean Students’ Association, Gay, Ally and Lesbian Association (GALA), Georgetown Women in Business (GWIB), the Black MBA Association (BMBAA), the McDonough Military Association, and the Hispanic and Latin American Students Association (HALASA). These demonstrate our commitment to both diversity and, more importantly, inclusion.

Our dean also recently formed a special McDonough Alumni Advisory Council (MAAC) to communicate the value that Georgetown McDonough provides, both directly, through programming for alumni and ongoing engagement, as well as indirectly, by enhancing the current student experience.

We are also focusing much more heavily on our philanthropy to increase our MBA scholarships. We really appreciate the investment that one makes in the MBA, and we want to be able to attract the best and the brightest students regardless of financial means.

Finally, we are in the midst of hiring seven new tenure-track professors and three visiting professors to provide a larger breadth of opportunities for students to engage in curriculum topics relevant to their professional and personal career goals.

Those, in brief, are some of the highlights I’m most excited about in the coming year.

CA: What is the one area of your program that you wish applicants knew more about?

SH: For one, they should know that our Jesuit value of “cura personalis” rings true: Caring for the “whole person” and a commitment to being of service to men and women. We want people who will make an impact on both business and society.  In addition, our location in DC allows our MBAs the advantage of being at the nexus between business and policymaking.

I’d also love to highlight the innovative co-curricular programs and initiatives we have for students who are interested in social enterprise, entrepreneurship and real estate. In terms of social impact, we have a fantastic Global Social Enterprise Initiative, led by Professor Bill Novelli, which pairs students with nonprofits and private sector organizations to gain the practical training they need to become leaders who can make responsible business decisions and help address some of the world’s most significant challenges.  We also offer courses on social impact investing.

Our Entrepreneurship Initiative, led by Professor Jeff Reid, includes an incubator that runs through the summer. We have wonderful partnerships throughout the DC area, where so much is going on in the entrepreneurial space.  In fact, DC was voted among the top 5 Cities for Technology Start-ups by USA Today.  Prospective applicants can sign up for our startuphoya newsletter even before they apply, to see what is available to students who participate in the entrepreneurship initiative.

Finally, the Real Estate Finance Initiative, led by Professor Matthew Cypher, is extremely practice-focused and less research-oriented. In the real estate space, it’s all about having experience in underwriting before you finish your MBA. Students who participate in our Real Estate Finance Initiative graduate better able to put this valuable real-world experience on their resume, which makes them exceptionally competitive in the global real estate market.

So I would really encourage people to ask more about those kinds of initiatives and programs.

We also have two new elective courses, “Meditation and Leadership: Leading from the Center” and “Developing Women Leaders: Cultivating Your Human and Social Capital.”

The Meditation and Leadership course is taught by a priest here on campus, Father Freeman. Our dean himself meditates, and we believe that business schools need to be able to produce leaders who can keep perspective in a situation of crisis. This course helps students understand the research and practice of meditation and includes meditation techniques, journaling and online feedback. It’s a six-month program that is holistic and wildly popular.

The Developing Women Leaders course is focused on helping second-year female students succeed in the workplace after graduation and is taught by a tenured faculty member, Cathy Tinsley, who also leads the Georgetown University Women and Leadership Institute. It includes rigorous research and documentation of gender dynamics, as well as visits by leading practitioners and women alumni to the classroom to talk about their practical experience.

Finally, I’d also like to underscore the fact that while we are faculty led, we are also student centric. We encourage our students to roll up their sleeves and get involved. Those who do have the greatest impact on the value of their degree.

CA: Walk us through the life of an application in your office from an operational standpoint. What happens between the time an applicant clicks “submit” and the time the committee offers a final decision (e.g. how many “reads” does it get, how long is each “read,” who reads it, does the committee convene to discuss it as a group, etc.).

SH: Once an applicant hits “submit,” he or she currently receives an automatic response and is assigned to a specific Admissions Advisor who is available to advise the applicant through the rest of the process. We are looking at new ways, however, to make sure people know that we appreciate the time it took for them to apply. Once you hit submit, there tends to be an anticlimactic feeling, like things are in limbo. We want students to know that they are in good hands and that there’s a lot happening behind the scenes, in order for us to make the best decisions.

In order to facilitate a more user-friendly admissions process, we accept unofficial test scores and transcripts, recognizing that obtaining official scores and documents can be costly and time-consuming in some cases.  Therefore, we only require students to submit official scores and documents once they are admitted and have committed to attend Georgetown McDonough.  Our hope is that this makes the process less onerous for our students.

Completed applications are then forwarded to our readers for review. Our readers are seasoned admissions advisors, many of whom have traveled and recruited for us and also serve on our Admissions Committee. Each application undergoes a thorough review process and all final decisions are made by the Admissions Committee.

Once we begin reviewing applications, we will extend invitations for interviews. Our interviews are blind; this means that the person who interviews you likely has not read your application. So you are evaluated solely on the basis of the interview and not your GMAT, GRE or GPA scores.  Also, you will likely be interviewed by someone other than the person who reads your application.  In this way, we ensure that there are a number of people providing input on each of our applicants.

Our interviewers include staff from our Admissions, Program or Career teams, select second-year MBAs and alumni.  Our interviewers wear three hats during each interview: that of a faculty member, a recruiter and a peer. Interviews are conducted either on campus, in select cities around the country and world, or via Skype when necessary. The Admissions Committee meets regularly throughout each round to discuss applications and make final decisions. At the end of each round we review all of our final decisions once more to make sure that they are consistent and we haven’t missed anything. After this final review, we communicate final decisions to the applicants.

The Admissions Committee members personally call each of the admitted students in order to share the good news and to be the first to congratulate them.  At that point, all applicants can also log into our online application portal and receive their official admission decision.

We always provide decisions by our published notification dates, and recently we’ve been able to make some students happy and deliver decisions a few days early. We like to do that whenever we can because we understand that the time that applicants spend waiting for a decision can be stressful.

There is one other thing I’d like to highlight. This past summer we have been working with an organization called Southwark Consulting, which helps schools understand the experience applicants have as part of the admissions process. Our work with Southwark has helped put our team in the shoes of the applicant and think more about how we can provide the best possible customer service experience to them.

As part of this exercise, we have come to better understand the highs and lows that someone going through the application process has. We have begun to think about ways that we can modify our practices and policies accordingly. We want to make sure that we are doing all that we can to create good will for the Georgetown McDonough brand, while at the same time meeting applicants’ needs throughout the application process.

Southwark contracts with Peer Insight, which has a technique they call customer experience mapping. We decided to apply this technique around the MBA application process.

We discovered as part of this process that the moment right after someone hits submit – really from the post-submit time until decisions are delivered – is one of the lowest emotional points for applicants in the process because everything is outside of their control. So we are looking at what we can do to help alleviate some of the angst throughout that period.

CA: How does your team approach the essay portion of the application specifically? What are you looking for as you read the essays? Are there common mistakes that applicants should try to avoid? One key thing they should keep in mind as they sit down to write them?

SH: I’m glad you asked about essays. We have reduced the number of essays for applicants this coming year, and I hope they will be pleasantly surprised. We will have just one required essay, and we will maintain our optional essays.

The new essay is “Why you? (Hint: We are looking for an answer that cannot be found from research on our website.)” Applicants will have 750 words or less in which to answer it.

We recognize that this question is very open-ended. We did our research and know that millennials want to have space to express themselves. They don’t want to be relegated to a question that fits certain parameters. So we’ve kept our question purposely open-ended so they can choose the direction of the answer versus providing what they think we want to hear.

In terms of what we are looking for in response to our single essay question, we want students to share with us what it is that makes them a fit for Georgetown McDonough. We found with our previous essay questions that we weren’t learning anything new about applicants and instead were getting regurgitation of information from our website.

We’re hopeful that this open-ended question will provide us insight into their character.  We want to hear how they think, what makes them unique and a good fit for our program, which can be anything from their geographic or cultural background to their personal history or ideology. Really everything is fair game in this particular question. We are asking “Why you?” in a very broad way.

In addition to that one required essay, we will continue to offer our optional essays as a place where applicants who want to can share something that hasn’t been captured anywhere else in the application, or for applicants who are dual-degree candidates or re-applicants. We are also incorporating a field in the application where applicants will be required to state their short-term and long-term goals, since this information is still important to us.

For the second year now, we will only require one recommendation, as opposed to the two we have required in the past. We really do encourage people to submit only one letter. At the Association for International Graduate Admissions Counselors (AIGAC) Conference last year we heard interesting insights on letters of recommendation, including how challenging they can be for students, especially those who were being asked to write the recommendations themselves, on behalf of their recommenders.

We were surprised by that feedback and thought, “What can we do at Georgetown McDonough to make it easier for applicants to procure these recommendations in a way that is ethical?” And that is why we have decided to require just one letter of recommendation. It was a result of recognizing that there is angst in that aspect of the process and wanting to minimize it for applicants. Next year, we will also look into using questions that are more similar across schools as a way to continue to ease the burden for the applicant.

CA: Is there anything else you’d like to share about McDonough or the application process?

SH: There is one other thing; we love the fact that we are a very attractive program for international students and, therefore, receive a lot of applications from them. I encourage students to really focus, if they are taking the TOEFL, on the speaking and writing scores. We typically see very strong reading and listening scores, but students tend to struggle a bit on the speaking and writing.  Their overall score needs to be over 100 for them to be competitive.  The higher the individual scores (ideally within the range of 25-29), the greater demonstration to us that they will have the language proficiency to handle the case-based classroom dynamic and the MBA job search process, which requires strong communication and writing skills for networking, interviews, resumes and cover letters.  We offer a couple of language-based classes prior to orientation that also help to prepare our international students.

We accept both the GRE and the GMAT, and both are given the same weight in the evaluation process. Regardless of which exam is taken, applicants that score within the 60th percentile or higher on the quantitative section tend to be more competitive.  We also pay close attention to the AWA score, given the increased need for MBA students to have strong business writing skills, and are looking more closely at the IR score given the need to synthesize a lot of data in business.

Finally, I’d love to invite anyone considering Georgetown McDonough to visit our campus. We offer many opportunities for applicants to engage with us throughout the admissions cycle, so I encourage prospective students to visit our website to learn more.

But for those who cannot visit campus, we will also travel to many global cities this summer and fall to meet with prospective applicants – including Monterrey, Taipei, Dubai, Sao Paulo, Seoul, Mumbai and many others. I personally will be going to Monterrey and Bogota, and I just returned from a trip to China.

At the end of the day, we hope students choose Georgetown McDonough and allow our program to help you define your future professional and personal goals.