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Admissions Director Q&A: Isser Gallogly of New York University’s Stern School of Business

isser_galloglyIsser Gallogly, assistant dean of MBA admissions at New York University’s Stern School of Business, understands the MBA and its potential for changing people’s lives first hand. “I am on my third career,” he told us in an interview. He worked in banking after college and then returned to business school to obtain an MBA as part of a career shift toward marketing.

After almost a decade working for Unilever and Loreál, he decided to shift again toward education and academia. “I know how much an MBA has changed my life both personally and professionally, and helping others on that journey seemed to me to be a very gratifying job opportunity,” he said.

In the interview that follows, he talks about the mission of the Stern School under Dean Peter Henry as well as some of the things he thinks not all prospective applicants know about Stern. He also shares a number of exciting recent developments at the school, ranging from the addition of several prominent new faculty members to the creation of a new scholarship for exceptional college seniors.

Finally, if Stern is one of your target schools, you’ll want to pay close attention to the very detailed explanation Gallogly provides of the admissions process at Stern, including his emphasis on the importance of the interview. So read on and be prepared.

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

Isser Gallogly: As you may know, Peter Henry began his deanship at NYU Stern in January 2010 and is uniting the Stern School behind a mission: to develop people and ideas that transform the challenges of the 21st century into opportunities to create value for business and society. Our mission is grounded in the belief that business is the most powerful force to improve the world. Our students get a feel for what this mission means starting on their very first day at Stern.

All of our incoming full-time MBA students begin their MBA experience with LAUNCH. Three years ago we transformed our full-time MBA orientation from a functional program into an intellectual summit we named LAUNCH. The objective is to encourage students to think broadly about the possibilities for business to transform problems into opportunities that benefit not only business, but also society, at the start of their journey at Stern.

During these initial days on campus, students engage with top business leaders, faculty and successful alumni and hear “Tales in Possible”—personal stories of transformation—from current students. This year, Malcolm Gladwell opened LAUNCH.

In the final days, students used the city of New York as our “urban” classroom in a hands-on project we call LAUNCH Pad. They worked in teams to develop business-oriented solutions to two challenges confronting New York City: How can we redesign and reutilize an underutilized public space, and how can we reduce pedestrian-related injuries and fatalities.

We also continue to attract the very best faculty in diverse areas of academic excellence. We have three Nobel Laureates on our faculty. Paul Romer, an economist and policy entrepreneur, is university professor at NYU and founding director of the NYU Stern Urbanization Project. We hired Michael Posner, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor from 2009-2013, to lead the first-ever center focusing on human rights at a business school. Pankaj Ghemawat, one of the world’s leading experts on the global strategies of corporations, joined our faculty this fall and will lead a new center at Stern.

We also have centers of excellence in Business Analytics and Real Estate Finance Research, among others. Our students have opportunities to extend their education beyond the classroom by working closely with some of these faculty and more on Stern Signature Projects that address real-world issues in areas as broad ranging as urbanization to the sharing economy.

We also launched the William R. Berkley scholarship program last year. This program supports exceptional college seniors who wish to pursue their full-time MBA right after graduation and provides full two-year tuition and fees, along with a stipend for housing and books.

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

IG: There are two big misconceptions. The first is that Stern is a finance-only institution. The second is that the community may not be collaborative. Both of these ideas are incorrect.

Of course, we are close to Wall Street and we do have a strong finance program, and people certainly come here to pursue careers in the financial sector. But we also have a phenomenal marketing program. We have a specialization in digital marketing for students who are interested in tapping into the opportunities at the intersection of technology and marketing, for example. Within marketing we also have a great entertainment and media focus, and we have expertise in the area of luxury and retail as well.

One of our newer academic specializations is luxury marketing. On the marketing front, not only will you get to work with CPGs – Colgate, Kraft, Unilever, etc. – but we also have a lot of marketing opportunities with luxury/retail, financial services and pharmaceuticals. At Stern, marketing is much broader in its range of industries. And yet people don’t know as much about a lot of these things at Stern.

We also have a wonderful program in entrepreneurship and social enterprise. Our Entrepreneurs Challenge, which lasts eight months, provides entrepreneurial talent at NYU with frameworks, mentoring and financial support to stimulate new venture creation. Awards total $200,000, and teams can compete in one of three competitions: new venture, social venture or technology venture.

Really, the list goes on and on. I think if people looked a little deeper, they would see we are very strong across the board.

The second thing that people think when they think of New York – for right or wrong – is that it can be a very aggressive culture. I think the surprise that people get when they experience Stern is that the culture is very collaborative, very diverse and very team based. We have people from all over the globe who come to Stern with diverse backgrounds and bring experience from a range of industries, from investment banking to entertainment to marketing to the military.

But as different as they all are, what these people all have in common is that they respect one another and work together.  We aim to shape our community with people who possess what we call IQ + EQ—the combination of strong intellectual and interpersonal strengths.

So, to reiterate, we are much more than finance, and the culture here is incredibly collaborative.

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.).

IG: We have four deadlines, but we employ a rolling notification process, which makes us unlike some other schools that have a round system. We do provide initial notification deadlines as to when we will get back to you, but typically that’s the latest possible date and we try to get out our initial notifications as soon as we have them. We recognize that this is an anxious process, and we don’t make people wait unnecessarily.

Our process is holistic, and we evaluate the individual. Everyone gets reviewed by the Admissions Committee and every application is reviewed more than once, so it’s not just a single individual’s decision. And in some cases, the committee will debate considerably. In every case we just try to ensure that everyone gets a full and complete review and is seen from more than one vantage point.

One aspect that I think is unique about our process has to do with who’s reviewing the applications. In some schools, students, part-time help or alumni are involved. But at NYU Stern all applications are reviewed by trained admissions professionals who are part of our full-time team. Occasionally we will bring in some help, but even then these are people who have been a part of our team.

The second point is that our interview process is very different than most schools. First of all, the interview is required. Second, the interview is by invitation only. We only do it if we are serious about the applicant. About 20 to 25 percent of applicants are invited in for an interview. This means that we are not going to waste anyone’s time. Almost all of those interviews happen in New York City with one of our admissions professionals.

I always tell people that if you are applying to Stern, set aside the time and money to travel to New York and interview. We take it very seriously.

The interview is not blind. The interview is 30 minutes long, and we are not going to waste people’s time by asking them to tell us why they want to go to business school. We’ve already asked that in the application. We want candidates to take it to the next level in the interview. At the same time, these interviews are meant to be two-way conversations.

Our selectivity is about 16 to 18 percent, making us more selective than most other business schools in the world. So, we want to make sure that we are screening not only on paper but in person as well. I think anyone who has done a job interview has seen some wonderful resumes and then been surprised during the interview that the person was somewhat different than he or she appeared on paper.

The interview benefits the applicant. The applicants typically like the opportunity to have 30 minutes speaking directly to a member of the Admissions Committee. This is their chance to present themselves in person.

Not only do we want to make sure that applicants are the right fit for us, we want to make sure we are the right fit for them. When they come to visit Stern as part of the interview they can have lunch with a student, visit a class and have a tour of the school. All this helps them make an informed decision as to where to attend. So our approach to the interview is unique and a bit different – but we think that this special part of our process really does get us the best possible talent.

Getting back to the application process as a whole, people have three notification possibilities. There is the invitation for an interview, the waitlist or denial of admission. After a candidate goes through the interview, we typically get back to them within three weeks. We typically admit between 60 to 70 percent of those who were interviewed.

In terms of how we notify candidates of our decisions, we do almost all of it with an online status check. This allows applicants to see where they are in our process 24/7.

When an applicant’s status changes, we also send them an email. When people are admitted we do try to have the person who conducted the interview give them a congratulatory call. Those are special calls to make. Every once in a while, these calls catch people by surprise, but for the most part we find that candidates stay pretty much on top of their online status – they watch that pretty closely.

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?

IG: In general, there are obviously a lot of dos and don’ts. But one of the most important dos is to answer the question asked. Another piece of advice I would share is that applicants should take their time to choose their schools carefully and apply to only the schools they would be thrilled to be admitted to. Then, they should take the time to customize their essays specifically to those schools and to the questions they ask.

Also, please check your essays for spelling errors. Now, a typo is not an automatic disqualification, because we know people are human and make mistakes. But let’s just say this: It certainly doesn’t look good. When your essay is only 500 words long, if one of those words is off, it’s just not ideal.

When we are reading the essays, we are really looking to make sure that people have thought things through and have passion. A lot of people are writing what they think you want to hear. But what we really want to hear is what they are dying to say. People spend too much time thinking about how to get into business school and not enough time thinking, “Is business school really right for me and how will it help my career both in the short run and in the long run?” Think about that first and then the essay is going to be really easy because you will have done your homework.

Sometimes people just think, “I’m really not happy doing what I’m doing now and I might be happier in this area so I’ll just go to business school.” But the ones who are most successful in business school and in life are the ones who have taken good stock of who they are, what they want and how business school will help them achieve their goals and dreams.

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