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Admissions Director Q&A: Grace Kim of the USC Marshall School of Business

marshallGrace Kim is senior associate director of MBA admissions at the University of Southern California (USC) Marshall School of Business. She was generous enough to make time recently to answer our questions about the admissions process at Marshall, and we thank her!

In the interview that follows, Kim shares new developments planned for the school, including the creation of several half-semester electives as part of the curriculum. These new, shorter courses are designed to add greater breadth of content and allow students to better prepare for highly specialized careers.

Kim also reminds prospective applicants that though Marshall’s students are known for their collaborative nature, their competiveness should not be underestimated. She also provides practical tips for making the most of the essay portion of the application, as well as walk-through of just what happens between the time an applicant hits submit and he or she receives an admissions decision.

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

Grace Kim: This year we will be making some additions to our curriculum, creating a series of half-semester electives to give students greater breadth of content in order to prepare them for their chosen, and in some cases, highly specialized careers. (About a third of Marshall’s electives will be half-semester electives this year).

In addition, we will host our Women’s and Diversity Conferences for the second year.

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

GK: Marshall’s competitive side. Our students are known to be collaborative, but this does not mean they are not incredibly competitive. They win case competitions against leading institutions on a regular basis. Our faculty are at the top of their game as well. They are ranked 10th in the world by UT Dallas Research rankings.

Our program prepares students to be leaders on the global stage. We offer a variety of international programs in which students can participate. And of course, we have an extensive network through the Trojan Family worldwide.

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.).

GK: An application at Marshall is reviewed thoroughly by members of the Admissions Committee. Interviews are granted, and then the Admissions Committee convenes as a group to render a final decision.

During the process, students can visit campus by participating in Marshall’s Ambassador Program, which consists of a class visit hosted by a first-year MBA student and an information session conducted by Admissions.

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?

GK: The essay is a critical part of the application as it allows the Admissions Committee to become familiar with the applicant’s goals and how Marshall would best match the applicant’s aspirations.

Common mistakes include failure to proofread the final product before submission. As an example, an applicant will have another school’s name within their essay.

A key thing for applicants to incorporate within their essay is a clear vision of what their goals are and to be able to articulate those goals in a concise manner.