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Admissions Director Q&A: Cristina Sassot of Barcelona’s ESADE

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Last week, we learned a little about Cristina Sassot the person as part of our Real Humans of MBA Admissions Series. Among other things, she tries to steer clear of caffeine, has been known to say she’d be in more than one place at the same time, and is a big fan of Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings, both the books and the screen adaptations.

This week, we’re asking Sassot—who leads admissions at Barcelona’s ESADE Business School—to reveal a little more about the inner workings of her office and the admissions process at the school.

And she’s the perfect person to ask. Not only has she been helping craft the classes for the school’s 12-, 15- and 18-month full-time MBA programs since fall 2008, she went through the process herself as an applicant not long before that. (She’s a 2008 graduate of the MBA program.)

ESADE has been drawing recognition in recent years, in particular for the career boost its graduates enjoy. The Financial Times ranked it the 17th best MBA program in the world this year and second best in the world for career progress, and the Economist ranked it third best in Europe for salary increase. And as Sassot shares below, there are exciting developments underway with the construction of three new laboratories—focused on decision-making, design and prototyping—to complement the school’s entrepreneurial-focused EGarage and EWorks spaces.

Read on to learn more about ESADE and its admissions process.

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

Cristina Sassot: Over the past two years, ESADE has developed a new educational model that relies not only on classrooms but also on laboratories and various intersections of knowledge, learning and the business world. We have therefore designed a “Rambla of Innovation”—a new training ecosystem on the ESADE campus that places students at the center of their own learning journey.

Over the coming academic year, we will open three new laboratories next to EGarage, a space launched by ESADE five years ago to encourage entrepreneurship among students, and EWorks, a space for putting ideas and projects into effect.

These three new laboratories, now under construction, are the Decision Lab, a space for exploring the key factors in people’s decision-making processes; the Design Factory, which will allow students to devise responses and solutions to new challenges (replicating the successful model introduced by Finland’s Aalto School of Management); and the Fab Lab, which will follow the model pioneered by MIT. ESADE’s Fab Lab, which will be equipped with 3D printers, will be a place for designing new products, building prototypes and conducting all sorts of pre-launch tests.

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

CS: I wish candidates knew about the terrific opportunities to customize the program on the basis of their motivations and post-MBA expectations. They can choose the length of the program—12 , 15 or 18 months—and can also join the business labs to specialize academically in a specific area or the Career Acceleration Programs to do this from a more professional perspective.

Also, the “Boutique in a Mall” concept. The uniqueness of the ESADE MBA is that it gives you personalized attention and personal visibility and, at the same time, the support of a huge global alumni network.

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.).

CS: After a candidate submits the full set of application materials, the application is reviewed by our application manager. If all the information is correct and nothing is missing, the file goes to the associate director of admissions in charge of the region where the applicant is from.

We don’t use external readers to review the applications. For us, it is very important to get to know the candidate first hand. That’s why the associate director tracks each candidate from the beginning to the end of the admissions process.

After a preliminary assessment by the associate director, the application is presented to the Admissions Committee.

The committee then decides whether to invite the candidate for an official Interview, which can take place on our campus in Barcelona, in the candidate’s region of residence, or—in exceptional circumstances—via videoconference.

From there, the full application is reviewed again by our committee, which makes a final decision on whether to admit the candidate.

From start to finish, the entire process takes between four and six weeks from the moment the candidate submits all of the application materials, including GMAT scores, English proficiency exams and the like.

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?

CS: The impact of not having a cohesive group is, of course, relevant for a program of any class size, but it is even greater for a relatively small program like ours, around 180 students.

This is why the essay portion of the application is designed to help us get a more complete picture of who the candidate is and the impact that he or she will have here at ESADE and in society after completing the MBA.

We expect candidates to respond openly, explaining what makes them the person they are and who they will become. The candidates should keep this in mind as they sit down to write the essay.

This helps us to make a better selection and has a direct impact on the MBA experience. In fact, one of the best compliments the Admissions Office receives from students is how great the student group is. They always wonder how we manage to do it. The answer is simple: dedication, passion and, above all, personalization.

Candidates should avoid writing what they think we want to read. At ESADE, we cherish diversity and are very open-minded regarding work experience, education and post-MBA goals. If candidates advance to the interview round, we will be looking for consistency and sincerity in their answers.

Common mistakes… there are a few. Some candidates do not stick to the questions. While this may sound obvious, candidates stay should on topic. Candidates should also make sure they send the essay to the right institution! We receive essays meant for other institutions more often than you might think.

All in all, the best way to approach the essay is to tell us a consistent story that ties together all of the candidate’s experiences and goals. If the candidates help us to really get to know them, their experience in the program is sure to be unforgettable.

CA: How many essays would you wager you’ve read in your tenure at ESADE? What percentage of those essays do you remember now? What about those most memorable essays made them so?

CS: This is a good question… I have done the math and I would say that I have read around 2,000 essays in my tenure at ESADE.

Reading the essays is, most of the time, not only a pleasure but also very entertaining. Candidates share really interesting stories, which normally lead to even more interesting interviews. And those are the ones that you remember the most.

But unfortunately, you also remember those that were poorly written, or the ones—as I mentioned before—that were not meant for our school, and the cases that lacked consistency between the essay and the interview.