Evan Bouffides has been in the world of MBA admissions for quite some time, and his journey has come full circle back to USC Marshall School of Business. That’s where he got his start back in 1997, serving first as associate director and later as director of MBA admissions. But in 2005 he was recruited to Olin Business School at the University of Washington in St. Louis to serve as assistant dean of admissions for the full-time MBA program. Eventually, though, Marshall would succeed in wooing him back to California. Now, with another decade-plus experience under his belt, he’s back at Marshall as assistant dean and director of MBA admissions. In the interview that follows, Bouffides was generous enough to answer a few of our questions about the school’s admissions process.
We asked Bouffides what excited him most about the coming year at USC Marshall, and he shared about the many diversity and inclusion initiatives at the university and within the MBA program in particular. “To support an inclusive environment, Marshall has undertaken several curricular and student life initiatives,” he said.
He then went on to talk about the Trojan Family and the importance of the community at USC. “There is an ineffable quality that exists at USC that I describe best as an uncommon spirit,” Bouffides said. “It moves well past pride and towards a fierce commitment that we Trojans have for one another.”
Bouffides also shared about what happens once an MBA candidate applies to the school and how the admissions office handles the essay portion of the application. Read on to learn more about what sets USC Marshall apart and what happens after you hit “submit” on your application.
Clear Admit: What’s the single most exciting development, change, or event happening at USC Marshall this coming year?
Evan Bouffides: Over the past year, the USC Marshall Full-Time MBA Program has brought issues of diversity and inclusion to the forefront of the curriculum, student life, and programming. Now, more than ever, diversity in the workplace is recognized as critical to business success. At Marshall, we seek to provide our students with an environment that welcomes differences in opinion, includes ideas and input from all, and fosters the development of intellectual curiosity.
To support an inclusive environment, Marshall has undertaken several curricular and student life initiatives. Curricular changes include increasing the number of cases used in the MBA core courses that feature diverse protagonists, as well as greater emphasis on discussion of current events that highlight diverse business leaders to support course content. Student programming initiatives have included workshops to address unconscious bias, diversity training at MBA orientation, adding a diversity officer position to the Marshall Graduate Student Association, and increased staff support for international students. Students who join the Marshall MBA program will benefit from these initiatives through enhanced personal and professional growth. This will then better prepare our students for doing business in the global marketplace upon graduation.
From a career services perspective, we have added industry experts and employer relationship managers to the career services team, including a new international student career advisor who works with our international student population in the global job search and with the transition to U.S. business culture. In addition, we recently sponsored the second annual Diversity Networking and Recruiting Reception for Underrepresented Minorities, allowing Marshall to strengthen our commitment to workplace inclusion and diversity.
CA: What is the one area of your program that you wish applicants knew more about?
EB: I wish applicants could have a greater appreciation for what we call the Trojan Family. There is an ineffable quality that exists at USC that I describe best as an uncommon spirit. It moves well past pride and toward a fierce commitment that we Trojans have for one another. Of course, it is something that must be experienced, and no research on the matter can do it full justice. It is my favorite thing about USC!
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.).
EB: Once the application is submitted, we begin the process of screening applicants for interviews. One traditional read is completed by a member of the Admissions Committee. We then meet regularly as a group to discuss each application. At that point, a determination is made regarding interview invitations. Interviews are then conducted by Admissions Committee members. Once the interview is complete, we incorporate that assessment into the final review and decision. I serve as the second reader on the applications of all candidates who have been interviewed. It is a long process, but we are proud that virtually all of our applicants who submit complete applications receive a decision by our published notification dates.
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?
EB: We have two required essays and one optional essay. The first required essay is essentially a short-response question that asks about the applicant’s future short-term professional goals. The second required essay is longer and it requires the applicant to choose one of four essay topics.
There are plenty of mistakes to avoid, but I’ll mention three. The first relates to the short-response essay question. It is important for a candidate to identify the professional purpose for seeking the MBA. All too often, applicants are vague in their responses or simply do not know why they are applying to business school. My advice is that they wait until they have performed sufficient self-reflection and research to understand their professional aspirations.
The second is to address the question that is asked. This sounds simple, but some applicants tend to skirt around the central question or issue and try to shape their response to fit a different question.
The third is to neither overstate nor understate the importance of the essay. It is one out of about five or six things that impact the admissions decision. Some candidates may view the essay as simply less important than academic performance, test scores, or professional experience. However, for schools that receive many applications, the deciding factor may ultimately end up being something that is written in an essay or discussed in an interview.
My one key piece of advice is this: Be honest and authentic.
CA: Is there anything else you’d like to share about USC Marshall or the application process?
EB: There are many great business schools, and I fear that it may be hard for applicants to discern the differences between programs based on websites or rankings. We all talk about “fit,” and there is truth to the fact that not every school will be right for every candidate. Not every school is the same in terms of the environment, culture, and feel. The only way to really know about “fit” is for a candidate to move beyond surface-level research. The best way to do this is to visit the schools and talk to the students. This will provide a very nice sense of the community and the place.