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Admissions Director Q&A: Margaret O’Neill of Cambridge Judge Business School

We are excited to kick off our Admissions Director Q&As for the 2019-2020 MBA admissions season!  Admissions committee members will be shedding light on the admissions process, program changes and new developments in the dynamic field of graduate management admissions.

This year, we start the series with insights from Margaret O’Neill, Head of MBA Marketing, Admissions, and Careers at Cambridge Judge Business School.  She has spent the past 18 years in business education, working with post-graduate business school professionals across projects, careers and programmes at both Cambridge Judge and London Business School.

Read on for her insights into the MBA journey, from the moment candidates first engage with the school, to the time they leave to embark upon their post-MBA careers.

Clear Admit: What is the one aspect of your program that you wish applicants knew more about?

Margaret O’Neill: I have heard Cambridge Judge Business School alumni say they can always spot a Cambridge MBA – in short, someone who gets excited by working with others, and actively looks for opportunities to do something different and make a difference.

Margaret O’Neill, Head of MBA Marketing, Admissions and Careers at Cambridge Judge Business School

I believe this comes from the truly collaborative and experiential nature of the programme. Collaboration is a buzz word that is often used, but at Cambridge we live and breathe it. You’re working in study groups and integrated projects with clients from day one, applying your learning live with real clients and learning from your classmates as you go.

Over one intense year you’ll have the chance to work on two live consulting projects with clients, a client project aligned with your concentration and an individual project. By the end of the year, we know our students can pitch in and add value to any team, anywhere in the world.

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.)?

MO: From application deadline to interview is about six weeks; from interview to final decision about 3 weeks.

Once the application deadline closes, all applications are divided among the Admissions team, who have 2 weeks to read them and make an initial recommendation. Every document is reviewed, and if anything is missing, noted. Applications are then second read by the Head of Admissions and the Executive Director of the MBA and a decision taken to interview, waitlist or reject.

All those invited to interview are given access to a social platform Unibuddy, which allows them to chat via private instant message with current MBA students. They are also added to a closed LinkedIn Group.

All interviewees are invited to interview on campus in Cambridge, where we arrange a dinner the night before so candidates can meet the team, current students and each other – their potential classmates. A full day of activities is arranged for the following day; an introduction to the School and to Careers, small group career sessions, the actual interview, lunch with current students and a walking tour of Cambridge.

If candidates are unable to make the trip to Cambridge, interviews will also be conducted via Skype.

Every student admitted onto the Cambridge MBA must be interviewed by a member of faculty actively teaching on the programme; faculty submit written feedback and a recommendation to accept, reject or waitlist.

The Admissions Committee meets the week after interviews to review all faculty feedback. The Admissions Committee comprises the Head of MBA Marketing, Admissions and Careers, the Head of MBA Recruitment, the Admissions Team, the Executive Director and the Director of the MBA. All cases are discussed and a decision taken at the meeting to accept, reject or waitlist. That decision goes out to the candidates by the end of that week.

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? What is one key thing they should keep in mind as they sit down to write?

MO: The essays are your opportunity to tell us what you will bring to the Cambridge MBA and how it will help you grow and develop, and have an impact in the world. Make the essays authentically yours. Don’t try to “businessify” them by using jargon or exaggerate to give us the story you think we want to hear. And please don’t just cut and paste from another application – really read the question and direct your response to what was asked.

If we ask what you have learned from a failure or setback, we want to see some reflection, humility and a growth mindset. We can’t all succeed at everything all the time – how did you recover and what would you do differently next time? Reading that others are somehow responsible for your failure is always a red flag!

For the question on your post MBA career – you do not need to know exactly what you want to do but you do need to demonstrate a clear understanding of your skills, what you expect to gain from the Cambridge MBA and potential career outcomes that are specific to you, not a generic MBA wish-list.

We want to see some agency and initiative from you – that you are well researched, realistic and responsible for your choices and career. Wherever you go for your MBA, it is not a golden ticket and requires work and commitment – we want to see this in your essay.

And in general – be succinct, simple, clear and to the point. We wade through a lot of adjectives and hyperbole that disguise rather than enhance the message. Keep it simple and always check your English. You are being taught in English so this is an opportunity to showcase your written communication skills.

CA: How many essays would you wager you’ve read in your tenure at CJBS? Thinking about the essays that have been the most memorable, is there something they have in common?

MO: Hundreds. I would say the most memorable are those that are personal, insightful and specific – they could only be about that person and the thread of their story comes through consistently throughout their application. They have really thought about the Cambridge MBA and what it can bring them – it is not just a tick box to get a brand on their CV.

CA: Could you tell us about your interview process?  Approximately how many applicants do you interview? Who conducts the interview (students, admissions officers, alumni) and what is the nature of the interview (blind, non-blind)?

MO: We conduct several hundred interviews a year; every interview is conducted 121 either on campus, or via Skype, by faculty teaching on the MBA.

Posted in: Admissions Director Q&A, Feature Small, MBA News, News, School Q&A

Schools: Cambridge / Judge

About the Author

Jonathan Pfeffer
Jonathan Pfeffer

Jonathan Pfeffer joined the Clear Admit and MetroMBA teams in 2015 after spending several years as an arts/culture writer, editor, and radio producer. In addition to his role as Contributing Writer at MetroMBA and Contributing Editor at Clear Admit, he is co-founder and lead producer of the Clear Admit MBA Admissions Podcast. He holds a BA in Film/Video, Ethnomusicology, and Media Studies from Oberlin College.

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