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Admissions Director Q&A: Rodrigo Malta of Texas McCombs School of Business

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There are so many new and exciting developments at the Texas McCombs School of Business, Rodrigo Malta couldn’t name just one.  He’s joined us for this Admissions Director Q&A to fill us in on the changing scenery and curriculum at the school, what he wishes more applicants knew about, how the admissions process works, what you may face in an interview and more.

Malta, the Managing Director of MBA Recruitment and Admissions at Texas McCombs, was born and raised in Brazil and moved to the United States in high school. After earning his bachelor’s degree in management from Missouri State University and working for a large telecom company in Kansas City, he pursued an MBA at Texas McCombs.

During his time as an MBA student, Malta was very involved in the McCombs Ambassador Committee – the volunteer group that assists the admissions team with campus visits, interviews, and helping prospective students learn more about Texas McCombs and the MBA application process. This passion for MBA admissions eventually led Malta back to the school and to his current Managing Director role, which he describes as his “dream job.”

Prospective MBA applicants dreaming of earning a Texas MBA would do well to read on for Malta’s insights into the program.

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

Rodrigo Malta, Managing Director of MBA Recruitment and Admissions at Texas McCombs

Rodrigo Malta: We recently moved into a brand-new, world-class facility: Rowling Hall. The new home for our MBA program sits at the intersection of The University of Texas and the Austin business community and is a launch pad for the future. Open, transparent and flexibly designed, the building creates the physical space for our students to engage, collaborate and learn experientially. Rowling Hall has been a game changer for our program and we look forward to leveraging the new space as we roll out a refreshed curriculum for the Class of 2021.

Incoming students joining this fall are the first to go through a refreshed curriculum featuring our innovative, researched-based Leading for Impact course. This course charts a personal leadership journey that spans the entire two years of the full-time MBA program and culminates in an integrated team-based capstone project in their final spring semester. Our goal is to immerse students in their unique leadership development involving key elements of leadership training: assessment, content, practice, reflection and mentorship.

Last but not least, we are really excited to introduce some new analytics-based courses to our curriculum. One of these courses is Performance and Sports Analytics taught by Kirk Goldsberry, ESPN NBA analyst, basketball writer, and former VP of Strategic Research for the San Antonio Spurs. The course highlights the impact of analytics application in broad settings. Analytics is an area of both strength and depth at Texas McCombs. New courses like Performance and Sports Analytics add to the already significant number of data-analytics focused courses across academic departments and disciplines at McCombs.

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

RM: I always like to highlight our Fellows Programs and Investment Funds. A large number of our Full-time MBA incoming students self-identify as career-switchers. The Fellows Programs and Investment Funds at Texas McCombs are great experiential opportunities for students to put their knowledge into action and add something on their resume that signals a potential career switch.

We have over nine Fellows Programs and Investment Funds in different industries and functional areas. These are application-based organizations that usually have an academic component (in the classroom with a group of students going deep into a particular area) and an experiential learning piece that sees the students working with a company or an organization to put into practice what they’re learning in the classroom.

A good example of these programs is Venture Fellows. Around 20 select students take a class to learn more about venture capital (VC) and private equity (PE) where they engage in discussions with successful leaders in the industry. They also intern at a VC or PE firm in Austin during the second and third semesters in the program. The students work hand-in-hand with VCs and their portfolio companies, providing valuable research, operations and analytical support. It’s a great way for our students to get plugged into the VC community.

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.)?

RM: For our Full-Time program, we have three application rounds – October, January and March. Our admissions team considers these “hard” rounds, meaning we do not start reviewing applications until the day after the deadline for the round. If an applicant submits materials a month prior to the deadline, the application won’t be reviewed until after the round closes. From an advice perspective, we recommend that applicants use all the time they need before submitting.

Once the deadline passes, our team conducts an overview read of the applicant file to determine interview invitations. Applications are sorted into ‘Yes,’ ‘Maybe,’ and ‘No’ buckets for interview invitations. We release interview invitations for the ‘Yes’ responses as soon as possible to give the applicants plenty of time to interview. While the applicants are interviewing, the admissions team is reading more applications and releasing additional communications for the ‘Maybe” and ‘No” applications.

3-4 weeks before the decision release date for that particular round, we start to meet as an admissions committee. We bring everyone together and go through a discussion of all of the applicants. During this discussion we also evaluate applicants for potential merit-based scholarship awards. Our goal is for the applicant to receive their admissions decision from Texas McCombs alongside their merit-based scholarship package if one is offered. The admissions committee period is a very intense but exciting time for our team!

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?

RM: Your best chance at successfully answering this year’s application essays comes from approaching them thoughtfully. The purpose of these essays is to understand why you want to attend Texas McCombs, and to learn more about you as an individual.

First and foremost, we’re always looking for the applicant to truly answer the essay prompt. This is a big pet peeve for me since it’s something that is easily avoidable. Whenever you’re submitting an essay response, make sure you’re answering the question being asked and not going off topic!

We understand that applicants are exploring a lot of different schools. We agree with this approach, but during the application process, the essays are the main vehicle available for you to speak to us in your own voice and let us know why our specific MBA program is right for you– so be authentic and specific when answering the essay prompts. Do not repackage an essay from another school. If an essay is too general, it doesn’t really offer any value.

We also have a unique essay #1, where we give applicants the option to choose between writing an essay or submitting a video answer to the prompt. It is important for applicants to understand that we don’t prefer one communication medium to another. It’s up to the applicant to pick the option they’re most comfortable with. Overall, over 20% of our applicant pool chooses to submit a video response to the essay prompt, so the majority of applicants are still writing essays. And, there is not an admit rate difference when submitting a video response vs. a written essay.

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

RM: During my 10+ year tenure in admissions at Texas McCombs, I have read thousands of essays. Many were great, but some left a bit to be desired. Essays that are memorable, in a positive manner, answer the essay prompt clearly and concisely. They also demonstrate strong research (of the MBA and/or business school), introspection and authenticity. Last but not least, the most memorable essays complement other application requirements, providing the admissions committee with insight on who you are (professionally and personally) and what drives you.

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)?

RM: After you submit your MBA application, you may receive an invitation to interview. The number of interview invitations varies significantly by round and by admissions cycle.

There are four different interview types:

  • On-campus with a second-year McCombs Ambassador Committee (MAC) student,
  • Via video conference/call with a second-year MAC student,
  • Off-campus in your local city with an alumni interviewer,
  • Off-campus in specific cities with an admissions officer

Texas McCombs has an online interview calendar from which you can select an interview slot that works with your schedule. We will inform you of the last date your interview needs to be completed. The only exception to this is booking an interview in your local city with an alumni interviewer; that process is slightly different, but we provide the step-by-step instructions in our interview invitation communications.

All of our student interviewers, alumni volunteer interviewers, and admissions officers are fully trained on conducting an interview that is professional, fair, impartial and helpful. Interviews are blind, which means the interviewer has not read your application. Interviews typically last anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour.

Some applicants may look forward to an interview but many may feel nervous (which is natural). If you are nervous, some key advice: The interview affords one of the only formal opportunities for official face-to-face interaction during the MBA application process– seize it. This interview can be just the thing the admissions committee needs to stitch together the rest of your application elements and we really do enjoy getting to know you!

CA: Anything else you would like to add?

RM: We have several UT-Austin and Texas McCombs MBA alumni on our admissions, student services and career teams. You can never tell us enough about how you want to go to school here and why. Please remember, that “why” piece is really important. You should demonstrate the research you have done about why Texas McCombs is the right school for you.

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 was also a co-founder of the Clear Admit MBA Admissions Podcast. He holds a BA in Film/Video, Ethnomusicology, and Media Studies from Oberlin College.