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Admissions Director Q&A: Cristina Sassot of Esade

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We head to Barcelona for this edition of our Admissions Director Q&A series. Cristina Sassot is Director of Recruitment & Admissions of the Full Time MBA and Masters of Science in Management at Esade, the first Spanish school to earn the three most prestigious accreditations: AACSB International, EQUIS, and AMBA. Read on to learn about the dynamic and diverse leading MBA program at Esade.

Clear Admit: Name one aspect of your programme that you wish applicants knew more about.

Cristina Sassot, Director of Recruitment & Admissions, Full Time MBA and Masters of Science in Management, Esade

Cristina Sassot: I think everybody knows about our entrepreneurial orientation, diversity, customizability, and our career impact. However, what is difficult to assess from outside the programme is the collaborative spirit and mindset of our students. In all aspects of the Esade MBA, from admissions, the programme, and up to career and alumni activities, we focus on and strengthen these attributes.

Students are initially surprised by the amount of class participation. I have heard that the reaction of exchange students (from top business schools that claim to have a high level of class participation) is ‘why do Esade students talk so much?’

Candidates are also delighted by the number of prestigious guest speakers that our lecturers tend to bring into the lecture room to share their experiences. This is one of the aspects that students tell us they find the most surprising.

Students will also be pleased to know that we do not ‘specialise’ when looking at candidate profiles. We pride ourselves on the diversity of our classes, which in turn gives individuals a unique visibility for job recruiters that is very positive. With this in mind, we created the Invisible but Essential initiative (a project inspired by one of our full time MBA students) that showcases Esade’s student diversity.

CA: How might the applicant experience differ this year due to Covid-19? How would you advise candidates to get to know your MBA programme and student community if they are unable to visit the campus?

CS: Due to Covid-19, the candidate’s experience this year has differed from other years in two main aspects.

Due to travel restrictions, we were unable to have all the in-person interactions that we like to have. Given the situation, the Recruitment and Admissions Team reacted in record time to transform all the scheduled on-campus events into online events in a matter of days. The team even organised different times for the candidates to better adjust to their local time zones, and rescheduled all of the in-person interviews to be online.

In addition to this, the Recruitment and Admissions team designed, implemented, and communicated a new online events calendar involving programme management, Esade Careers, financial aid, and international student advisor teams that guarantee accessibility to candidates in every academic area. Candidates receive the same, or more, attention than they would have received if they had interacted with us face to face.

On the other hand, candidates were unable to visit us on campus and live first-hand the experience of a full-time MBA student, but they have been able to visit our facilities using a virtual campus tour.

Another aspect that has been affected by Covid-19, more related to the admissions process than the actual experience, is that candidates have struggled to take the tests that are part of the admissions requirements: GMAT/GRE and the official English certificate (TOEFL, Cambridge, IELTS, etc.). We reacted quickly, and in a matter of one week we offered candidates the option to take our online versions of the Esade Admissions Test and Esade English Test.

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 meet to discuss it as a group, and so on)?

CS: When the candidate clicks ‘submit,’ they should also send certain documents using the same portal they used to fill in their admission application. This helps us evaluate their candidacy and ensure they fulfil the minimum requirements for our programmes and have an interesting profile. Candidates do not have to submit the application form with the required documents simultaneously. They can submit the documents one by one if they wish.

Once all the documents have been submitted, the application is considered completed and is reviewed by our application manager. If all the information is correct and nothing is missing, the file then goes to the associate director of admissions for their region. We never use external readers to review applications. We always get to know the candidate first-hand. That is why the associate director tracks each candidate from the beginning to the end of the admissions process.

The associate director reviews all of the application and decides whether to invite the candidate for an official interview. All selected applicants are interviewed by an associate director of admissions. Official interviews for the Esade MBA programme can be conducted in person, either in Barcelona, or at one of our international off-campus admissions events. Alternatively, if the candidate cannot attend an admissions event or visit the campus in Barcelona , the interview can be done via Skype.

In the official admissions interview, the associate director will clarify any aspects of the application where there is any doubt. He or she will also emphasise the important aspects that are vital to Esade (such as collaborative leadership, critical thinking, creativity, and communication skills).

After the official interview, the application will be considered by the admissions committee, which includes faculty members and the entire admissions team. All aspects mentioned in the application are taken into consideration. The admissions committee looks at academic performance, professional experience, test scores, international experience, essays, and recommendations. The interview is also a key aspect in the final decision.

The decisions of the admissions committee are final. Candidates will receive an email informing them that they can find the final decision from the admissions committee in their Student Portal.

During the admissions process, candidates will have multiple occasions to interact with the Esade community, including current and former lecturers and students. The recruitment and admissions team will provide these contacts so that if candidates receive other offers, they have all the information needed to make an informed final decision. From start to finish, the entire process takes between four to six weeks from the moment the candidate submits all the application materials, including GMAT scores, English proficiency exams, etc.

CA: How does your team approach the essay part of the application? What are you looking for as you read the essays? Are there common mistakes that applicants should avoid? What is one key thing they should keep in mind as they sit down to write?

CS: The impact of having a cohesive group, of course, is relevant for a programme of any class size, but it is even greater for a relatively small programme like ours, with around 180 students. This is why the essay part of the application is designed to help us get a more complete picture of the candidate, and the impact he or she will have 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 want to become. 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.

There are a few common mistakes. Some candidates do not stick to the questions. While this may sound obvious, candidates should stay on-topic. Candidates should also ensure they send the essay to the right address! We receive essays meant for other business schools 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 candidates really help us to get to know them, their experience in the programme is sure to be unforgettable.

This helps us 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 when we are told that the group is wonderful. Students always ask how we manage to do it. The answer is simple: dedication, passion, and above all, personalisation.

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?

CS: The official admissions interview is mandatory for all potentially admitted candidates. These interviews are always conducted by an associate director of admissions. One of the advantages of having a small group is that we can dedicate more time getting to know each candidate. The official admissions interview is one of the steps of the admissions process in which we dedicate the most time and energy, reaching between 700-800 candidates a year without counting all of the informal interviews that take place before the official interview. We have up to five personal contacts with candidates before their admission to the programme.

CA: Tell us briefly about two notable Esade professors (ideally one student favourite, and one up-and-coming).

CS: One student favourite is Javier Solana. He teaches Global Governance in the 21st Century and is the president of the Esade Center for Global Economy and Geopolitics (EsadeGeo). During his career, he has held various high-level positions. He is a former secretary-general of NATO, European Union high representative for common foreign and security policy, and secretary-general of the Council of the European Union, among other posts. We are grateful to have Professor Solana with us at Esade, and it is extremely enriching for our students to have him sharing his knowledge in the lecture room.

One up-and-coming professor would be Ivanka Visnjic. She teaches innovation and creativity, and is the director of the Institute for Innovation and Knowledge Management. Her research, teaching, and advisory activities are at the intersection of innovation, strategy, and operations management – with a focus on discontinuous technological shifts, disruptive innovation, and business model innovation. She frequently works closely with C-suite and senior management teams at several top global companies, and who she often invites to the classroom. She is a remarkable asset to our FT MBA programme.

CA: Anything else you would like to highlight about your MBA programme or admissions process?

CS: Our MBA class is comparatively small and this enables us to be flexible and personalise student experiences. Many of our applicants are surprised about the kindness they receive throughout the admissions process, as we do not conduct stress interviews, and we are usually fairly quick to give feedback.

We do not believe in putting candidates through unnecessary distress, but rather work as a team to get to know them, understand their expectations, and the ‘non-negotiable’ parts of the MBA experience that they want to pursue. By the end of the admissions process, we usually have a close relationship with candidates, as we really take our time to get to know them.

The programme has a path of self-reflection that students go through. It is not just about learning subjects and theories, but adapting to the demands of companies in the twenty-first century, and helping students step out of their comfort zone to be inspired and grow as individuals – as well as within the community.

Lauren Wakal
Lauren Wakal has been covering the MBA admissions space for more than a decade, from in-depth business school profiles to weekly breaking news and more.