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Admissions Director Q&A: Steven Ji of CEIBS

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Steven Ji, the assistant director of the MBA Marketing, Admissions & Financial Aid Department at CEIBS, joins us to talk about the leading MBA program in this edition of our Admissions Director Q&A series. Ji joined the CEIBS MBA Admissions Department as his first job after graduating from Shanghai Jiao Tong University in 1999. He also received his Diploma in Management from the Executive Education Programme at CEIBS in 2008. Read on for his insights into what makes a great admissions essay, the program’s hallmark courses, what to expect in your admissions interview and more.

Lihao (Steven) Ji, Assistant Director, MBA Marketing, Admissions & Financial Aid Dept. at CEIBS

Clear Admit: What is the one aspect of your program that you wish applicants knew more about?
Steven Ji: The mentorship programme. It’s true most schools will have similar initiatives in place, but few rival CEIBS for the sheer breadth and depth of the programme. As part of the leadership journey in term one, MBAs will go through a matching process with CEIBS alums who have graduated from our degree and non-degree programmes. So far, we have had over 800 executives give up their time to support our MBAs’ development.

In addition to this flagship mentorship programme, we also have peer-mentorship, whereby recent graduates work with students in a one-on-one capacity to get the most out of the MBA programme. We also have entrepreneurship mentors and faculty mentors who work with MBAs to guide them through the compulsory Integrated China Strategy Project.

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?
SJ: So, when we receive an application, the first step is for my colleagues to conduct the initial review of the application materials. We read the essays, letters of recommendations, check the GMAT scores and watch their videos in order to make a preliminary evaluate of candidate’s fit with the programme and academic prowess.

After that, we invite the qualified ones in for an interview, either at our campuses throughout China or online. The interview will typically be conducted by a professor who teaches MBA and a non-academic member of staff from the programme. They are both looking to understand what you will be like in class, what value you can bring to the CEIBS community and what do you want to do with your MBA after you graduate.

Once the interviewers submit their feedback about the candidate, its over to the Admissions Committee and Scholarship Committee to decide who to offer places to. So typically, it takes around one month from the application deadline to receiving a decision.

CA: How does your team approach the essay portion of the application specifically? What are you looking for as you read an essay? 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?
SJ: We use the content of candidates’ essays to generate many of the questions asked at the interview stage. For example, if you talk about how blockchain is going to change the world and the role you are going to play, we will absolutely ask you about that. What are the trends, what are the challenges and more importantly, what is your opinion? We do this in order to see the alignment with CEIBS and the resources we have to offer as a business school, but also to understand what you will be like in the classroom and the value you can bring to peers.

One common mistake is talk about the MBA in broad strokes. An essay is much more impactful when the candidate talks specifically about the CEIBS MBA. It is true there are many similarities with the top tier programmes around the world, but by doing your research, speaking to students and alums, and identifying specific resources or opportunities on CEIBS MBA, you can easily turn a good essay into a great essay. 

CA: Could you tell us about the CEIBS MBA 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 (resume-based, behavioral)?
SJ: Sitting across from an MBA candidate at the interview will typically be one member of faculty (who teaches on the programme) and one non-academic staff from the MBA’s Admissions, Programme or Career Development teams. The interview will be guided by the candidate’s essay responses, but will also include some standard getting-to-know-you questions and hypothetical scenarios.

The interview will conclude giving the candidate an opportunity to ask questions. My advice is to not waste this window, either to find out something new about the programme or to leave a lasting impression.

CA: What is your testing policy? Do you offer exam waivers? Why or why not?
SJ: No test waivers. We accept the GMAT or GRE. Or candidates have the option to take our own in-house CEIBS Admission test, which is typically conducted twice a year. We rolled out an online version this year, giving prospects overseas greater flexibility, so watch our site for more details.

CA: Tell us briefly about two popular courses at your institution.
SJ: Firstly, an elective called ‘Rethinking Strategy in a Digital World’ taught by Professor Jeffery Sampler. We often receive very good feedback on this course, focusing on how to apply and adapt some of the common frameworks learnt at business school to increasingly digital business models. Given the digital disruption we are witnessing in China, this is definitely a must take elective.

The second one I would recommend takes our students outside of campus, to the harsh terrain of the Gobi desert in Northern China. The ‘Leadership in Action’ China module sees our MBAs team up with EMBA students for a series of leadership development challenges and reflections set across a grueling 88km trek through the desert.

CA: As we learn to live with COVID-19, campuses have opened up and students are back. What about prospective students? Will they have the opportunity to visit campus? Will admissions interviews be conducted virtually?
SJ: The situation in China, as of summer 2022, is still a dynamic one. We have had some admissions activities on campus and others have continued online. Like everywhere in the world, we have just had to learn to pivot very quickly. If candidates are in China and wish to visit campus or join an in-person event, we will certainly have a number of activities in the pipeline for you to get to know us better.

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.