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Admissions Director Q&A: Mikale Elliott of WashU Olin

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In this edition of our Admissions Director Q&A series, we land in St. Louis, Missouri, to learn about Washington University’s Olin Business School. Mikale Elliott, Graduate Programs Recruiter at WashU, spent her undergraduate career at the University of Missouri–Columbia studying business communication and gaining experience recruiting underrepresented minorities. After graduating, she took a non-traditional pathway working as a flight attendant for a few years. Eventually, she returned to higher education to work on an HIV prevention research project. Through all of these pivots, the thing that brought her back to admissions was her passion for others from diverse backgrounds to reach their goals. She is currently pursuing a Master of Adult and Higher Education and has worked as a graduate programs recruiter for WashU Olin for just over two years.

Read on for Mikale’s insights into the WashU Olin MBA program, what to expect in admissions and more.

Clear Admit: What is the one aspect of your program that you wish applicants knew more about?
Mikale Elliott: One cornerstone of our program I wish our applicants knew more about was our Center for Experiential Learning. Whether you are a career explorer or an accelerator or the Center for Experiential Learning gives our students ample opportunity to get hands-on consulting experience with organizations of all types. Students have worked with everything from small businesses in the St. Louis area to startups in the Bay Area to the Ecuadorian Soccer Federation. Whether you are looking to get your feet wet in a new industry or gain leadership skills, those experiences can be leveraged for internship interviews or full-time opportunities.

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?
ME: Once we receive a submitted or completed application, the student’s recruiter reviews the application to ensure that each piece has been completed in its entirety. Then our file review team assesses the candidate’s application and decides whether or not to invite them to interview. At that point, the applicant sets up a time to meet with a member of our team, and after the interview, the interviewer submits a report to the admissions committee. The applicant receives a second review, and the admissions committee then meets to decide on that candidate.

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?
ME: The essays are students’ first opportunity to share their stories with our team. When reviewing students’ essays, the admissions committee wants to understand who you are, where you’ve been, where you want to go and how WashU Olin fits into that story. We want to understand what is motivating you to pursue graduate education and if there is any bigger purpose moving you. Students should be able to talk about what they have to contribute to the classroom environment. We also want students to be reflective and share some opportunities for growth that the MBA program might support.

Often, students do not answer the prompt or just recall what is on their resume. Make sure to proofread and double-check that you have answered OUR essays instead of using the same essays for each school. (We can tell.) Students have even uploaded essays with another school name, believe it or not!

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 (resume-based, behavioral)?
ME: Students technically go through two interviews, one video interview and one with a member of the Olin community. The video interview is a part of the application itself. Students are required to record their answers to 3 to 5 questions from a pool of questions asking them about themselves, their background and motivations for pursuing the MBA program. After going through file review, selected students are invited to interview over Zoom or in person. This interview could be held by an admissions committee member, recruitment team member, career services member, an alum, or even a student ambassador. The interview is another opportunity for candidates to share their stories. We will seek to learn more about you, your values, experience and motivations. We do not include behavioral questions or hold case interviews to evaluate candidates. There is no set number for interview invites.

CA: What is your testing policy? Do you offer exam waivers? Why or why not?
ME: The GMAT or GRE test is one part of the application used to evaluate academic ability. We have no preference for one test over the other, and it is a recommended component of the application. Applicants may choose to apply without a standardized test score if they meet one of our waiver criteria listed on our website. Ultimately, the admissions committee seeks to understand students’ preparedness for the quantitative rigor of the program. If a student has questions about their background and if they qualify for a waiver, they should schedule a consultation with a member of the recruitment team.

CA: Tell us briefly about two popular courses at your institution.
ME: The Hatchery (Business Planning for New Enterprises) is a famous course at Olin!

In this course, student teams pursue their own business idea or support community entrepreneurs by researching, writing and pitching business plans for new commercial or social ventures. Enrolled students can recruit a team to work on their own business idea or can join a team working on another’s idea.

Most of the work for this course is done outside the classroom with the support of mentors, advisors and the instructor(s). At the midterm and the end of the semester, students give presentations to a panel of outside judges, including faculty, venture capitalists, angel investors, philanthropists, funding agencies, experienced entrepreneurs and individuals involved with early-stage ventures.

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?
ME: Thankfully, we can now hold in-person interviews and have a few visits scheduled for the upcoming school year. I encourage students to reference WashU’s COVID-19 response page for guidance on best practices.

CA: Is there anything else you’d like to highlight about your MBA program or admissions process?
ME: We are uniquely interested in understanding you as an individual. As cliché as it sounds, be yourself! Your story is yours to tell, and we are truly seeking to know every student “by name and by story.” Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable during the application process.

I encourage students to lean into the pillars of our curriculum: being values-based and data-driven, global and experiential, and entrepreneurial and innovative. Many students are passionate about changing the world, for good, and lean into our ethics-centered approach to understanding business solutions. Our global immersion and hands-on opportunities attract a diverse student population from every corner of the earth (18 countries in the last cohort alone!). Our unique approach to entrepreneurship curriculum and problem-solving creates a spirit of innovation throughout the program regardless of platform or concentration area.

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.