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Admissions Director Q&A: Maria Pineda of the University of Maryland Smith School of Business

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We welcome back Senior Director of Admissions Maria Pineda of the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business for this installment of our Admissions Director Q&A series.

Pineda has been with UMD Smith for over 15 years, and manages the recruiting efforts for Full-Time MBA and Specialty Master’s Programs. She joins us again this year for an update on the MBA admissions process, what to expect during the interview, what makes a great essay, and more.

Maria Pineda, Senior Director of Admissions at The University of Maryland

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

Maria Pineda: We are a not-so-hidden gem! We are located between Baltimore, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. Our campus is picturesque — what one would expect from a 1,250-acre suburban campus — lush green lawns, traditional campus buildings, sports arenas, centers, dining halls…the works! All this and we are so close to Washington, D.C. There’s a College Park Station connected to the D.C. metro system. At Maryland Smith students can enjoy the traditional campus setting while still having access to major metropolitan areas.

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?  

MP: Once an application is received and deemed complete, it is independently reviewed by two admissions officers. Every aspect of the application is considered at this stage — pre-MBA career, aspirational goals, potential academic success, etc. If we have further questions, we will invite the applicant to an interview. Since the academic assessment happens during the first two reads, the interviewer will only review the candidate’s résumé and essay(s). During the interview, we want to get to know you, learn about your goals and career plans. We also want to learn about your potential contribution to the community as well as how Maryland Smith can help you succeed both in the short and long term. After the interview, the admissions committee takes a holistic review of all applications and confers all final decisions. The committee is composed of leadership from several departments. We want to ensure all future Maryland Smith MBA students will meet the academic rigor of the program, contribute to the community, and secure a post-MBA position that aligns with their goals.

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?

MP: At least three admissions committee members will read your essay, so make sure it conveys your truths. Help us understand your thought process, your future plans and your expectations. Communicate your understanding of how Maryland Smith can help you grow as a strong individual. Hearing your perspective helps us learn more about you. Great essays are authentic. We want to know who you are and where you want to go. If we know these facts, we can determine how Maryland Smith can bridge the gap between where you are now, and your post-MBA goals. We want your essay to be concise; however, we want you to ensure you include relevant details not found anywhere else in your application. When you sit down to write your essay, remember that this is the only forward-thinking aspect of your application. All other components that you will submit are historical information. Use this real estate to shed light on who you are and where you want to be.

CA: Could you tell us about the Maryland Smith admissions 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, application-based, behavioral)? Will the Maryland Smith admissions interviews be in-person or virtual for the 2024-2025 admissions season? 

MP: Interviews are hosted both in-person and virtually by alumni and admissions staff members. You might not know who will conduct your interview ahead of time, but that’s ok. We do not need you to prepare for who you will be speaking with; we want you to prepare for the program. Since we interview about half of the applicants, if you are invited to interview, get excited! Think of the admissions interview as a job interview. You approach the conversation ready to discuss how you can meet the academic rigor of the program and grow professionally, regardless of who the interviewer may be. During the interview, make sure you highlight your profile beyond the submitted application materials. You may be asked about information on your application, résumé, goals, as well as some behavioral questions. Be confident in what you have to offer and humble enough to know you do not know everything, just yet! Don’t forget to articulate what you want to do during the MBA program as well as your post-MBA goals.

CA: What is your testing policy? Do you offer exam waivers? Why or why not?

MP: Maryland Smith’s Full-Time MBA program does not require a standardized test. If you want to submit a standardized test score, you may submit a GMAT and/or GRE test score. Maryland Smith wants to give you the flexibility to make the choice that is best for you. However, international students who did not complete their bachelor’s degree in a country where English is the primary language are still required to submit English proficiency test results. We accept the TOEFL, IELTS, and PTE tests.

CA: In the application data form, many schools ask for information about work experience, activities, hobbies, and much more. What advice would you give to applicants as they approach this component of the application process?

MP: We ask these questions with hopes of getting to know you. We recommend you take a moment to reflect on these questions to ensure you are communicating your story. Let us know where you work and what you do, what interests do you have. This is where we get to know you outside of work and school, so some questions are more qualitative. When the admissions committee reviews your application, we may discuss your interests and what is important to you as a citizen of the world. We want to get to know you as an individual. There are no right or wrong answers – our aim is to learn more about your experiences and see how you can contribute to our community. We understand everyone has a story to tell, so let us hear yours. 

CA: Tell us briefly about two popular courses at your institution.

MP: Smith students can enjoy experiential learning opportunities where they apply classroom concepts to create real-world business solutions. Our AI and Business Strategy specialization courses spur understanding and strategic use of AI. Students analyze real business cases addressing the numerous uses and functionalities of AI in business. The curriculum focuses on AI’s value, return on investment, ethical use, short- and long-term impacts, and the future of work itself and is ideal for students looking to excel in business positions requiring cutting-edge technological solutions. In our Innovation and Product Development course, students put marketing concepts into practice by working with organizations with a marketing challenge around product development. With a customer-centric approach, the course focuses on how to develop and bring to market effective and efficient solutions to meet customer needs. 

CA: Is there anything else you’d like to highlight about the Maryland Smith MBA program or admissions process?

MP: We want to get to know you. Connect with us. Admissions officers can be your first point of contact and would love to share more about Maryland Smith. Current students can tell you about their experience. We want you to know about the great offerings we have at Smith and how we can help you transform your professional and personal life!

Christina Griffith
Christina Griffith is a writer and editor based in Philadelphia. She specializes in covering education, science, and history, and has experience in research and interviews, magazine content, and web content writing.