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Admissions Director Q&A: Tricia Baione of Columbia Business School

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Meet Tricia Baione, Assistant Dean of Admissions for Columbia Business School (CBS), in this edition of our Admissions Director Q&A series. 

Tricia was appointed in September 2023 as the Assistant Dean of Admissions to provide strategic leadership, vision, and coordination of a centralized recruitment program and admissions office for all CBS’s degree programs. She joined the School’s Career Management Center (CMC) in 2011 where she was previously the Executive Director of Career Education and Advising. She earned her MBA in 2009 from CBS, with a concentration in marketing and management.   

Keep reading for Tricia’s insights into the MBA program at Columbia, her advice on how to put your best foot forward in the application process, and more. 

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

Tricia Baione, Assistant Dean of Admissions for Columbia Business School (CBS)

Tricia Baione: CBS intentionally provides students with academic and community opportunities to make connections through their personal and professional interests. This ground-up approach to campus involvement creates a lively campus environment for all students to feel a sense of belonging, agency, and partnership. It’s common for students to participate actively in clubs and organizations and hold two to three leadership positions starting from their first semester in the full-time MBA program. There’s a pay-it-forward culture of the student body where students want to help each other and the greater community thrive academically, professionally, and personally. Another unique way our students can explore their interests and make connections is through our Executives in Residence Program. Students can connect one-on-one with 25+ retired or semi-retired C-level executives to learn from experiences across various industries. Conversations typically cover long-term career goals, business ideas, and creative problem-solving approaches.

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?

TB: After submission, each application undergoes a holistic review by various Admissions Officers to fully understand the applicant’s journey. After this comprehensive review, a decision is made regarding whether the applicant is invited for an interview. Our interviews are conducted virtually by second-year students, admissions officers, and alumni, who are excited to continue the CBS tradition of paying it forward by interviewing potential students. After the interview, the committee reviews the interview report, together with the entire application, then will Admit, Deny, or Waitlist. If an applicant is waitlisted, it means the committee is interested in their candidacy and would like to learn more, should space be available. 

CA: Can you tell us more about your shift from rolling admissions to the more traditional rounds of deadlines? How did this come about and why did you make this change?

TB: Starting with the August 2024 entry term for the MBA, we transitioned from rolling admissions to a round-based system, mirroring the practices of our peers. This change was driven by our desire to streamline the application process, making it clearer and reducing barriers to entry for all potential students. It provides for a better applicant experience–students who are applying to multiple schools are able to evaluate the best program for their goals if admitted to more than one. 

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?

TB: Authenticity! We want to know you, not what chatGPT has to say. Essays are our favorite application components as they offer us a glimpse into who the applicant is and how they might contribute to our community. When crafting the essays, applicants should ensure they address the prompt directly. A helpful tip is to share your initial and final drafts with someone who knows you well but is not directly involved in the application process or is overly familiar with the essay prompts. For many applicants, this might be a parent, sibling, trusted friend, or colleague. This can help gauge if your answer’s essence and motivations shine through. During my tenure as a career advisor at CBS, I often reminded students to revisit their application essays. Looking back on them can be an important reminder about their motivations for pursuing an MBA and why they chose CBS, so they stay true to themselves and are not distracted by the goals and priorities of their peers. 

CA: Could you tell us about the Columbia MBA 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 your admissions interviews be in-person or virtual for the 2024-2025 admissions season?

TB: Interviews are an integral part of our admissions process and are by invitation only, serving as a key factor in our final review. They are conducted by alumni, second-year student leaders, and admissions officers. If invited, you sign up for an interview for the date and time that meets your schedule, and you won’t know who is interviewing you until the day before the interview; interviewers only have access to the student’s resume. Interviews, which are resume- and behavioral-based, are virtual to provide a consistent experience for all interviewed candidates. After the interview, the committee assesses the entire application, including the feedback from the interviewer, before making a final decision.

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

TB: We are test-agnostic, and the GMAT, GRE, and EA are considered equally important. While we don’t provide exam waivers for the MBA, we give students the flexibility to submit scores from the test in which they performed the best. We encourage applicants to report all their scores, allowing us to observe any positive trends in score progression.

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?

TB: When approaching the application component that asks for work experience, activities, and hobbies, be authentic and reflective, highlighting how your experiences have shaped your personal and professional growth. Showcase leadership and impact through specific examples where you have made a difference while providing a balanced profile that includes your extracurricular activities and unique interests. Align your responses with the values and strengths of the MBA program to demonstrate your fit. Finally, be concise and structured in your responses, ensuring clarity and relevance to build a cohesive narrative about your candidacy.

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

TB: Two standout courses in our MBA program include:

  • Launch Your Startup: This course dives into the intricate process of starting a new business. Students, individually or in pairs, are tasked with developing a robust presentation of a genuine business concept throughout the term. It also covers in-depth market analysis, designing a product or service, crafting a marketing campaign, assessing human resource needs, and constructing a realistic financial forecast.
  • Python for MBAs: In today’s dynamic business landscape, effective decision-makers must possess an intuitive grasp of statistics, math, and programming, as these form the backbone of real-time analytics and decision-making processes. This course aims to give you an understanding of the analytical side of the decision-making cycle, focusing on programming as the element that “glues” the collection, transformation, visualization, and analysis of data together.

CA: Is there anything else you’d like to highlight about your MBA program or Columbia admissions process?

TB: CBS offers a vast number of electives, surpassing many of our peer institutions, which provides students with the flexibility and freedom to tailor their education to their specific interests and career goals. This year, we will launch Curriculum Pathways in our MBA program to help students choose elective courses that align with their career goals. With 17 pathways, including asset management, climate, data analytics, entrepreneurship, healthcare, and private equity, students will gain practical skills and knowledge relevant to their educational goals and professional journey.

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.