February 17, 2008

Talking Your Way In

For thousands of wannabe MBAs sweating admissions decisions, Wake Forest's Babcock Graduate School of Management has an uncommon solution: Talk more, sweat less.

Instead of waiting for weeks to hear from business schools, applicants in Babcock's "Done in a Day" program get the decision only hours after an all-or-nothing admissions interview. Rather than agonize over syntax in their written application essays, applicants discuss "verbal essays" before an admissions panel that has already pored over the candidate's academic and professional histories.

Stacy Poindexter Owen, director of admissions at Babcock, says the program, which has been in place for several years, was the first one-day business school admissions program in the country. "When we first proposed it, some people in the office said, 'One day? That's crazy!' But the students love it." Students admitted through the program perform as well as those who go through the regular admissions process, she says.

The interview panel is a cross-section of the school. It can comprise admissions officers, professors, career service members, and even alumni. An intimidating group, perhaps, but Anup Dashputre, a Babcock first-year accepted through the program, says the admissions team makes the high-stakes interview feel welcoming.

Real-Time Pitch

"I felt very comfortable in the interview," he says. "It's great for the student because of the limited wait time, but it's also impressive that the school has so much confidence in its new students that it can make the decision in one day."

The quick turnaround is appealing, but there's a risk. Applicants forgo weeks of unhurried essay revising for a high-intensity, real-time pitch -- essentially, B-school application hardball.

Dashputre says the key to winning over the admissions team is to provide a complete answer to the vital question: Why Babcock? "The career management person really hammered into my background and made sure that I could defend my choice of Babcock," he says. "They really drove into that question and had me understand how I fit into the school's programs."

Done in a Day isn't just an attention-grabbing gimmick. Owen says it's a more effective application process because it forces applicants to demonstrate the kind of preparedness and grace under fire required in the business world.

"How many companies are asking for writing samples in the real world?" she says. "Not a lot. It's about the people. We ask some tough questions. We're hard on people. It takes a competent applicant to be able to put up with that."

All or Nothing

It sounds like a practical approach: business schools assessing applicants as self-promoters and pitchmen rather than names and numbers on paper. But Owen knows of only one other one-day admissions program in the country, at William & Mary's Mason School of Business.

In Mason's Fast Track Admissions program, students go to Williamsburg, Va., for a full day of activities that ends with a similar comprehensive interview. Andrew Behringer, a first-year at Mason, says the "whirlwind tour" kept him from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m. hustling across campus for meetings and key interviews. "I talked to first- and second-years, I attended an executive partners program, and I sat in on some classes. It really gave me a better understanding of what the school is all about," he says.

Despite the risks of an all-or-nothing interview, Behringer sees huge advantages in the more personal and immediate assessments offered at Babcock and Mason. "When they decide so quickly, it's fresh in the minds of those who make the decisions," he says. "If you're reading notes from a few months ago, it can get lost in the jumble."

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