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Be sure to read my Key Posts on the admissions process. Topics include essay analysis, resumes, recommendations, rankings, and more.

February 10, 2008

Q&A with RSM MBA Director of Admissions

As I discussed in a previous post focused on my analysis of essay questions, RSM Erasmus University's International Full-Time MBA Program is a truly international program offering great ROI to graduates. Kirt Wood, the Director of Marketing and Admissions at RSM was kind enough to provide some really great advice for applicants.
Kirt was kind enough to provide the following profile (Always good to know who the admissions director is!):
Kirt Wood is an American (with a Chilean father) who has lived and worked in Europe since 2000. Kirt joined the RSM Erasmus University as the Director of Marketing & Admissions, MBA Programmes in 2006. Kirt has spent 17 years working with institutions of higher learning in the U.S., Asia, and France in a variety of capacities: as student services coordinator, teacher, director of studies, development manager, and director. His years at UC Berkeley set the stage for a lifetime dedicated to quality education, diversity in a learning environment and personalized counseling. Kirt holds a Master’s degree in Consulting in Education from Paris V, Rene Descartes – La Sorbonne, an RSA Cambridge teaching credential and completed his Bachelor’s at U.C.Davis in International Relations. Kirt, his French wife, and three year old daughter truly enjoy living in the Netherlands and spend as much time as possible on bicycles!

Now for the interview:

Are there any common characteristics among those who best fit RSM?

Kirt: RSM Erasmus MBA participants are highly motivated and determined to attain satisfying management positions, often with major companies and organizations. What makes them unique is their sense of adventure and global scope. As RSM is 96% international, our participants come from all over the world. They are risk takers and are taking steps to reposition themselves in a truly diverse global marketplace. They will leverage their professional and life experiences, language skills, hard and complex skills as well as their sense of ethics and creativity. All of these areas are emphasized on the RSM MBA.
Adam: Can someone with very little international experience get into RSM?

Kirt: Having “international experience” is not a requirement for admission. However, openness to total diversity and global business practices is essential. A candidate who acknowledges that they wish to undertake the RSM Erasmus MBA Programme because they desire to increase their understanding of global business practices and “manage in a diverse world, as well as demonstrate strong motivation and career plans in this direction, is always welcome on our programme.

Adam: What is campus life like at RSM?

Kirt: Rare in Europe is the “American-style” campus. Here at RSM Erasmus, however, we enjoy an enormous campus with more than 25 buildings (most of them modern and attractive), many student restaurants, high-tech plug ins and wi-fi, a fabulous sports/fitness center, tennis courts and, yes, a pub on campus! The library, however, is a bit disappointing. Available during the days – closed for the most part on weekends. There are many campus magazines, clubs and organizations. Many cultural and sporting events are organized as well. MBA’s tend to set themselves apart (like in most major universities I think) and create their own clubs, events and parties. This has, over the years, been the resounding success of the RSM when speaking with alumni all over the world. They have cherished memories of student life and the collegial “family-like” atmosphere of the “J Building” (MBA Building).

Adam: What is Rotterdam like? Why would I want to spend 15 months there?

Kirt: I think it key to remember that our participants are, like other top MBA participants, seeking career growth opportunities. This means 15 months goes very quickly and the programme is action-packed. On top of study and preparation of projects, students are networking and job seeking. 4 months of the programme is spent working with a major company in an associateship position. (11 months + 4 months associateship). In short, time flies!

Rotterdam is, however, a lovely European city. Honestly, not too big, not too small. It has an impeccable transport system, bike paths everywhere and a charming and sophisticated downtown. It is key to understand that, in addition to being the largest port in Europe (2nd largest in the world), Rotterdam is located on the Southern end of a strip that runs from Amsterdam to Rotterdam. The Netherlands is the only European country to offer “expat status” to companies as well as individuals.

Adam: Since you don’t require an English test like TOEFL, how do you measure English language ability for those who are not native English speakers?

Kirt: At RSM, we do not require a TOEFL,TOEIC or IELTS exam. (although
we reserve the right to do so if we are concerned.) We use the GMAT score to gain some insight into language skills. However, we have a very rigorous interviewing process. Candidates that cannot effectively express their ideas and demonstrate that they can function at an MBA level in team situations, will, most likely, not be admitted. Candidates targeting the RSM MBA need to really concentrate on writing a good application (their own writing, of course!) and prepare thoroughly for their interview. (I have been known to “spot check” a candidate by calling them at an unannounced time on their mobile phone!)

Adam: What kind of GMAT score is usually required for admission and how flexible are you about admitting applicants with scores below the 80% range?

Kirt: A GMAT is only one small part of the entire application. Our average is 640 and we believe that candidates who drop below 60% in the quantitative area may struggle with the analytical aspects of the MBA. We need them to be able to “hit the ground running”. We publish no minimum score. Naturally, for non-native speakers of English, the verbal and written sections are going to factor in most heavily during the application evaluation process. Also, we will examine transcripts to see how a candidate performed in various subject areas. Great transcripts, however, cannot be accepted in place of a poor GMAT score. We will, however, attempt to view the GMAT in the context of the complete application including essays and interviews.

Adam: If an applicant’s GPA is lower than 3.0 on the 4.0 scale, what do you suggest they do to demonstrate their academic potential to succeed at RSM?
Kirt: European systems generally are pass/fail systems. Although we do look at GPA, we do not view grades the same way U.S. institutions do. GPA is a very North American term. We will of course, carefully examine academic performance. Our candidates, however, come from all over the world and, frankly, they each have their own grading systems and standards. (Our true challenge! If only it were so easy to have an international standard GPA!)

However, grades must also be considered in the context of both the years of professional experience and the quality of that professional experience (bolstered of course by very strong professional letters of recommendation.) Sometimes, post Bachelor’s degree, people begin to blossom and thrive. (Results are no longer measured with “grades” but with goals and targets that feel more tangible) This means that the academic arena may not have been the best environment for growth for the individual – or they thrive when learning becomes applied. Because an MBA offers a nice balance between academic and practical aspects, we will look to admit those who, though maybe not a valedictorian, have demonstrated clear professional progress since graduating college. Naturally, good grades enhance an application and are valued at RSM.

Adam: How important are recommendations? What constitutes a great recommendation?

Kirt: Recommendation letters are very important to the RSM MBA application. I highly recommend that potential MBA candidates spend time speaking with their recommenders and encouraging them to be as complete (concise is ok) and precise as possible regarding the candidates performance. A great recommendation letter will come from the highest person within the candidate’s organization who can accurately discuss the candidate’s job performance and progression within the company. A recommendation from a professor the candidate had 5 years ago has minimal impact on a strong MBA candidate’s application. Occasionally, MBA candidates are unable to ask for recommendations from their direct supervisor. In this case, again, I recommend a candidate finds a professional with whom they work (senior to them) who will be able to accurately describe their performance in the workplace.

Adam: How important is the interview?

Kirt: The interview at RSM is assuredly the most critical factor in the MBA application. Only a candidate who has been pre-selected can be interviewed. This means, if a candidate is offered an interview, we clearly see strength in their application. We will attempt to “affirm” what we have found in the application. But the interview truly becomes the opportunity for an MBA candidate to “shine” - to discuss themselves in detail and to engage in conversation giving a more well-rounded impression of their goals and potential.

Adam: How would you differentiate RSM from internationally focused MBA programs like Georgetown and Thunderbird in the US?

Kirt: Georgetown and Thunderbird are good schools, clearly and have done a very effective job of marketing their international focus. I think that, in spite of their strong desires to create internationally-focused programmes within the U.S., these schools still remain very rooted in U.S. best practices and draw the large part of their students and faculty from the U.S. This is not the case for the RSM Erasmus University that, although located in the Netherlands, draws its faculty and student base from all around the world. The Dutch have never been a majority at RSM within our full-time MBA Programme and our faculty, the Dean and corporate umbrella all reflect our multinational nature. We not only, however, claim to be international, we claim to be about total diversity…which, you surely know, goes beyond a mere passport to issues of religion, race, gender…

Adam: How do you compare your program to other top European programs?

Kirt: We are happy to be among them. Like Europe itself, European MBA’s each have their own cultures and driving forces…each unique, each worth exploring. RSM is about quality general management in an inspiring and collegial environment. We create a space where young managers can safely experiment, learn and grow while building personal and professional networks that they will keep for the rest of their careers and lives. Because of our size, I think we are able to offer a truly quality MBA experience. I think what has been created at RSM is absolutely unique!

Adam: How important are campus visits? Do you keep track of who visits? Does a visit impact an applicant’s chance for admission?

Kirt: Undertaking an MBA is like getting married. A campus visit is part of the dating process. This can happen in reality as well as virtually. Naturally, the most intense period of “getting to know each other” happens face to face, so we recommend the visit. It is not possible for everyone, so it is not a requirement. Those who do not come for a visit, however, have a greater “leap of faith” to make when ultimately deciding on the right MBA programme for them.

We do believe that campus visits help manage expectations of our MBA candidates and ensures that the marriage, in the long term, will be beneficial to both parties.

Hospitality in the Netherlands is an art form. All of our visitors are important to us and will, of course, be remembered. However, we strive to maintain close relationships with all those who contact us, regardless of the means by which they do so.

Adam: How often does RSM waitlist applicants? Can you provide some information about that?

Kirt: RSM uses wait-listing occasionally. Because we seek balance in all areas, if we see that our MBA class is losing that balance of diversity, we will employ a wait-list. During these times, however, we give strong feedback to candidates and communicate regularly with them with respect to their admission status. We know how stressful the application process can be.

Adam: Can applicants get in touch with alums and current students? How?

Absolutely! RSM is all about transparency. How could anyone be expected to commit to an MBA without knowing who they will be involved with? Since we take a one-to-one counseling-based approach to admissions, candidates who wish to communicate with our participants and alumni need to, of course, share a little about themselves and their interest in doing an MBA at RSM. At which point, our Marketing and Admissions Managers are prepared to guide them to key people who can give them the information they require. This can include participants, partners, alumni, faculty or staff. mba.info@rsm.nl

Adam: Can applicants get in touch with faculty members who they have a strong desire to work with?

Kirt: Again, once candidates have a well-established relationship with our Marketing and Admissions Managers, we guide them to the appropriate person to answer their questions and deal with their concerns. For many participants, meeting faculty is key. We travel around the world and offer info sessions (as you have already attended one!), offer open days and campus visits and, many of the professors have blog spaces to help give more access to the general public.

Adam: What is the age cutoff for the International Full-time MBA?

Kirt: We have no age cut-off. We are committed to “total diversity” (and this includes age). Our average age range is between 26 and 34 years old. (we’ve had 40 year olds and 22 year olds exceptionally!) However, we are concerned about how maturity will fit in with the fit of the overall class. I recommend candidates communicate with us throughout the admissions process and they can expect honesty on our part regarding their age and how this will affect any admissions decision.

Adam: What changes to do you expect to see at RSM in the coming years?

Kirt: The RSM Erasmus University has recently taken on a new Dean, George Yip, who brings with him a wealth of knowledge and experience in the international educational arena. We await big changes under his stewardship!
If you are interested in RSM’s Full-Time or other MBA offerings, please see their site for more information. For Fall 2008, you need to apply by July 15th. If you have the opportunity to attend an information session or, better yet, visit the campus, I strongly suggest doing so.

Questions? Write comments or contact me directly at adammarkus@gmail.com. Please see my FAQ regarding the types of questions I will respond to.

-Adam Markus

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