Masters of Business Administration admissions questions - Shari Sekel: Brock University Faculty of Business - Interview

Shari Sekel, of the Brock University Faculty of Business was kind enough to take the time to answer a few questions about the Brock University Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs, the faculty admissions process, and about applying for attaining the MBA degree in general.

Shari Sekel described the popularity of the MBA degree, what potential students need to know about the admissions process, and how the school will help students achieve the educational goals that are right for the individual.

Thanks to Shari Sekel for her time, and for her very informative and comprehensive responses. They are greatly appreciated.

Why have Masters of Business Administration (MBA) become so popular in recent years?

Shari Sekel: I think that the MBA has always been a popular degree in certain markets. Where we have seen a lot of growth in the industry, however, is in the expanded reach to different types of students. As an example, we now see several programs (including Brock’s) which do not require work experience. When combined with co-op opportunities, the MBA becomes an attractive opportunity for students fresh from undergraduate studies – those who want to set themselves apart from their job-seeking colleagues by achieving the MBA at the commencement of their careers.

We found this was particularly true in 2008 and 2009 when new bachelors grads were faced with a tight job market – the MBA was a way to wait out the economic downturn while setting themselves up with a qualification that would help them accelerate their career progression in future years.

The other area where we have seen a lot of growth in MBA offerings in Canada is the international student marketplace. The global economy of the 21st century demands leaders who are trained in business theory and practices beyond the borders of individual countries. We see a lot more partnerships between business schools in different parts of the world, greater international exchange opportunities for MBA students and a great value placed on the rich cultural diversity that international students bring to classroom discussion and group projects in an MBA program.

With so many students applying for limited MBA spaces, what crucial challenges do students face in their application process?

Shari Sekel: Applying to graduate school, similar to applying for job opportunities, is all about differentiating yourself from the rest of the applicant pool. Students can stand out through strong GMATs and GPAs but there are also other ways that students can bolster their applications. As an example, leadership experience – both paid and volunteer – should be highlighted in any MBA application.

The personal statement (also known as the statement of interest) is important because it can help admissions personnel assess applicant/program fit. I always encourage applicants to talk about two main things in their statement. First, talk about what the student is hoping to get out of the MBA program – how will the program help the student achieve his or her career objectives? Second, talk about what the program can expect to get out of the applicant – highlight experience, previous activities, unique skill sets that will contribute to the program learning environment.

Many students consider the GMAT test to be their nemesis. Is the GMAT a student;'s enemy or does it offer some real benefits as well?

Shari Sekel: The GMAT is definitely not a student’s enemy. There are a lot of instances where it can be one of the most useful parts of an MBA application. Remember, the admissions process is all about trying to predict which applicants will find academic success in the MBA program. Admissions Committees look at lots of factors when trying to make this prediction. The GPA and GMAT are generally the two main objective measures of an MBA application.

Imagine a case where an applicant graduated from his or her undergraduate program fifteen or twenty years ago. In this instance, the GPA is clearly not going to be as reliable a predictor of current abilities as a GMAT score written within the last year or so. So students whose long-ago undergraduate performance was weak can find a lot of benefit in a GMAT score that more appropriately reflects their current potential.

For another example, consider a case where an applicant studied a non-business undergraduate degree (very common, by the way) but has a keen interest in a business career. We often see that students who are not passionate about their undergraduate subject matter have grades which reflect their lack of engagement. In these cases, the GMAT offers the applicants a chance to demonstrate their capabilities in subject areas more relevant to their proposed graduate business studies. On the admissions side, the GMAT is a tool that helps us compare applicants from diverse educational backgrounds. Such comparisons are not always relevant when done using GPA alone as we typically see lower grades in some disciplines than others.

Shari Sekel, Brock University Faculty of Business (photo left)

Many potential MBA students are intimidated by the process, and are afraid to ask questions of the faculty. How can this fear be overcome?

Shari Sekel: At Brock, as well as many other MBA programs, we strongly encourage students to contact us in advance of their applications. We want to make sure that questions get answered, that the application process itself runs smoothly and timely and that the applicant’s objectives are consistent with the program options that we can deliver. You’ll read below that making connections with your schools of choice before submitting your applications is actually a great approach!

Before contacting a school, students need to have a good understanding of their own objectives and need to have done some research through program websites. Most simple questions about program specializations, start dates, fees, and more can be easily located online. Once students have learned the basics from the program websites, they should be able to create a short list of schools that seem to cover their basic needs/wants. At that point, students should make a connection with each program to talk about fit.

But students should be prepared to answer as many questions as they ask. In fact, when I counsel MBA prospects, I always start the conversation by talking about their career objectives. Doing so helps make sure that I’m providing students with information relevant to their individual circumstances.

Choosing a graduate program is a big decision – students owe it to themselves to make a personal connection with their MBA program choices. At Brock, we’re genuinely interested in finding students who are the right fit for our program – and we’ll be honest if a prospect and his or her objectives is not a good fit for what we have to offer. In fact, we’re happy to point you to another program that might be a more appropriate choice for your needs. These are the kinds of things that aren’t on the website so making that connection is definitely worth it!

How does a student know that they are the right fit for the school and courses they are selecting for their MBA program?

Shari Sekel: There are no guarantees in life. All we can do is try to predict the future. On the MBA program side, we have admissions requirements and processes that help us predict which applicants will be successful in our program. These are the people to whom we will offer admission. At the same time, prospective MBA students undertake an admissions process of their own as they decide which programs are worth their application and most likely to help them achieve their objectives.

As discussed elsewhere in more detail, there are three main recommendations that I have for MBA prospects. First, they need to understand themselves, their strengths, their weaknesses and their objectives. Second, they need to do some basic research online. Third, students need to connect with their prospective schools. Talk to people, visit campus, get advice from the program staff who’ve seen previous students come through the program. Ask if these experts have had other students with a similar background come through the MBA? Was the program a good fit for them?

At the end of the day, students won’t know until they are likely long out of their MBA program whether it was the perfect fit for them. A lot of the theory and professional skills acquired in an MBA only show their value when applied in the post-MBA workplace. The steps described above, however, will certainly help an MBA prospect make the best possible prediction.

Students often think that the admissions process is out to eliminate them. Is this a misconception on the part of some applicants?

Shari Sekel: Absolutely! Most MBA programs are looking for the strengths in their applicants. Prospective MBA students come from a wide variety of backgrounds and each application is unique. As such, it really isn’t productive to apply a cookie-cutter admissions approach. There are certainly minimum academic standards that need to be met – we are talking about a graduate degree, after all – but MBA applicants almost always offer a lot of other important factors including work or volunteer experience, diverse academic and cultural backgrounds, extra-curricular leadership positions and more. All of these things are valuable to an application and can really impress those involved in the MBA admissions process.

Is the MBA option the right one for every student; and what should they consider before applying to a school?

Shari Sekel: The MBA is a broad business degree that helps individuals pursue their career objectives – but it is certainly not the only means by which people can further their education. Students who are interested in pursuing a research-based career or further academic study at the doctoral level, for example, are usually better served by a more research-intensive graduate program – like Brock’s Master of Science in Management – where there is a mandatory thesis requirement. In other cases, a post-graduate diploma at the college-level is a viable and useful option for further education.

Before applying to any school, I strongly advise students to make a connection to an advisor for some pre-admission counseling. MBA application fees are usually at least $100 – students who connect with schools early can really make sure that their applications are targeted. At Brock, we have one individual who serves as the point of contact for all prospective students in our traditional MBA program. She works extensively with students from their first inquiry through to (hopefully) admission to the program. I also encourage students to visit campuses – look for opportunities to connect with current students, alumni and faculty at recruiting events.

At Brock, we have launched a live webinar series that includes monthly informal chats with myself and our team, Q&A sessions with current students, faculty and alumni. We’ve been able to connect with prospects from around the world – and, most importantly, they’ve been able to see, hear and ask questions of the very same people who will help them along their MBA journey from first inquiry through the graduation ceremony and beyond. In short, don’t be afraid to connect with your target schools – that is what we’re here for!

What is the first step a student should take before beginning the MBA application process?

Shari Sekel: People who are thinking about an MBA or any graduate program need to make sure that they have a clear understanding of their objectives. Where do you they see themselves in five years? Ten years? Are they looking to shift careers or industries? Ultimately, students who clearly understand their own goals are the most likely to find the best fit with the MBA or other graduate program that they choose.

Prospective applicants also need to understand their own learning styles. Do they learn best in large, lecture-based environments or small, highly interactive classes? Different MBA programs offer different advantages – only a student who understands his or her own educational needs and expectations will be able to make the best choice about their future.

What is next for the Brock University Faculty of Business?

Shari Sekel: The University is in the advanced planning stages for a new $50-million facility to house the Faculty of Business. Space for graduate programs and research are among the top priorities in the planned facility. We are currently pursuing financial support from the province of Ontario.

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