mbaMission’s Exclusive Interview with Isser Gallogly, Assistant Dean of MBA Admissions at NYU Stern

A recent conversation we had with Isser Gallogly, the assistant dean of MBA admissions at New York University’s Stern School of Business, revealed a number of interesting insights about the school’s long-standing and well-respected MBA program. Gallogly provided clarification and his personal perspective on a number of topics that we imagine aspiring Sternies will likely find useful, such as the following:

Isser Gallogly Assistant Dean, MBA Admissions - NYU Stern

  • Stern’s history of experiential learning
  • The addition of an accelerated part-time MBA option
  • Creating a close community in one of the world’s largest cities
  • Whether (and which) applicants should opt for the GMAT or the GRE
  • How the school assesses candidates’ employability and how this factors into selection
  • Tips on preparing for the Stern interview
  • The admission’s committee’s stance on communications from waitlisted candidates

mbaMission: Thank you so much for taking time to speak with us. To start, why don’t you tell me three things that you think NYU Stern is best known for.

Isser Gallogly: Sure. First and foremost, I think people regard us as one of the elite business schools with our reputation as an exceptional academic institution. I think the second point, and it’s in our name, of course, is New York—and not just that we’re in New York, a capital of world business, but how we leverage the city as an extension of our classroom. I think the fact that people gain incredible access to experts in industry coming into our classrooms, in addition to real-world learning taking place outside of the classroom, in the business community directly—these benefits are huge advantages.

And the third is our diversity of offerings. No matter what industry or function, we occupy that space, and just like the diversity of the city itself, the way we approach business and management is very diverse. Sure, we have strengths in finance, marketing, management, but we also have social enterprise, luxury retail, real estate, and entertainment and media. We offer a broad range of program offerings, of course starting with the full-time MBA. In addition, we have our executive MBA, our part-time MBA program—with the option to study in Manhattan or Westchester. When you start to realize that full-time MBA students can harness a lot of the classes that are also taught for part-time MBA students, it really expands how many electives we can deliver.

mbaMission: Can you tell me a little bit about why you decided to establish the accelerated part-time program?

IG: Yes. It’s a two-year program that we launched in early 2015. Historically, parts of the MBA program have always been flexible. So in terms of where you go, we have a campus here in New York, and we also have one up in Westchester. So people living or working in Westchester County and Fairfield County have access to a convenient location. We offer classes on weeknights, Monday through Thursday. We also have classes on weekends; we have a Saturday program. These have always been options. And then, it’s about how fast you can go. We’ve always been able to offer students the opportunity to complete the program in two years, and then, on the other end of things, students can take up to six years to do it. Students can vary what location to go to, when to take classes, how fast to go. It’s a self-directed, flexible experience.

I think what’s changed is that we spent a lot of time talking with prospective students and doing our market research, and in the process, we heard two things. The first is just how fast people want to move these days. People want to be getting their return on their investment more quickly. They want to be bringing knowledge into the business world where they’re working more quickly as well. And I think just generally, the pace of everything today is faster than ever. There’s a need for speed.

The second is clarity, particularly when you’re talking about the millennial generation. They really want things to be spelled out extremely clearly and succinctly—quick programs and short, pointed communication. So what we decided to do is basically take our two-year option and sample schedule, optimize it, make sure that everyone is fully up to speed in terms of how to communicate about it, how it works, all those kinds of things, and then we made it its own option for applicants to select. We want prospective students to know that there is a way they can pursue our MBA on a part-time basis very quickly. And here it is, here is how you apply for it, here’s what a good schedule would look like. So it’s really trying to meet the needs of the consumer in terms of letting them know that we have a program that can be done in two years, making it as good as we can, and being really clear in letting people know. There’s definitely a lot of interest.

mbaMission: Yes, we actually hear from a lot of people who might not be right for your full-time program or your executive program but kind of fall in between and don’t want the process to take so long. With this option, you can make any schedule you want, so it’s a great option, especially for that slightly older applicant who isn’t ready for an Executive MBA.

IG: Yes. We also heard from some people in information sessions who are a lot younger, too, recently out of college or school, who don’t have a family, are early in their career, and want to do this quickly and while they have the time and the desire to invest more in school. It’s a great option for people like that. Another way is our intensive programs—we’re able to offer classes during what would normally be January break and August break, and even through the summer. Full-time students, in the summer, they’re usually doing an internship. As for the part-time students, one of the reasons they can do this is that they actually go to school during the summer. That helps offset some of the time that they’re in school.

mbaMission: That’s good. So a buzzword we hear often in business school admissions is “experiential learning,” and Stern has touched on that with respect to the New York advantage, right? Being in New York provides numerous opportunities. So is this an area that you see growing in terms of your curriculum?

IG: You know, we’ve always had experiential learning opportunities at Stern. It’s kind of part of our DNA. It always has been. How we do it and what we do has definitely changed over time and been modified, but we’ve always been committed. For example, the Stern Consulting Corps  started back in 2002 to partner students with organizations throughout New York that could benefit from MBA-type consulting. This is a great opportunity for students to take their classroom learning and bring it into the real world. We have an engagement with City Harvest going on right now; we have one with the New Jersey City of Economic Development Corporation. Projects have been featured in the Financial Times and the New York Post.

We also have Stern Signature Projects, though not all of them are in New York. For example, students worked on an urbanization policy change in Mexico City. There’s a tremendous range of these types of programs. We also have offerings for people who are interested in the social enterprise or nonprofit space, such as our Board Fellows Program, where students in their second year can serve on the board of a New York–based nonprofit for a nine-month fellowship. They act as nonvoting members, but they work on committees and complete strategic projects, among other activities. We’ve had people engaged in the Fresh Air Fund, the Alzheimer’s Association of New York, Grow New York. It’s a great opportunity for people to understand what it is like to be on a board, how corporate governance works, and how to get engaged in the community—for potentially later in life when they might be a board member, but also early when they might be a committee member.

All these opportunities are available, not to mention the lectures and conferences and people that come to Stern all the time. But it’s something we’ve always had as part of our DNA, and it’s just the way we work here. To think that learning should be exclusively in the classroom just isn’t the way we think.

mbaMission: Great. One thing that we hear a lot about Stern is that it has a great, tight-knit community within the big city. How do you help create that culture?

IG: I think our culture is amazing for any campus, anywhere. We’re very lucky. We’re one of the most selective business schools there is, and I think people don’t always realize that, so it surprises them. In the most recent U.S. News & World Report [ranking], we rank number six most selective. [Editor’s note: When all ranked schools are reordered by acceptance rate, Stern appears sixth.] We get a tremendous amount of applications, and we have a medium-sized program deliberately, about 400 students in the incoming class for full-time. Because it’s a medium-sized program, people can get to know each other and really understand and learn from one another. So I think the size is pretty optimal.

But how do we do it? Being as selective as we are, we’re able to really look in the admissions process for sort of Stern DNA types of things in people. One of the things we talk about here is a collaborative community, and we really look for people who understand that more can be accomplished as a team or as a group than can be accomplished individually. We care about IQ plus EQ. We’re looking for people who are smart, obviously. That’s necessary in business but not sufficient to be an effective leader. You also need emotional intelligence, or what we call EQ. You need to be able to learn from people, motivate people, and understand how to work with people from different functions, industries, countries, points of view.

And the first part of how we determine this is the formal written application. Some of that comes through in people’s recommendations. Some comes through in activities, interests, things they’ve been involved with. Some comes through in their essays, particularly through our personal expression, our creative essay, which is now required among all applicants—to give us a feel for the person. But ultimately, it’s our unique interview process that really helps us find Sternies. And our interview process has been in place for a long, long time. We do interviews by invitation only, so only about a third of our applicants are invited to interview. We’ve read the application. We feel like this is someone we want to get to know better.

The interviews are done almost exclusively here in New York at our campus, because we want the opportunity for them to see the campus if they haven’t and to engage with students, go to lunch, go to a class, go on a tour, make sure that this is the place they want to be. And those interviews are conducted almost exclusively by our admissions team, and they are trained assessors of talent. We use admissions officers to interview.

And our interviews are not blind. If you had an alumni interview, a lot of times, you might meet in a Starbucks and hand the person your resume, and they’d ask you general questions, things that are often covered in their essays. But we want to go a lot deeper. So the admissions officer conducting the interview has read the application completely and thoroughly and has a much deeper level of questions ready in terms of getting to know the individual. So with that level of care, attention, and personal selection, it really makes the Stern community unique, and it shows. We hear from recruiters all the time how exceptional the interpersonal skills are of the Stern students, and I ask our Stern students all the time, do you like your classmates? What do you like about them? And again and again, I hear how much they really enjoy the network that they form. People become more than classmates; they get very involved in each other’s lives. I mean, you hear often about how many Sternies are at someone’s wedding, so it’s a very tight community.

I also think being in New York works to our advantage. We have one central building, and that’s where everything happens. People come in here and spend a lot of time together. And in New York, everything’s kind of like a close space. So just the fact that everyone’s in the same building interacting with each other, the faculty are in the same building, the physical space just fosters the sense of community as well. It is something really unique that sets us apart, and I would tell any prospective student to visit the school they’re thinking about and spend time talking to the students, because you will get a feel for the place that can’t be translated through a brochure or even a Web site.

mbaMission: Absolutely. So you mentioned that only about one-third of your applicants get to the interview stage. How do you screen candidates for fit up to that point? What traits do you look for to help you make that assessment?

IG: During the application review process, we’re looking for three basic things. We look for how they’ll do as a student, how they’ll do as a professional, and who they are. So you can think about it in terms of classroom, career, and character. As for the academic piece, the major things you look at are how they did in undergraduate, how they did on their standardized tests, other certifications they might have, advanced degrees, the kinds of work they’ve done as a professional—things that would give us an indicator as to how they’re going to do in a very rigorous academic program, We want people to do well in class and excel. And for career, we want to look at what they’ve done, where they’re headed, their goals, whether they’ve thought it through, what is their plan, do they understand their new industries and functions if they’re changing, do they have a reasonable expectation as to what they need to do to get there and how their

As for the character piece, a lot of it comes down to things like what the recommender says about the individual. For example, we ask recommenders specifically to comment on the applicant’s interpersonal skills, so that gets at how they work with people. So we get some insight from a third party about the applicant’s emotional intelligence and their ability to work with people. Also, things like the tone in the essay, appropriateness of topics, general passion around working with groups or individuals. You get a sense of those things by looking at activities, by reading recommendations, by looking through essays. It’s a bunch of individual points you have to synthesize into what you would consider a projection of the individual’s character. But of course, that needs to be verified with an interview.

mbaMission: I see. Obviously, we hear a lot about the GRE, and increasingly, people are coming to us asking whether they can apply to business school successfully with the GRE rather than the GMAT. More and more, schools are saying yes, but this is still a bit of a blind spot in the application process. I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on the GMAT versus the GRE.

IG: Sure. The value of these standardized tests is they have a predictive value in terms of how someone’s going to do in the classroom. The Graduate Management Admissions Council has done regression studies where they look at the correlation of how someone performs on an exam like the GMAT with respect to how they’re going to do in their first year of the core curriculum, academically. And there is a good R2 predictive value of this. You can also add someone’s undergraduate GPA as a factor in the equation. And being a standardized test, it helps equalize that information when people are going to such different academic programs all over the world. So the value of the test is an indicator, one of many indicators, of how the student will do academically. It’s no more, no less, and only one component of the application. I think the standardized tests probably get a little more emphasis than they should.

But that said, it is an important indicator and a useful indicator. The GRE is again an indicator of how someone will do academically. We started accepting it a few years ago. It’s used in a variety of graduate programs to help provide that type of insight, and we feel it gives us a data point in terms of what we need. It’s a nice thing to offer in that we have a range of dual degree programs, so somebody who might be applying to one of those programs, for which that’s the standard test, this allows them to take just one test for both schools. That’s nice. So somebody who takes the GRE right out of undergraduate, this being a broad-based test for graduate programs, and then a couple years later decides business is really where they want to be, they can leverage that test they took a couple years earlier and not necessarily have to take the GMAT, a second test.

We accept both. We don’t necessarily have a preference for one test or the other. I would tell people to try them both if you want and see which test you seem to be more comfortable with, which one reflects your true academic potential better, and then feel free to take that test and submit it to us. We really are open.

mbaMission: Sure. As far as those applicants who have opted for the GRE, do they tend to come from certain industries or backgrounds?

IG: No, it’s more across the board. I think people understand that it’s one of the tests we accept, and it’s really up to them which one they want to take.

mbaMission: Got it. So when you are evaluating a candidate in terms of career, how do you judge that person’s potential employability? How do you gauge whether applicants are capable of achieving the career goals they’ve set for themselves?

IG: When someone’s coming to an MBA program, they’re often looking to have something happen in their career, so they have an ambition and a desire. We care about our students being extremely satisfied with the Stern experience, getting them where they want to go. We do very well in our exit surveys where we ask people how satisfied they were with the program. And part of that satisfaction is their experience academically, their experience with their classmates, and also that they’re reaching their career goals. We look at ourselves as a partner in helping students achieve what they want to. So for us, it’s less about the school needing to place people and more that we’re helping people reach their dreams and aspirations. We want people to get where they want to go and be happy.

So we definitely look at their career aspirations and if they’re reasonable, if they make sense, if we feel that they are achievable. We spend a lot of time talking with our Office of Career Development about what skills are needed to be successful in industries, the latest trends in terms of functions and industries, who’s done well in the recruiting process and why, you know—what are some things we need to look for? And we really look at the person’s past accomplishments and why they want to take their next step. It could be advancing in their field, or it could be changing industries, functions, or both. So what is their rationale? What are the transferrable skills they’re looking to bring over? Do they have realistic expectations as to what that industry or function is about, how the recruiting process works, what some target organizations are, maybe what their contingency plans are?

An MBA program is not college. It’s two years, not four. The recruiting cycle happens as soon as you get on campus. We’re going to ask for your resume in a certain format. Companies are going to be coming a month later. It happens really, really fast. There’s not a heck of a lot of time to figure it all out and do a broad-based exploration like you could in undergraduate. There’s the opportunity to try and look at a couple different things, sure, but it’s just much more compressed.

So people have to realize, okay, I’m not happy doing what I’m doing. What might I want to do? And create their list of possible ideas and then take the next step and really investigate those industries. There’s a lot of information on our Web site about a range of industries. We have second-year students in our office who are happy to chat with prospective students about it. So if someone wants to get the Stern point of view, that’s really easy. In addition, they should also reach out to friends and family members, their undergraduate alumni network, colleagues they may know through work and really spend time doing a range of informational interviews. An MBA program, you do it once, and it’s for life. There aren’t a lot of things that are like that, and you want to get the maximum return from it. And having a clear goal in mind, you will get much more out of it. An MBA is not for everybody, and I think the more that they know themselves, the more they have a really good sense as to how this fits into their career plan, the better off they’ll be.

mbaMission: Sure. So when you’re reading an application, what would you consider a red flag?

IG: On the more nuanced level, it comes down to judgment. I wish common sense were more common. I think it’s important to understand that when you’re applying, you want to be professional and to be appropriate. We do want to know the character of the individual. At the same time, it’s a business school application.

mbaMission: Absolutely. What advice would you give a candidate who has been invited to interview and is preparing for that meeting?

IG: First and foremost, be excited. About 60% to 70% of those we interview are admitted, so you’ve already got a very good chance of being admitted to Stern once you’ve been invited to interview. You should feel good and confident about that. The second thing is that in some ways, you want to look at this like you’re interviewing for the summer internship you want to get. So if you’ve done your homework on yourself, on your industries, on the target companies, contingency plans, all the things you should be doing when you’re thinking about very soon being involved in the recruiting process, you should be prepared to talk about those things.

If you ask yourself what you would say to a recruiter for a summer internship about why you want to switch from economic consulting into investment banking, what you’re going to be telling that recruiter about why you’re doing this and how you’re qualified to work at their institution, those types of questions, that type of thinking, is what I would recommend bringing into the interview. Be able to really talk about your career plan in significant depth, depth that you could not get into in an essay with a limited word count, but in a half-hour conversation you could spend a lot of time getting a lot deeper. I think it’s a great opportunity to exhibit all the research that you’ve done.

Another thing I’d say is, again in terms of thinking about this more as a job interview than an admissions interview, it’s a business school, and we’re looking for people to approach this in a more businesslike way. So it’s simple things like how you dress, when you show up, turning off your cell phone, all these things that you think are fairly basic, but if you’re thinking about this as a job interview, what are you going to do to come across as professional and prepared and poised and polished as possible? I would also say, be authentic. We want to hear what you really want to do, who you really are, so if you’re trying to present some sort of overprepared version of yourself or some spin version of yourself, it does come across as a put-on to us. You can really tell when someone is speaking from the heart and when they’re saying something that’s been scripted. The key is to find your authentic self and deliver it in a professional way. That’s the balance. Let us see how much you want to go to business school and how much you’re excited for your future and the energy that you’re going to bring to it.

mbaMission: That’s great advice. Thank you.

IG: Sure. And on the backside, you know, you always have the opportunity to maximize your visit. I cannot encourage people to do this enough. This is a big investment. You’re going to come to Stern to do your interview, most likely, so spend time while you’re here to really be sure that this is where you want to go. Interviews should be a two-way assessment. We’re seeing if you’re a fit with us; make sure that we’re a fit with you. There are a lot of great schools. You want to find the one where you feel great. Go to lunch with a student, go to a class, go on the tour. Stop people as they get off the elevator and say, “I’m interviewing today. What do you like about Stern?” Talk to as many people as you can and get as much as you can out of that interview experience, for you, in terms of making your decision. That’s something people maybe don’t spend as much as time thinking about, that it’s two-way.

mbaMission: Sure. I have a question about the timing of interview invitations. So Stern added a new October deadline a few years ago, but we often hear from clients that there doesn’t seem to be any link between when people apply and when they are invited to interview. It seems that the process is more of a rolling one. What exactly is the system?

IG: Well, we added an earlier deadline a couple years ago. That’s correct. We have never operated on a “round” system here, where everyone applies on one date, and everyone hears on one date. We’ve always issued decisions on an ongoing basis. We do provide a notification deadline, so someone who’s applying October 15th will receive an initial notification anywhere between October 15th and December 15th. Everyone will get a notification, assuming their application was complete, by December 15th. But in the majority of cases, you’re going to hear earlier. The notifications are either an invitation to interview, an opportunity to be on the waitlist, or denied admission. Obviously, none of those options are being admitted because our interview is a requirement first. So we get the applications, we start reading through them one at a time, and as we have decisions, we send them out.

We get a tremendous amount of applications, and we want to give each one of them personal attention. We will read them all. We go through them all, and everyone will hear before the notification, though definitely some people are going to hear before others. But for us, the interview is so important in our process and such a great opportunity. We understand that people would love a date specifically when they’ll hear by, but our process doesn’t really accommodate or allow for that.

mbaMission: That makes sense. It’s good to know that the process moves in different ways for different people. That’s important to understand.

IG: Yeah, it’s a broad window from November 15th to February 15th. And when they do their interview also affects their end timing, because if they’re invited to interview and then schedule their interview a month later, well, obviously, they’re not going to hear a result within that month. And then after the interviews, we try and get people a decision within one to three weeks, typically, and the options there are they can be admitted, they can be offered a place on the waitlist, or denied. I think sometimes people wonder why they were waitlisted before an interview or after an interview, and in rare cases, someone can be waitlisted before an interview and again after the interview. It’s not ideal, but it does happen from time to time. The majority of our candidates are put on the waitlist prior to the interview, is the reality.

mbaMission: Speaking of the waitlist, we get a lot of questions about how best to approach that process. What are you at Stern really looking for from applicants who have been waitlisted?

IG: If people are put on the waitlist, it means that we’ve seen a lot of positives in their application, but there may be some things that we need clarity around or we may feel like there’s an opportunity for this candidate to present a stronger case to us. The best thing waitlisted applicants can do is an honest, objective assessment in terms of where your strengths are on your application and potential areas to make it better.

There are some things you can do and things you can’t do. You can’t go back and change your undergraduate GPA. It is what it is. You could retake the GMAT. You could try the GRE if you submitted the GMAT or vice versa to try to enhance how you present in terms of how you’ll do academically. Reread your essays about your career goals and aspirations. Are they clear? Do they show the level of research that is required for us to feel like you know where you’re going and why and have a good plan to get there? Do the recommenders feel like people who know the person very, very well and can provide good insight, or would another recommendation be helpful in terms of providing another point of view or greater depth? Is there an issue we might see in the application that maybe you didn’t fully explain, and an additional essay with respect to that might be helpful? Were you not working at the time that you applied and have subsequently been employed?

I guess it’s material changes that enhance a candidate’s qualifications. I think those things can have a really good impact. If you’re going to retake the test, send us an email and tell us when you’re taking it. Tell us the date and then, regardless of the result, send us the result, close the loop. Even if you didn’t perform better, the fact that you tried and followed through shows about your character.

I just think those types of things are great. Of course, it’s fine to write us an essay and say, “Stern is my number one choice. I would love to be there.” That’s fine. You don’t have to go too crazy with it. We certainly don’t need to hear it every day, but continuing to exhibit enthusiasm every once in a while through the process is fine. Ultimately, take charge of your case, and try to make yourself as competitive as you can in the time that you have.

mbaMission: So you’re not against an update every few weeks if the situation warrants it?

IG: That’s okay. I know some schools don’t want to hear from you when you’re on the waitlist, but we’re happy to be in communication. The waitlist period can be a long time. It can create a lot of anxiety. We know that people would prefer to hear one way or the other. But a waitlist is not a deny. There’s still the opportunity. So just think about it as more time to make your application more and more competitive. If you’re going to write us every few weeks and give us an update or continue to express your enthusiasm, that’s totally acceptable. Just be professional, be appropriate, be considerate of the admission committee’s time. Make it worthwhile.

mbaMission: Great. Thank you so much. This has been very helpful, and we really appreciate your time.

IG: Sure. It was a pleasure. I’m glad I was helpful!


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