The NUS Admissions Manager Interview

What is the USP of NUS MBA?

The USP of NUS MBA is combining the best of the East and the West. Why I say this is because our professors, out of the 110 of them, 95 percent are PhDs from the best universities in the USA and Europe, only from the top 15 universities of the West. They bring it to Singapore, which is a very central location and combine it with business here and give a very unique Asian curriculum. So it’s the best of the East and the West.

Not only the faculty, but our student population too comes from over 20 nationalities. The faculty themselves comes from over 20 nationalities, speak over 28 languages between them.

For an Indian applicant looking at the NUS MBA, the other options are the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad or the MBA or Executive MBA programs at the Indian Institutes of Management. So how would you position the NUS MBA in comparison with these Indian MBA programs?

That’s a good question. One thing we always stress is that the NUS is a mixture of the East and the West. We offer interaction with people from over 20 nationalities as compared to ISB or the IIMs, which have limited opportunities in this respect. The other thing is that the NUS MBA is ranked among top 3 in Asia and top 100 in the world in many media surveys. This year we are ranked top 3 in Asia and top 100 in the world by Financial Times.

How do things change for NUS with Chicago GSB and INSEAD setting up campuses in Singapore?

NUS is still the local flagship university along with Nanyang University. Chicago GSB and INSEAD are slightly in a different class in the sense that they are foreign universities in Singapore. The fees they charge would definitely charge a much higher fee. The mix of students would be different, because Chicago GSB’s course in Singapore is more towards Executive education, which means that the work experience would be more than 10 years. INSEAD’s fees on the other hand is exorbitant. The NUS MBA costs 34,000 S$ inclusive of a four-month student exchange at no extra cost.

How many Indians do you have in your class of 2008?

Combining the classes of 2007 and 2008, we have about 100 Indians. In the whole NUS MBA cohort that just came in, including the part timers, about 40 percent are Indians.

How many applications do you get each year?

In total for this year, until now we have over 2,000 applications on our system. We only take in a certain number of candidates from each particular nation and especially for this year, we are going to be quite stringent about it. So out of the 150 positions, only a certain percentage is going to be Indians.

What is this percentage going to be and why do you come about such a mix?

It’s very much a management decision. I would say that first of all we look at diversity before we look at the student numbers. I think we are putting the number of Indians this year at a cap of 30 percent in the international cohort.

So when you say that you put a cap on the number of people from each nationality in your class, do you also put a limit on the number of applications short listed from each country?

That one, no. We, the Admission Managers are doing the first cut. As soon as we find that a candidate meets the minimum requirement and that the guy is good, we just put him through the interview.

How have the job patterns post-MBA changed at NUS?

There have been more recruiters coming to campus resulting in better placements. That’s also because the network between the alumni and the students is getting better now because we now have more events organized to link and to bond alumni with current students. That results in the alumni advertising for a job vacancy in their company not only with NUS’ Career Services Office but also through the students’ word of mouth.

What is the Singapore Permanent Resident (PR) status offered after the NUS MBA about?

It’s quite simple. Once you graduate and you get a job in Singapore, which is not unusual, you get a Singapore PR. Every student who gets a job in Singapore is assured of this.

There are often apprehensions among the Indian applicant community that getting a job in Singapore is getting tougher for Indians.

I don’t think there’s a problem. Most of our students actually end up working in Singapore among other countries. In fact 40 percent of our graduates work overseas and not in their home country. This means a lot of them are working in Singapore, though of course some Indians do go back to India. But I have never heard of a person who has not gotten a job or PR in Singapore. In fact I would say that our India students are the ones doing the best when it comes to job placements in Singapore.

How does one apply to the NUS MBA?

It’s very simple. You just have to log on to our website and fill in the online application form, send in the documents which comprises of the degree score, mark sheets and the GMAT score. Indians don’t need a TOEFL score. Plus you need two referee reports and you’re done.

Once that’s done we should be short listing you for the interview if you meet our minimum requirements are competitive as compared to other applicants of your nationality. Interviews are either through telephone or with us if we’re visiting your city.

So what happens to an application once it reaches the application office?

This year we’re using different techniques. The application shall first go through a second year student of the same nationality. So if you’re Indian, an Indian student would take a look at your application. Then the application reaches an Admissions Manager who then decides whether to shortlist for an interview or not. By the end of the exercise we know the applicants by their first and last names. So if you ask anyone in the admissions office the first name they’ll tell you the last name. We usually make sure that the applicant is interviewed by a person of the same nationality only.

How important is the GMAT score in the NUS application?

We evaluate the candidate on an overall basis. GMAT is extremely important because one guy can be the best student of the worst school while the other can be the bottom student of the best school. So how are we supposed to know which guy is better? This we do by checking the GMAT score. But GMAT is not all we look at. The other thing we look for is career progression, how you have risen through the ranks and so on. Some of our applicants write that they are team leaders and are heading a small group of people but that’s not unusual. But we need something that highlights the part that puts them ahead of the rest. Extra co-curricular activities are not that important but they do tell us about the leadership skills of the applicant.

What was the GMAT score range of accepted Indians at NUS last year?

Average about 680-690. We have some with 700+ but those below 680 would have compensating factors such as an interesting pre-MBA occupation or exceptional leadership qualities.

Why is NUS not charging any application fee?

It’s only for this year because we are trying to target new markets. So we’re just testing what difference charging no application fee would make as compared to charging the application fee. So it’s just for this year.

What kind of work experience does NUS value?

We recruit from a variety of sectors, industry and positions for diversity to bring in a mix with diverse views. While we value more work experience, industry does not matter so much. Most Indians to NUS come from the IT, consultancy or finance sectors. A large number come fro Infosys, Tata, Cognizant or Satyam. We also have Indians working in their own family businesses or even advertising. This year we accepted a Bollywood producer from India.

What makes for string referee reports to support the NUS application?

Referee reports are testimonials given to the admissions committee from the applicant’s professional supervisors or academic people. I would say that the company supervisor reports tend to be stronger than academic reports. Academic reports come more in handy if you’re applying for a PhD.

We look at the authenticity of the referee report. Often the report has been written by the student themselves or copied from a template. A good referee report would actually highlight the strengths of the applicant but not the usual ‘Oh, he’s great’ kind of thing but really bring out a flavor of what the applicant is good at with a few examples.

What are the most common mistakes people make in the NUS application?

The first one is not reading the essays properly. Like this year’s essay is not really a trick essay, but people for some reason are not really reading the essay properly and answering the question asked. Second, there are very minor spelling or grammar mistakes. This might not be important to the applicant but to the committee it’s a sign of how this person’s attitude is. Then some people get in touch with the admissions office to ask the minutest questions.

What are some of the must-Dos while applying to NUS?

Knowing the Admission Managers is a good thing and to ask the right questions at the right time. Timing is a very important thing. A lot of applicants send in applications at the last minute and by then the seats have already been filled, so they keep calling the admissions office to push their case which should not be done. It is good to send the application as soon as possible.

In the essays, we’re looking for if the applicant answers the essay in the right way, the content and then the general flow.

How is life beyond MBA at NUS?

We have an MBA Club which hosts many events like Holi, Chinese New Year, Diwali, Christmas and Halloween and lounges for socializing. Then we have overseas trips where this year we are going to Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, five countries in all. There are many events to link the industry and alumni with the students.

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