IE Business School and SMU Launch IE-SMU MBA

I recently spoke with Prof. Gregor Halff and Prof. Lieven Demeester about SMU’s new collaboration with IE Business School. In order to accommodate working professionals in SE Asia who can’t afford to leave their job/city (say in Jakarta, Bangkok or Manilla) but are still looking for a top-tier MBA, the 2 business schools have launched a 10-month blended IE-SMU MBA. Graduates are awarded a joint-degree from both schools and get access to both schools’ alumni.  Learn more about what makes this program unique as well as what admissions is looking for here:

INSEAD MBA Admissions Q&A with Ms. Caroline Diarte Edwards, Director of Fortuna Admissions

“INSEAD places a huge value on being international and having the ability to work in different markets, and giving participants international mobility.”

Applying to INSEAD? Then you must listen to this episode.

Caroline Diarte Edwards was Director of Admissions for INSEAD’s MBA program for 7 years, from 2005-2012, and is now Director of Fortuna Admissions, a MBA admissions consultancy which boasts 5 former Admissions Directors from INSEAD, Wharton, Haas and IE. She joins the show to talk in depth about INSEAD’s 4 admissions criteria (academic capacity, international capacity, leadership potential, ability to contribute), and what applicants can do if they are weak in any of these areas.

We also talk about what to expect (and do) in interviews, whether it’s beneficial to apply in earlier rounds, the January vs. Fall intake, and the importance of getting a first-hand experience of the INSEAD community. Carolyn gives great insight into the admissions process for the benefit of our audience.

INSEAD was ranked #6 this year by the Financial Times and is consistently regarded as one of the top business schools outside the US. Each cohort in the 10 month program boasts over 80 nationalities and graduates work in over 50 (!) countries post MBA. The program also has 2 intakes, one in the Fall and one in January.

Listen on for much, much more!

Show Notes

Nanyang MBA Admissions Q&A with Mr. Nick Soriano, Director of MBA Marketing and Admissions, NTU

“By introducing the new 12-month curriculum for 2013, we are trying to address the present and future needs of industry with regards to MBA hires. We have focused on the 3 different aspects of what industry needs are: leadership across cultures, a stronger and deeper knowledge of Asia, and relevance to today’s world.”

Mr. Nick Soriano, Director of MBA Marketing & Admissions at Nanyang Technological University, joined the show to discuss the Nanyang MBA’s major curriculum changes (focus on leadership across cultures, Asia business, industry relevance) and format changes (16 months to 12 months) while also giving an insider’s look into the program’s stringent admissions process.

The Nanyang MBA was ranked #32 by the Financial Times, making it the top-ranked Singapore MBA program for 2013.  As Nick points out, Singapore has over 6,000 MNCs headquartered there and is consistently ranked as one of the world’s easiest places to do business. Singapore’s strategic position between China and India – along with its safe and clean environment and mix of Eastern and Western influences – makes it one of the most desired work locations in Asia.

Nick emphasized that the curriculum changes were made in concert with Asia’s rise in the world economy and employer demand for MBAs who can lead across cultures. The new curriculum requires an 8-month leadership module, industry project and business study mission. Nanyang also has double MBAs with Waseda (Japan), St. Gallen (Switzerland) and a double masters with ESSEC (France).

The Nanyang (NTU) MBA in 3 words: challenging, interactive, rewarding.

Listen on for much, much more!

Program Highlights

  • Class size: 80-100 students, 22 different nationalities
  • Program: 1-year length, starts in July
  • New 12-month curriculum starting in 2013 (used to be 16-months)
  • Accredited by EQUIS and AACSB
  • Program focus is on sustainability and corporate governance, a deeper knowledge of Asia, and relevance to today’s world and industry
  • New emphasis on leadership across cultures – 2 trimesters (8 months) will be spent on leadership modules, workshops, and talks
  • Nanyang established the first center of cultural intelligence in the world
  • Industry project and business study mission are new mandatory requirements
  • Singapore is a great combination of East and West with over 6,000 MNCs headquartered here.
  • Singapore is one of the safest and cleanest countries of the world


  • 3 stages: 1) paper assessment 2) interview stage 3) selection based on cumulative score ranking
  • Weightage of criteria (i.e. academic performance, GMAT, career progression, leadership potential, referees, interview) changes each year depending on market criteria
  • With a shorter 12-month program, leadership potential and profile fit with career goals will be weighted more heavily
  • Minimum GMAT score requirement: 600.  Average GMAT score: 672.  Also accept GRE.
  • Minimum work experience requirement: 2 years
  • Round 1 deadline end of Dec (batch mode)
  • Round 2 deadline end of March (rolling admissions),
  • Round 2 decisions returned faster as Nanyang is building class around Round 1 admits


  • 20% of class gets scholarships ranging from 20-50% of admissions fees
  • Scholarships are merit based, and for students who have first accepted a place in the program
  • International students can get loans in Singapore, but need a local guarantor


  • Nanyang has greatest reputation in Singapore, India and China, but is also well regarded in other countries
  • Graduates have a short window post-graduation to look for a job (this timeframe changes each year)

Get In Touch

Show Notes:


7 Deadly Sins of MBA Resumes

Your resume is often the first part of your application that MBA admissions officers see. Yet most candidates spend way more time preparing their essays. Avoid these “7 deadly sins” to make a strong first impression with your resume.

The 7 deadly sins:

1. Long
2. Ugly
3. Unfocused
4. Job resume
5. No impact
6. No context
7. No career progression

Show Notes:

Episode length: 16:42

Ace Your Interview by Answering the “Questions Behind the Questions”

With the MBA interviewing season fast upon us, Darren discusses the 4 “questions behind the questions” that admissions officers really want to know. If you can prepare compelling responses to these key questions, you stand a good shot of making the final cut.

Listen on for more insider tips and techniques to ace your interview.

The questions behind the questions:
1. Why are you here?
2. What can you do for us?
3. What makes you unique (from other candidates like you)?
4. What type of person and team member are you?

Show Notes:

Episode length: 12:54

4 Ways to Get and Keep the Adcom’s Attention

Capturing your reader’s attention is the most important goal of your MBA application. You want the admissions officer to remember you after reading 20 applications that day. The longer you can keep his or her attention (in the right way!), the better your chances are of landing an interview.

In this episode, we take the core principles from Oren Klaff’s Pitch Anything, and discuss 4 ways you can get and keep attention in your application. The primal “croc brain” that hears a pitch is very different from the logical “neocortex” that designs a pitch.  The “croc brain” is intrigued by pleasant novelty, movement, and suspense.  Listen on for some very specific ways you can incorporate these elements into your MBA essays and resume.

1. Be a pleasant novelty – violate the adcom’s expectations in a pleasing way.
2. Use a strong frame which makes you the prize – local star power frame, intrigue frame, prizing frame, moral authority frame, etc.
3. Always show movement – in your career progression and reasons for getting an MBA.
4. Push / Pull – make sure you have strong alternatives to the MBA program so you are a less needy, more attractive candidate.

 Show Notes:

Pitch Anything: An Innovative Method for Presenting, Persuading and Winning the Deal, Oren Klaff

Great Applications for Business School, Paul Bodine

Episode length: 14:57

6 Ways to Make Your MBA Application Stick

In this episode, we take the core principles from the marketing classic Made to Stick, and discuss how to use them to create a memorable MBA application.

Your MBA application is a “movie preview” of what’s to come – a pitch for your candidacy. Imagine an admissions officer reading hundreds of applications. How can you get this gatekeeper to pay attention, remember you, believe you, care about you, and act on your application in a positive way (we must interview her!)?

These 6 elements – simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, and story – are the building blocks of sticky ideas. Be sure to incorporate all 6 elements into your application.

Show Notes:

Made to Stick, by Chip and Dan Heath

Episode length: 16:59

NUS MBA Admissions Q&A with Ms. Chua Nan Sze, Marie Antonie, Director of Graduate Studies, NUS Business School

NUS is in a unique strategic position, where it is offering a global curriculum benchmarked against top universities in the West; at the same time it offers a unique position right in the heart of Asia… it links up the best of East and West.

This week I sat down with Ms. Chua Nan Sze, Marie Antonie, who is Director of Graduate Studies, NUS Business School, and looks after the NUS MBA and EMBA programs.

Topics discussed:

  • The latest curriculum changes at the NUS MBA
  • Why NUS can compete with top-ranked MBA programs in the West
  • NUS’ focus on international exposure through exchanges, study trips, and double degree programs
  • The consulting companies that recruit NUS MBAs
  • How NUS reviews your application, and when you can expect to hear a decision
  • All things admissions – what makes a strong candidate and scholarship candidate
  • Why you have a much better chance applying in Rd 1 than Rd 2

Ms. Chua emphasized applying as soon as possible to give yourself the best chance, given NUS MBA’s rolling admissions and majority of top candidates applying in the first round.  Depending on the strength of your application, you should expect to hear back from the program in 6-8 weeks.

Starting in Fall 2013, the MBA program will require all students to take a management communication course (taught by an ex McKinsey CEO) and a management practicum, where teams of students spend over 130 hours helping a company solve an important business problem.

NUS is positioning itself as “Asia’s Global Business School” and with it’s numerous double degree programs (NUS-Peking U, NUS-HEC, S3 with Korea U and Fudan U, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy), global study trips, and exchanges with top universities around the world, offers unique value and exposure for candidates looking to get a top-ranked MBA in Asia.

Listen on for much, much more!

Show Notes:

Full Transcript:

Darren: Okay, welcome everybody to the show. This is Darren from Singapore MBA Consulting and I’m really excited. I have a very special guest today, Ms. Chua Nan Sze Marie-Antonie, who is the Director of Graduate Studies at NUS Business School. So, she oversees both the MBA and the EMBA programs at the school. Welcome to the show Ms. Chua.

Ms. Chua: Hi Darren and hi everyone. Good to be on the show today.

Darren: Fantastic. So, Ms. Chua, I noticed that you graduated in 2005, with an NUS MBA; a double-degree from NUS and Peking University and now you’re running the program. So, I was curious about how the degree has helped in your own professional life and how you’ve seen the program change in the last seven years?

Ms. Chua: Sure. I would say that the MBA is about getting the networks as well as the knowledge itself. So, I really value the experience, especially the cultural immersion in China, as well as the solid business background knowledge that NUS has given me.

I would say that, without this MBA degree, I probably wouldn’t have gotten up to where I am today. I would say that this NUS MBA double-degree at Peking University gave me a very good foundation and in terms of business management knowledge, but knowing the culture of the Chinese helped me into taking up the leadership of the Asia Pacific Executive MBA in Chinese as well as the Master’s in Public Administration and Management in Chinese. Because they think that I do know how to communicate with the Chinese students as well as know how to entertain and drink with them. That’s very important knowledge that you get in the MBA.

Of course the MBA has since changed a lot. I would say during my time itself, the offices were quite small, there were no rankings and today we have rankings. It has since progressed from 80 something right up to 23 worldwide MBA rankings for Financial Times.

As well as other rankings is beefing up of offices. The last time we used to work with one, two-men career services team. Now we have about six or seven people in that team taking care of MBA itself. Of course, the MBA team as well, so beefing up the professionalism and these things and teams, so we get more study trips. Last time it was one trip per year and now it’s like five. Some are out of Asia of course.

We send our students for case competitions; we get a greater diversity and better quality of candidates. Best of all I would say that for this year itself we will embark on a curriculum review in which we have included a soft-skills component. Management communications, which is taught by Mr. Hsieh Tsun-Yan who is the ex-CEO of McKinsey. He teaches you how to write, speak, is really leadership communication. And we also have our executive in residence, Mr. Tan Soo Jin, who in 2008 was named one of the top 100 headhunters in the world. He’s also our management advisory board member. He has come to conduct fire side chats with our students. So, guiding them along not just in terms of career development, but also character development.

Darren: Wow, okay, great. So, actually maybe to take a step back here, could you tell our listeners which MBA programs and which EMBA programs you’re looking after at the NUS Business School?

Ms. Chua: Right. So, I joined NUS about seven years ago and in 2008, was promoted to head up the Executive MBA programs, consisting of the Asia Pacific Executive MBA in English, Pacific Executive MBA in Chinese as well as the UCLA NUS Executive MBA.

A year later, the Masters of Public Administration and Management in Chinese was added to my portfolio, so I was taking care of four programs and only last year the MBA was added to my portfolio as well. So, that’s a huge portfolio for someone taking care of the MBA and Executive MBA programs in school.

Darren: Got it. So, you really have a long history with both the NUS MBA program as a student and looking after this large portfolio of programs. That’s fantastic and you mentioned that one of the biggest differences is you have beefed up the career services, you’ve beefed up the number of study trips, you’ve beefed up the types and numbers of students you’re attracting. Has the class size remained relatively similar to when you were a student and are there any plans to increase that roughly 100-student class size?

Ms. Chua: I would say that the class size has definitely increased from when I was a student, but more importantly, the quality. So, in terms of the number of the diversity of students in terms of nationalities, functions, industries, it has really improved. Even the number of years of work experience, GMAT score, has improved tremendously from when I was a student about eight or nine years back.

Darren: Great, what is the main reason because NUS MBA is consistently one of, if not the highest rank Singapore MBA program by a number of publications. And why do you think that is? Why has NUS been able to climb that ranking?

Ms. Chua: I would say it’s due to a number of factors.  I mean year on year, we look at the quality of the candidates that we admit and we try to improve on the people that we recruit. I would say that one is also the quality of the program and it’s relevant to businesses, which employers recognize.

So, we make sure that we have regular curriculum reviews once every few years, to make things that make things relevant and rewarding. We also hire faculty members, so during my time there was probably a smaller crew of faculty members and now we have at least 140 faculty members and many visiting faculty members. Like for example, this year, we have a Chief Asia Economist and Ex-MD of Goldman’s Sachs, who’s teaching Macroeconomics in the MBA class itself.

Darren: Great, so a focus on attracting world class faculty and experienced faculty and constant review of the curriculum to make sure it’s relevant and important for today’s MBAs. You mentioned the management communication – the new curriculum change. Are there any others that have happened this year or is that the main / change?

Ms. Chua: Management Communications would be a core component next year onwards.

Darren: Got it.

Ms. Chua: So, all our students will have to go through this in addition to marry the academic side and the practical side, we also have meet them, management practicum a compulsory subject for students joining us next year onwards.

Darren: Okay, can you talk a little bit more about what that entails – a management practicum?

Ms. Chua: Management practicum would be getting a group of our students, like three or four of them, to work closely with a company to solve a business problem that they may present. At the end of the three, four, five months really depends, but would be about an investment of 130 hours there about. The students will have to give a presentation as well as a report to both the company as well as the faculty supervisor, who will then decide to award them four credits towards graduation.

Darren: I see and do students have a choice in picking those companies or does the business school facilitate those relationships.

Ms. Chua: Well, we have a team here who will actively sourcing out for companies, but students can also take the initiative to present business problems from the place that they are working or from some associates that they have.

Darren: Got it. I think a lot of students will be interested in doing that, to get that real world experience. Another question I had about ranking, because a lot of people listening, I’m sure they have this question: NUS has a great ranking, you guys are ranked 23rd this year by FT.

Ms. Chua: Right.

Darren: But some candidates might say, “Well, look at the school surrounding NUS.” Now, I know we never like to compare schools, but there’s Yale, Oxford, Cornell, Cambridge; these are the four schools that are surrounding NUS. And some students might say, “Well, do I get more latitude with a western MBA degree for my career, than going to NUS even though it has a great reputation, great ranking and so forth.” What would you say to these candidates?

Ms. Chua: Well, I would say that the candidates joining us would have the foresight to see that there is huge growth in Asia. Where are the world’s economic powerhouses now? It would be China and it would be India. So, I would say that NUS is in a very unique strategic position, where it is offering a global curriculum that is benchmarked against the top universities in the West. At the same time, it offers a unique position, right in the heart of Asia, where everything is happening. It links up the best of East as well as West, our faculty are trained at the best schools in the West and they write case studies based on Asia-Pacific specific companies. So, I would say that it’s very practical, is applicable to the companies here.

I would say that not just our MBA is ranked top 23 in the world, our Executive MBA also provides additional support, where our UCLA-NUS Executive MBA is ranked top five worldwide EMBA by Financial Times and our Asia Executive MBA is are ranked top 26 worldwide Executive MBA. So, I would say that these couple things, ranking, accreditations, a unique location, a unique curriculum where it’s not just Harvard Ivy case studies, but also case studies and textbooks written by our professors themselves. So, it’s very relevant in Asia.

Darren: Yeah and I think I noticed a lot of westerners—there’s increasing interest for westerners to come to Asia to get their MBAs. And speaking from your own experience, because you got that double-degree at Peking University, what is the alumni network like for the NUS MBA and Peking University?

Ms. Chua: The alumni network is huge, but again it all boils down to the individual’s willingness to network and tap on the alumni networks itself, because alumni networks can be very valuable, especially not just in terms of friendships, but also in terms of potential business opportunities or employment.

I would say that, I’m so sorry, I do not know the exact numbers, but it’s definitely numbers into the hundreds of thousands and it really does help with two networks; NUS network as well as Peking University Network. And it’s not just at the business school level but it’s also at the University level. So we are able to reach out to a lot of alumni if we want to and the alumni is also quite active, so they do hold gatherings in different cities in different parts of the world, occasionally, not just for social events, but also the academic forums and corporate visits and things like that.

Darren: Great and one other question I had about the academic program, was exchange programs.

Ms. Chua: Uh-huh.

Darren: So, correct me if I’m wrong, but the NUS MBA can run 16 months.

Ms. Chua: 17 months.

Darren: 17 months, okay?

Ms. Chua: Uh-huh.

Darren: And I noticed that you have a number of specialization tracks, like real estate, marketing, etc., but can you talk a little bit more about the exchange programs that NUS MBA students can go on and whether there’s an application process involved. Because, I noticed a lot of your exchange program partners are really top schools around the world as well.

Ms. Chua: Yes, right. We’re kind of picky about our exchange partners. We do review whether the school has been actively sending out students and vice versa once every few years. So, we have more than 60 exchange partners around the world and these would be the top schools in each region or each country. The number of partners are still increasing, but at the same time we are very careful about who we pick as our partners.

So, I would say that this is also part of the overall scheme for our students to have an international exposure, so if it’s not through student exchange for about three to four months, then it would be through the summer or winter exchanges, which runs for about two weeks.  If students are too busy to take part in these ones, especially the part-time students, they can choose to go on the study trips, which we organize through different parts of the world about five times every year. Two of which are out of Asia and three of which are within Asia. So, the last year we went to Thailand, we went to Hong Kong, we went to Japan. We also brought them to Los Angeles and next year itself we will be bringing them to Spain, to India, to Taiwan. So, it’s very, very exciting.

Darren: Yeah.

Ms. Chua: So, coming back to the exchange program there is an application, usually the hot schools which would be schools like Cornell, Duke, NYU and some of the top schools in Asia like Tsinghua and ISB. They will be, I would say, “oversubscribed” by our students. So, students will have to submit their resume, go through an interview and we will have to assess sending our best students to the best schools based on their contributions to the NUS MBA as well as their results, and why they want to go to these schools, like for example, finance with NYU or marketing with UCLA; something like that.

Darren: That’s great and so can NUS MBA students still specialize in say, marketing or get a concentration in real estate even if they exchange?

Ms. Chua: Sure. We do—

Darren: Okay, it is possible.

Ms. Chua: Yeah, we do have five specializations here. So, finance, marketing, strategy and organization, real estate and health care management. Our students, both full-time and part-time students, whether with specialization or without, still go to these schools for exchange. Sometimes it can be to get advantage, because some of these schools offer stronger courses in, for example, luxury marketing in HEC Paris; things like that. So, they get the best knowledge from these schools as well. Not just that, even our double-degree students sometimes go on exchange. Strange as it may sound, sometimes they may go in the winter and summer exchanges. So, we have like one of our students from the NUS MBA double-degree Peking University go to India ISB for the exchange. So it becomes a “Chindiapore” program. Yeah.

Darren: That is a really special opportunity and I hope more candidates take advantage of that. This has been great so far. Is there anything about the NUS MBA program that you wish more candidates knew about, that they can’t find on the website, they can’t find in the brochures?

Ms. Chua: Uh-huh.

Darren: Yeah.

Ms. Chua: I would really hope that everyone will have an opportunity to visit Singapore and in the process, visit NUS itself. While they are here, if they contact us early and they are potential candidates for the NUS MBA program, we can actually arrange for them to sit in the class to experience for themselves what it is like to be in the NUS MBA class, the NUS MBA cohort. So, they will experience the diversity that’s here.

In addition, I would say that the double-degree programs are really something that is worth looking at. So, we have double-degree at Peking University. We also have double-degree with HEC Paris. We also have a double-degree with Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. We also have special program called the S Cubed (S3) Asia MBA program that spends six months in Shanghai and six months in Seoul and six months in Singapore with Fudan University and Korea University Business School to give them an Asia prospective. It’s called the Asia MBA. I would say if you’re going for a full-time program, no harm taking up a double-degree program.

One last thing that I would like to mention, which is a very well-hidden secret which I wish was a bit more publicized would be the MBA Alumni Lifelong Learning Program. So, if you graduated from the NUS MBA or Executive MBA programs and you are, say based in the region, you can come back to join us for our courses at a nominal fee or for free. Yeah.

Darren: That’s great, for the rest of their life?

Ms. Chua: Yes, for the rest of your life. This is like you pay once and you can learn and refresh yourself forever. Fantastic.

Darren: Great. And just to clarify to listeners, if they were interested in say, NUS PKU, Beijing Uiversity, NUS HEC, S3, do they get degrees from both institutions or is it a dual-degree that says, “NUS-PKU?”

Ms. Chua: Oh, they get the degree from both institutions. So, it’s separate degrees from both institutions as if you did your full-time MBA in that institution itself. No difference.

Darren: Do the students also get access to those other alumni networks at PKU, HEC…?

Ms. Chua: Alumni networks as well as careers service? Yes.

Darren: Great.

Ms. Chua: As well as the study trips or whatever. Yeah. In each of these partner universities they are treated as if they are the full-time students in these institutions itself.

Darren: Got it and do the normal regular NUS MBA students—do they take classes at the same time with the NUS-PKU and NUS-HEC students and S3 students?

Ms. Chua: / Yes.

Darren: So, there’s mingling—

Ms. Chua: There’s mingling between the single degree and the double-degrees. There also mingling between the full-time and the part-time students. In addition, we also try to make opportunities for mingling between the students as well as the Executive MBA students, the students as well as the alumni.

Darren: Got it.

Ms. Chua: In small social settings, of course.

Darren: Yeah. Okay, great and if we could shift our attention to career services, which is, along with admissions which we’ll get to later often the biggest concerns of candidates. So, I looked at your website, I saw a very interesting statistic and that was that the primary source of full-time acceptances for NUS MBA students was through school facilitated activities, at close to 90 percent. So, I think that a lot of candidates would be interested in knowing how the business school helps them with their career search and of course they’re going to have to really take the initiative and reach out themselves, but what does NUS—what activities does NUS Business School do to help students with their internships and with placements post-MBA?

Ms. Chua: Right. So, our MBA career services team invites companies on campus for recruitment talks and stuff like that. We also have career fairs where our students can network with recruiters. We have workshops, many of them business etiquette, interview skills, resume review; we have a lot of networking events. We also have daily job postings and internships as well as career advisory with individual career counselors.

As I mentioned earlier, we also have our Executive in Residence, Mr. Tan Soo Jin who was the top 100 headhunters of 2008 to come in to provide some career advice, but most of all I would say, because of the diversity, because of the bonds that you form during your MBA, probably one of the best ways to get a job will be through your friends in the MBA. And from my personal experience friends are just more than happy to push you to their employers, even though you may not have the relevant background, because they know that you’re good.

Darren: Wow, so, I mean that’s a very collaborative culture. I’m sure everyone at the MBA program, they want to get the best jobs and they’re willing to help their classmates out. I think that’s fantastic.

Ms. Chua: Yep.

Darren: With the 17 month program—do students commonly pursue internships?  Like is a typical career path to go from an internship with the company to a job—or yeah, I’m just wondering how common internships are?

Ms. Chua: Right. So, about half or more of the MBA students every year undertake an internship. This will be useful for those who are looking for a change in career or to secure a job before graduation. Most of my friends, including myself, actually secured a job before we graduated. So, I would think that most people actually would prefer internships even though I would recommend that those who are not switching careers to go on student exchange, because I always tell them that you’re be working so hard for the rest of your life, it’s like an extended internship whereas you never, ever get another chance at student exchange.

Darren: Yeah.

Ms. Chua: Unless you’re sent overseas, right?

Darren: Great, great with the 17 month program, everything is so accelerated and there’s so many resources at their fingertips and I’m sure it’s tough to choose between going on exchange or on a study trip abroad or to do an internship. Yeah, and also a lot of people that visit Singapore MBA Consulting are very interested in consulting, and I noticed that roughly 30 percent of your alums, at least last year, went into the consulting field. And so, I’m sure they would love to hear what type of consulting firms are recruiting NUS grads and what can these candidates do to give themselves the best chance of success to work in a consulting role post-MBA.

Ms. Chua: I would say that we actually recruit from—diverse people from diverse backgrounds and functions. Most of our students are from the IT and engineering background, but for these people who want to change careers, they have successfully made that change into finance and consulting. So, that’s something that we’re really proud about. Both large and boutique consulting firms recruit MBA graduates from NUS Business School. Regardless of their size, these firms are looking for candidates with previous consulting experience or prior knowledge of specific industry or line of business. Amongst the larger firms, some recent employers of NUS MBAs include Deloitte, DHL in-house consulting, McKinsey, Frost and Sullivan, KPMG and amongst the smaller firms, more specialized firms, some of our recent MBA grads have joined Double Effect, which is focused on private wealth, Linkage Asia in the area of leadership, development and DEGW, now part of AECOM, a consultancy focused on work place design and planning.

Darren: Okay and most of these consulting jobs are in Singapore?

Ms. Chua: Actually, they are all over the place. The NUS MBA is one of those that are highly ranked in terms of global mobility, so our students, once they graduate, they can work anywhere in the world.

Darren: Okay. Yeah, I think that really helps. Just to hear those names, because I think that’s very useful for our listeners, just to hear what sort of consulting companies are recruiting from NUS. And I’ll be sure to link to your career service pages in the show notes to make sure everyone can know where to go to look for those companies.

Yeah, so if we can move to admissions. NUS is a very, very selective school and so if you could walk us through the life of an application in your office from the time someone applies, clicks that submit button, submits their application—can you explain the process of what happens when they submit the application to when they hear back from NUS?

Ms. Chua: So, we actually review applications on a rolling basis. I would advise candidates to send in the applications as early as possible and not wait until the application deadline and vie for time in cyberspace with the rest of the candidates; that’s when the peak happens.

So, once the application is completed, we’ll check the documents and start reviewing all the applications. Usually, if one is short-listed for the interview itself, the interview slot will be arranged with the candidate, either face-to-face or through Skype with—it could be faculty members, it could senior administrators like myself. It could also be alumni. It really depends on which part of the world they are at. After the interview itself, the entire application will be put to the board of selection where the Vice Dean, the Deanery, the head of departments, ourselves, senior administrators will sit down to decide whether the person is in or out or with scholarship or without scholarship and things like that. So, it does take a bit of time. Some people, if they are clearly good candidates they are accepted quite quickly. Some people, they may be wait-listed, so we may take some time to get back to them.

Darren: Got it. So, if someone applies earlier. Let’s say that someone hears this podcast and applies tomorrow, would they hear back sooner than someone who applied, say 30th of January?

Ms. Chua: I would say that the chances are “yes,” but again it all depends on their profile. So, if it’s a clear good candidate, someone we really want in the program, then they’ll hear back very fast from us. However, if the person’s profile is quite mediocre as compared to a person who applies on the 30th of January, the guy who applies later may hear back from us first. But we try to be fair in terms of reviewing and in terms of getting back to the applicants.

Darren: Okay, I see, so it usually will take roughly 8 weeks or 12 weeks?

Ms. Chua: About 8 weeks, yeah.

Darren: 8 weeks. Okay.

Ms. Chua: 4 weeks to be short-listed for the interview and depending on 2-4 weeks after the interview to be offered a place.

Darren: Fantastic. Okay. And I know you mentioned scholarships and I’m sure a lot of ears perked up for that. I noticed on the site that you said scholarship candidates should apply by end of round one to be considered.

Ms. Chua: Right.

Darren: Now, is there a separate scholarship application process or are scholarships awarded along with the application at the same time?

Ms. Chua: It really depends again. So, I would say that we try to make the scholarships available at the time that we offer the candidates. However, some of the scholarship decisions may also come later because we have to assess the whole application cohort.

Darren: Yes.

Ms. Chua: So, it really depends, but I would say that if you are a clear good scholarship recipient than we may offer either quarter or half or three quarters or full. However, I would always advise our applicants to take scholarships as a bonus, because getting into the NUS MBA is extremely competitive and one has to be confident that the return on investment for the NUS MBA will come. You guys will be there someday, because the thing is that if you are good enough to get into the NUS MBA, then you must be of a certain caliber. And if you are going to continue waiting for scholarships and you may not even start on any MBA program, let alone the NUS MBA program.

Darren: Yeah, first step is to get in, right? Then worry about scholarships.

Ms. Chua: Yeah, scholarships should always be a bonus.

Darren: Yeah, you mentioned a strong scholarship candidate. Can you unpack that a little bit? What a strong scholarship candidate would be?

Ms. Chua: Right, so we are looking for well-rounded individuals. We are of course looking at their academic qualifications, we are looking at the university they come from, the GPA that they’ve obtained. We’re also looking at GMAT scores. I would say that GMAT scores, we are not looking at any minimum GMAT score. Basically, we are looking at the overall profile, so even though the average GMAT is 658, but if you are Bill Gates and you come into a 620, we’re not going to penalize you on that.

Darren: Yeah.

Ms. Chua: But of course, the thing is that if you fall short on certain areas, then the GMAT is a helpful way to make up for your shortcomings. So, we are looking for candidates with good career trajectory; so at least two years of work experience even though the average would be five years of work experience. So, in case you come in, say two or three years of work experience, it’s best that there is a strong case supporting you. Either you’re a young team leader or you’re a young entrepreneur or you have an extremely high GMAT score with good academic qualifications and things like. For those people who’s main language is not English, they also have to take TOEFL OR IELTS.

Darren: Do you prefer the TOEFL to the IELTS or the IELTS to TOEFL?

Ms. Chua: We have no preference, although the Chinese always tells us that the IELTS will be a little easier to score on. So, we’re looking at scores of 620, 260 or 100 for the TOEFL and IELTS at least 6.5 onwards.

We are also looking for candidates who are active in their lives, in terms of university life, maybe they have some extra curricular activities and in terms of in working life, maybe they’re still taking part in some professional clubs or doing some CSR, things like that.

Darren: Okay, what would you say to a candidate who is younger, maybe has less than the average years of work experience, maybe say three or four but works in an industry or job function where he or she hasn’t been able to get that management experience yet—hasn’t been given that opportunity to lead a team? Would you still encourage them to apply?

Ms. Chua: I may encourage them to apply now just to get their lead, but I would also advise them to probably look at embarking on the MBA maybe one or two or three years from now and in the meantime maybe try to get some international experience or try to develop other aspects of their life. They could also start an online business to show that they are enterprising, they can take up leadership in, I would say, voluntary organizations or something like that.

Darren: Got it. So, just to sum up what we’ve talked about, you’re really looking for candidates who are strong academically, who have strong undergraduate performance, strong GMATS and who have shown career progression, who have international experience, if possible—

Ms. Chua: Yes.

Darren: And who make an impact in their community. That’s my interpretation of what you’ve said. Is that right? Those qualities?

Ms. Chua: Yeah, those who have leadership qualities, who are enterprising, if possible and people who have special talents in music, in sports. So, we want people who are unique, who can learn from the NUS MBA as well as contribute to the NUS MBA and the NUS business school community.

Darren: Okay, great. That is fantastic. I think that this is extremely valuable information and thank you for sharing so candidly what you’re looking for in admissions, your career services and so forth. In terms of—for candidates who are interested in—maybe they can’t visit the school like you mentioned that’d be the best thing to do, but maybe they are not able to do so. What is the second best way they can learn about NUS and meet students and talk to students or talk to faculty? How could they do that?

Ms. Chua: I would say the most important thing is to contact us and make sure that we know that they exist. We do have alumni as well as faculty who are located in different cities around the world. Our faculty do visit those cities sometimes as well and we, the administrators, do go to market the NUS MBA quite aggressively. So, while we are in those cities, whether we are with our alumni or our faculty members, or with us, we can always meet up to talk more about the program. They can also read our blog. They can also request for a student ambassador to get in touch with them. So, we usually try to match student ambassadors to potential applicants in terms of nationality or industry or job functions or what they aspire to be, right?

Darren: And they can get in touch with these student ambassadors through the blog?

Ms. Chua: Well I would say the—

Darren: Through the student blog or through contacting the office?

Ms. Chua: Through contacting the office—

Darren: Got it.

Ms. Chua: Because the thing is that we are also quite careful about who we give the contacts of our alumni as well as our student ambassadors to. So, I would say that we would do some preliminary check to make sure that this person has fulfilled most of the criteria and would be a potential applicant for the NUS MBA.

Darren: Got it. So, I will be sure to link to the student blog and your contact information, your office’s contact information and the show notes. This has been fantastic. Is there anything else you would like to say about the NUS MBA? Any question I didn’t ask that I should have asked?

Ms. Chua: I guess there are so many things to know about the NUS MBA. I would advise people don’t wait to apply. Apply as soon as possible, because even though you may not have your GMAT or your TOEFL or your IELTS, at least once you apply we know that you exist and our team will follow up closely with you to ensure that your application goes through, right?

Darren: Okay, yeah and actually that reminds me of one more question I had which was, there’s an emphasis on applying early for scholarship funding and for giving yourself a good chance. Well, what about candidates who are applying in Round 2? Are their chances severely less than Round 1 candidates?

Ms. Chua: I would say, “yes” to some extent because some of the seats and some of the scholarships have been taken out by the Round 1 candidates, especially the scholarships. Also, people applying in Round 1 show the admissions team that they are better prepared for the MBA, they would have given this some thought and apply early and are very serious about getting in.

Of course, the thing is that if you are an exceptional candidate who applied in Round 2 and we really want you, we may still offer you a scholarship. But, of course the thing is there are the internal scholarships that we have control over and the external scholarships that are offered by other organizations, which we have to adhere to the deadlines. So, we’ll see what we can do to get in the best students from around the world.

Darren: There’s no quota for round one or round two is there?

Ms. Chua: There’s no quota for round one or round two—it’s the same. There’s no quote for the number of students that we take. Currently, we’re looking at about 100 full-time and you know, about 60-80 part-time as well as a handful of double-degree candidates. However, if we see a lot of good applicants that year, we would not mind increasing our intake.

Darren: Got it. Got it. Thank you so much, Ms. Chua for your time and for your insights about the program and I really hope we can do this again next year and see what has changed with the NUS MBA as well. So, thank you much for your time—

Ms. Chua: Thank you very much, Darren.

Darren: Okay, thank you and we’ll talk to you soon.

Ms. Chua: Sure, thank you.


SMU MBA Admissions Q&A with Dr. Philip Zerillo, Dean, Postgraduate Professional Programs, SMU

“I don’t think you’re going to find better students anywhere in the world.”

I had the pleasure of talking to Dr. Philip Zerillo (Dr. Z), who is Dean of Postgraduate Professional Programs at Singapore Management University. Dr. Z has played a pivotal role in developing SMU’s MBA program. We had a very open conversation about the latest developments at the SMU MBA program, its unique pedagogy, career placement success and admissions.

Topics Discussed:

  • The most exciting developments at SMU MBA (1:15)
  • SMU’s unique pedagogy (7:26)
  • SMU’s faculty (9:52)
  • SMU’s plan to grow the MBA class above 60 students (12:10)
  • Career placements stats SMU MBAs as a young program? (14:40)
  • How SMU MBA students compare to MBA students at other top business schools (20:40)
  • When you can expect to hear back from the program with a decision (22:47)
  • Available scholarships – over 50% of the class gets scholarships (29:03)
  • The 3 criteria SMU is looking for in candiates (31:43)
  • Candid thoughts on GMAT scores (38:03)

If you are looking to work in Singapore post-MBA, SMU has a great reputation with employers in Singapore.  With the small class size, you’ll make intimate connections with classmates, faculty, and career services.  The MBA program has gotten accreditation from AACSB and EQUIS within 4 years and should enter the FT rankings in the next year or two.

Listen on for much, much more!

Show Notes:

Full Transcript:

Darren: Hey everyone, this is Darren, from Singapore MBA consulting and I’m here with Dr. Philip Zerillo, who’s the Executive Director of Postgraduate Coursework Programs at Singapore Management University and Dr. Z, as he is known among students, got his Ph.D. in marketing from Northwestern and he’s taught at top MBA programs around the world, such as Kellogg, University of Texas, Austin and Helsinki School of Economics.

When I was at SMU, I actually worked very closely with Dr. Z, and I know he’s played a pivotal role in developing the MBA program. He also teaches the Core Marketing class at SMU and the students always used to rave to me about his classes. So, welcome to the show Dr. Z.

Dr. Zerillo: Darren, thanks so much. It’s good to hear from you again.

Darren: Could you talk to us about the single—what’s the single most exciting development at SMU this year?

Dr. Zerillo: I would say, I don’t know if I would confine it to one single thing, but several things that I really think are exciting and happening here at Singapore Management University are first of all, if I look at our students, our class is really starting to diversify a great deal here.

Darren: Yeah.

Dr. Zerillo: If I look at the number of people that we’re bringing in and where they’re coming from, some areas and some places where we haven’t had a lot of students from in the past, we’re now getting multiply students coming in. So, we’re starting to get a lot more reach in places like Japan, the Philippines, Korea, Vietnam. So, what we’re doing is we’re seeing many more students coming from diverse set of countries around South East Asia.

Also, we’re starting to attract students from North America and Europe as well and we’re starting to see students enter the program. I know that a couple of years ago, you had recruited a gentleman by the name of Sander Bogdan and Sander eventually became our Valedictorian in the MBA class. We posted his interview when he was exiting the university. Just his discussion about what a nice it was to go to school and how as an American he felt very comfortable going to school over here. And what we’re doing is, we’re finding a lot more applications coming into Singapore Management University from some of these other English speaking or primarily English speaking places around the world. So, I think the first thing that’s exciting is, just the change in our application pool that we have here at the university.

We’re kind of new to graduate education here at Singapore Management University, hence one of the reasons why you don’t see us in a lot of the rankings. We actually have to wait until we’ve had at least four graduating classes from the MBA program before we’re eligible to be ranked and things like this. So, some of these things will take care of themselves here very, very soon as we move along, but these are just parts of being a new program. So, if I look at this university, what’s exciting right now is how healthy the intake looks in terms of new students coming into the program.

The first couple of years are very difficult to get the word out and get people interested. Now what you’re seeing is you’re really starting to see a really increasing wave of demand for this program. The second thing is we’ve revamped the curriculum a bit here at the university. We’ve always very, very internationally focused in terms of the pedagogy and what have you.

Darren: Yes.

Dr. Zerillo: And what we’ve done is, as you know, I started a case writing initiative several years ago and it’s now turned into an actual center on case writing and what’s happened is we’ve written a great number of cases about the businesses in this region and the number of cases that we have downloaded by sister universities and what have you, has been increasing by 400 – 600 percent a quarter for the past year.

So what’s happening is there’s a lot of interest in the pedagogy that we’re developing here at the university, because we have a lot of people going out writing cases about businesses in Vietnam, businesses over in Thailand, businesses out in Indonesia and these cases are becoming very, very interesting to students who want to really come out here and learn about this region.

So, I think from a pedagogical standpoint, one of the real changes in this program has just been our commitment as a university to develop the stories of Asia. So, people coming here and people going to school here are not just going to just get Western business models, but they’re also going to get some of the local models as well. And 60 percent of our faculty has got their Ph.D.s from the west, but writing these stories about the east.

And then the other thing that’s happened, curriculum wise is, what we’ve done is we’ve developed the special projects class for all the MBA students, so as they go through their entire time here they have a project, which gives them a real application base to their education. So, one of the things that sometimes universities are accused of is being a little bit theoretical and not as applied or application-based.

Well, this is a project that gets overseen from the moment that they walk in the door until they leave, but it’s an application-based opportunity for the students. And then I think the last thing is we really tried to ramp up our connection with industry through this case writing as well as through our Executive Education Outreach and what this has done is it’s really led to a much more vibrant placement market for our students around the region. So, we’re getting offers from a number of these case writing centers to employ our graduates when they graduate in these more distant markets, as well as they’re offering internships and things like that to our students.

So Darren, if I had to say what’s exciting, I think what’s exciting is some of the health, right? I’ve been an administrator at a number of universities including my time as the Dean in Texas and it’s really quite reaffirming that these things are all starting to come together. So, there’s a confluence of things that are really healthy indicators of the vital signs of the program.

Darren: That is fantastic. For those of you listening, I will post a link to the interview with Sander, which is on Youtube. So, we’ll be sure to link to that in the show notes.

Dr. Zerillo: I’m that very thin guy sitting next to Sander…

Darren: Yeah, and in terms of the special pedagogy of SMU, can you talk a little bit more about that?

Dr. Zerillo: Yeah, SMU was set up initially when the current President of Singapore, Tony Tan, envisioned this university when he was minister of education. The idea was that this was supposed to be a different university and it was set up with a very western-style of teaching. So, it’s very inactive. It was meant to be interactive right from the beginning.

The other thing is, we went to small lectured classrooms. So, we have no classrooms on the campus with over 65 seats in them. So the idea here is let’s move people into smaller classroom sizes where they can have interactive lectures.

All of the classrooms are horseshoe-shaped or theater-style, so that students are able to see each other, engage with each other and conversations are started. So if I look at the pedagogy itself and the way things are delivered, this has been a very interactive western-style teaching environment here.

What that has done is it’s created very different students. Our students are very comfortable speaking, speaking up; very comfortable discussing things and being what I would call, intellectually curious. This is really translated in large part to some of the higher compensation that our graduates get upon exit from the university. As you know, our undergraduate program here has the highest salaries upon exit in the Singapore market. Though, we’re a new school, part of that is due to the teaching style. Also, part of it is due to people that we select and what have you.

So, pedagogically, I think this is a different university. I always say that this was a graduate institution parading as an undergraduate institution. It was really set up like a graduate school. We had worked with warden during the initial design, development and early stages of the university’s creation and we’ve maintained that partnership with warden through the years. It’s been the sort of thing that has really led to a different teaching environment, a different teaching style.

But the other thing that’s happening is the leadership of this university, has really made a commitment to bring the faculty closer to the industry itself. Though, business is still our primary school here at the university, we’re still a Singapore Management University. Even though we have a law school, a school of accounting and a school of information sciences and social sciences and Economics, the business school is still a large part of the portfolio.

And what we’ve done is we’ve opened up a center for management practice. Now there is, to my knowledge, no other university that’s set up a center such as this. And the center of management practice, the idea is to bring the faculty closer to the problems of business. It’s a place where faculty can do immersions in corporations; corporations can also bring their executives into the university.

This is the place where we do a lot of the case writing and things like this. So, it’s the sort of thing where we’re putting our people in contact with the problems that businesses face, which makes our students, when they come out the door, a great deal more worldly and they’re able to begin their careers and have a very, very easy ramp up into their work life.

Darren: Yes, I mean and I saw on the site that class participation counts for 20 – 50 percent—

Dr. Zerillo: Yeah.

Darren: Of the grade often. I remember when I was working at SMU, that the students really, really loved having this intimate connection with their professors, many whom had experience working in industry as well.

But you mentioned that the class size—there’s no class that seats more than 65 students and I know that the class size in this past year of the MBA program was 60. So, do you plan to keep the program this size, this small intimate size or are you planning to expand it? And I’m sure some students might think, “Oh, you’re only taking in 60 students. Do I even have a chance of getting into a program like this?” So, could you talk a little bit more about the class size for the program?

Dr. Zerillo: Yeah, where we started out, we were running about 15 or 20 students in our part-time MBA program and also about 15 – 20 students in the full-time program. Now, what has happened is, we’ve gotten to where we’re running 50 – 60 students in each one of those programs. Now that’s pretty much a full class, right? If you think about the size of a classroom physically, we have about 60 seats in a classroom, so those are really full classes.

We’ve kept it this year as we’re going to run one full cohort of each one of these, but I think next year what we’ll be doing is, we’ll be moving to multiple cohorts. But there’s some advantages to having multiple cohorts, because when it comes time for electives, you have a critical mass of students, which allows you to offer more electives in the future. So again, this is one of those health things that as we get more applications and we move to multiply intakes of students, we have the opportunity to offer more electives and things like this, because we have just a volume of students that’ll be going through the programs.

In terms of, “Do I have an ability to get into this program,” we always have room for talented students. So, I think that one thing that we’re going to continue on is that I don’t think our admissions criteria is going to go up particularly, but I also don’t expect it to go down at all. So, I think we’re just going to continue to recruit the same types of candidates; the only thing is we’re going to be recruiting more of them and from more diverse regions. So, I expect the program to grow. I would suggest that next year we’ll have two and possibly even three cohorts coming in next year, which is very, very good from a standpoint of competitions and the opportunity for students to meet a diverse group of people and things like that.

Again these are all very, very healthy things and having taught at very large MBA programs like the University of Texas or Northwestern University or Vanderbilt University, I would just say that these are the sort of things that are very, very good, just in terms of your overall experience.

Darren: Great, yeah later in the show we’ll definitely get to admissions and what that means and what you guys are looking for.

Dr. Zerillo: Okay.

Darren: But, in terms of the class size as well, I know SMU is like you said, is a young program, it’s got this unique pedagogy. You know, you’re ramping up the corporate connections and I know that you’ve recently been awarded the EQUIS accreditation as well, along with a AACSB, which is amazing for a program that’s only been running for less than five years. But what would you have to say to prospective candidates to SMU about career placement, given that the school is still in ranked, it’s still a young program, and yeah, could you talk a little bit more about what students can expect from the career services and how successful you guys have been in terms of placing graduates in the program?

Dr. Zerillo: Yeah, last year we had—you have to report your graduates six months out from graduation day, what the percentage of your people are that are fully employed and last year 96 percent of our students were fully employed six months out. That would compare more than favorably with any institutions in the west. So, any of the Western top 25 MBA programs in the world are not going to see better numbers than that. As a matter of fact, these would be very much on the high side of any employment numbers that we see for those universities.

So I think one of the things that first I want to say is that our placement numbers have been very good and this is really been something that has been a little bit of a struggle for us as a university, because it’s a new program and we have to get the word out and as a new program, you’re not ranked right away, right? As I said, you have to wait four years until the institution can go up for ratings and go up for rankings. So, it’s the sort of thing that we’re probably not going to be ranked for another year and a half or there about.

Having said that, you have to start calling your employers and connecting with your employers and asking them to take a look at your students and interview your students and give them the time. Now in the early days that’s a little bit harder sell and the university is only 12 years old to begin with. But one thing that we found is, if I look at our undergraduate programs, 100 percent of our undergraduates were placed at graduation date last year. So, it’s the sort of thing where we’ve had remarkable relationships with the corporate recruiters throughout the region with the undergraduate program and it’s transferred very nicely to our graduate programs now. As I say, in the early days we kind of struggled with this a bit, but last year’s class—it wasn’t the best job market this last year, as a lot of people have been stalling their hires but 96% of our people were placed within six months of graduation, And quite frankly, the ones that weren’t, had really been from family businesses and they—

Darren: Yeah, and I mean did most of these students from the full-time program, did they end up working in Singapore or did they go back to their home countries?

Dr. Zerillo: Well, the overwhelming majority stayed in Singapore. There were a number of people though, that did go back to their home countries. We had some Thai students; we had some students like Sander who went back to the United States after he was done with his degree. A couple of students went back to India. So, some of them did go back, but I would say even the students who went back to their home countries, they probably only represented 50 percent of the people from their country that came over here. So, probably half of the international students wound up staying over here in Singapore.

Darren: Yeah, and with the sort of accelerated one year program that SMU has, could you talk a little bit more about internship placements for your students

Dr. Zerillo: Yeah, we’ve got a series of internship programs here and students are able to do a 12-week internship as they go through the program. So, what we do is we begin having their classes in the late summer; those classes will be in the evenings and that opens up time for them to work a internship during the day. It’s become mandatory for international students or for the students to take an internship; roughly 90+ percent of them engage in internships.

Darren: You mentioned this new special projects class and I just wanted to get back to that really quickly. Do the students have a choice in deciding what they study or are there certain classes that are already made up that they can enroll in? How does that work?

Dr. Zerillo: Well, it’s a little bit of both, Darren. If people come in and they’ve got a particular issue that they want to study and they know it coming in the door, we certainly welcome that and we try to pair them up with faculty  members that can oversee that project.

On the other hand, if the students don’t have an idea, what we do is we try to generate some projects for them to work out as well. We always have businesses interacting with us that have specific problems or issues that they’d like to have studied.

Darren: Okay.

Dr. Zerillo: A little bit of both.

Darren: Yeah, I think that’s a great new addition to the program.

Dr. Zerillo: Yeah, it’s a wrinkle.

Darren: Yeah. Before we get into admissions talk, is there one area of the program that you wish more international students—cause within Singapore, everyone knows that SMU is one of the top universities in Singapore, but in terms of outside of Singapore, is there one area of the program that you wish applicants knew more about?

Dr. Zerillo: Yeah, you know Darren, I’ll tell you what, if I look at this program now, I’ve taught ad Hebrew University in Jerusalem, I’ve taught at Thammasat University in Thailand, I’ve taught with the University in Maryland, I’ve taught at Emory University, I taught with the University of Texas, Northwestern. I’ve taught at a lot of different schools and one of the things I see here is is I see, one is that we have tremendous students. I go in a classroom, the students are ready, they’re prepared and the level of conversation is quite high in the classrooms here. So, I think from the standpoint of who it is you go to school with, I don’t think what you’re going to find better students anywhere in the world, right? This is a very, very solid group of students and both technically as well as strategically; these people are very, very advanced.  So that would be the first thing.

The second thing is that the level of English fluency and English competency in this program is very high. I think, if I look at Western students and you, yourself having grown up in the United States, maybe not all of the students really understand some of nuances and differences between different countries out here in Asia. And if we talk to the average American, Canadian or Mexican student, they might not understand, just what the level of facility with English in a place like Singapore.

Darren: Yeah.

Dr. Zerillo: So, this is a place where the instructors—there’s no communication problems here in terms of the instructors’ abilities to be able to speak English in the classroom. I think that’s always one of the things for an international student looking at potentially coming to a far and distant land—

Darren: Yeah.

Dr. Zerillo: That’s one of the things that scares them, right? So, I think that’s one of the first things, is that I’d like to put people’s concerns or their fears—I like to ease them and let them know that the classmates that you’re going to go to school with are very, very— first of all, they’re very kind people out here and secondly, they’re very intelligent and very hard working people on the level of commitment. And professionalism in the classroom is very high and the teachers are also very, very competent and very, very fluent in English and there really is no slip on things such as that. So, if you watch that interview with Sander, this is one of the first things that Sander explains to people is, “As an American I found this to be a very, very soft landing.”

Darren: That’s great. Yeah, and again we’ll link to that interview. If we could switch our focus to admissions, what everyone wants to know.

Dr. Zerillo: Okay.

Darren: Yeah, so I know before when I used to work at SMU, we used to have three deadlines for the full-time program but I know that it’s changed a bit in terms of how quickly you get back to applicants once they apply.

Dr. Zerillo: Yeah.

Darren: So, I see three deadlines on the site for the full-time program, starting in January. So, could you walk us through the life of an application in your office; what happens from when someone submits and application, when do they hear back from you in terms of for an interview?

Dr. Zerillo: Let me just start of by saying that when it comes to applications, the first thing is, the earlier you apply the better and that’s for a couple of different reasons. One, just in terms of the places that are still available in the program, we’re going to wait to cap it at some level, whether 60, 120, 180 whatever that is, so certainly the earlier the better in terms of applications, but it shouldn’t dissuade you if your timing is not on the early side.

Also, we have piles of money for scholarships and things like this and certainly all of them are still open and available on the first day, by the time we get later in the cycle, some of those are not as available as they might have been. So, while I wouldn’t discourage anybody later in the cycle, I would certainly say that the earlier you can get in, always the better.

The second thing is, is what happens in the application cycle. Now, it used to be that what we would do is we would take the applications in and then we would wait until the end of the cycle and then at the end of the cycle or the application period, we would began calling people for interviews and it might be 30, 45, 60 days from when you submitted until you got an interview here at the university.

Well, one of the things we did, is we just have made this process much faster, because we realize the people who are applying have lots of schools that they want to consider or what have you, so we try to get back to people in a very timely fashion. So now, what happens here at the university, when you apply, as soon as you complete your application, within seven days we have you scheduled for an interview.

When you have your interview within seven days we get back to you with a decision and you either get an offer from the program, you get a decline from the program or if you are going to be on a wait list, which we try to keep the wait list to a minimum, we let you know that you’re on the wait list during that time period.

So, what we try to do is speed up the process a great deal for people. What we were finding was, we lost a lot of very qualified candidates, because what happened was they just didn’t know if they were getting in the program or not and they made alternate plans and it was the sort of thing we probably missed out on some very solid candidates in the past.

The second thing that we’ve done is we’ve tried to make the process a great deal more streamlined. Initially, the program had had five essays that we wanted people to write. Now, what we’ve done is we’ve said, “Look, the need for an essay is to give people an opportunity to tell us something unique and different about themselves and also to look at their writing and their ability to communicate with a written word and things like that.” Really, two essays is probably enough and so what we’ve done is we’ve reduced the number of essays needed for an application from five to two. So, it’s streamlined the process, it’s made it a little bit easier for people to get their applications in, in a timely manner and it’s speeded up the entire process.

Darren:  Yeah, so I think, I’m sure many ears perked up when you said a few things. So, the first is that SMU will return a decision, basically within 14 days. Is that correct? That’s seven days to—

Dr. Zerillo: Yes, 14 days. What we’ll do is within seven days, we’ll schedule an interview. Now, it may be three days until you can get your interview or your schedule might be such that it takes you 10 days or whatever to get your interview, but from the day that you get your interview, then its seven days until we return a decision again.

Darren: Wow that is fantastic.

Dr. Zerillo: And this is the sort of thing that, look, we just want to maintain contact. If this is something that you’ve gone through the steps of process, we’re not going to let down on our side to where we don’t give you the attention that your application deserves. So, that’s what we really tried to ramp up here. And quite frankly, I’ll tell you Darren, this has been really why I think a lot of the numbers have started to grow in terms of our number of students matriculating, is simply because it’s a continued interest and I think people began to look for other options when the process lags on a little too long.

Darren: Yeah, I think that is just fantastic that someone can apply and get a decision within two, three, four weeks. I think that’s fantastic.

Dr. Zerillo: Yep.

Darren: And in terms of the ear perking thing I heard was “piles of money for scholarships.” So, could you talk a little bit more about the scholarships that are available to candidates, both international and Singaporean?

Dr. Zerillo: Yeah, we have a number of scholarships and about 65 percent of our students last year were on scholarship of some sort and 45 percent of those students—45 percent of students had multiple scholarships. So, there is money available here at the university. It’s the sort of thing I spend a lot of my time doing is trying to raise money for scholarships and things like this for the graduate programs here at the university; so we are out constantly looking at employers and people like this to become involved and help to sponsor some of the students and what have you.

It’s the sort of thing we always wish we had more scholarship money available, but yeah, we’ve done a good job of being able to assist students. Now, it’s not the sort of thing that we’re looking at 100% tuition, scholarships, but we’ve had fairly significant levels of scholarship participation.

Darren: Wow, so nearly half the class has been awarded a scholarship. Could you give us a range in terms of what a typical award would be?

Dr. Zerillo: Well, most of them tend to be in the area of somewhere between 15 – 30 percent of the tuition.

Darren: Wow that’s still—that’s great.

Dr. Zerillo: Yeah, most of them tend to be in that range. Now, we do have some fully paid scholarships and we have some scholarships that work out to about 10 percent of tuition, but the most of the things tend to be in that 15 – 30 percent range.

Darren: Fantastic.

Dr. Zerillo: A lot of students—I’m sorry, I was going to say a lot of students have multiply scholarships as well, so it might be the sort of thing they have 15 percent and then another 20 percent for something else, so it’s not to say that people don’t have more than a 30 percent scholarship.

Darren: Great and yeah, I’d encourage those of you listening to check out the scholarship page that SMU, MBA program has. They’ve listed all the different scholarships that are available, so definitely check out that resource which I’ll link to in the show notes. And I guess the other question is what types of candidates are you looking for? You mentioned “qualified,” right? But can you unpack that a little bit in terms of what you’re looking for? I know SMU has a slightly older class than average, but could you talk a little bit more about what types of candidates are you looking to attract to the program?

Dr. Zerillo: Well Darren, if they can walk on water that’s a good thing. But seriously Darren, what we’re looking for is, one, people who have demonstrated an academic profile that indicates that they’re going to be able to do the work here at the university, so a good academic turn fact record is a very important thing.

Secondly, we’d like to find people who have a good work profile, right? That have shown a good solid career progression that they’re starting to manage people or they’re managing people and they’re responsible for significant decisions within their firm.

The reason that you want those type of people is they add a great deal to your discussion. They’re people that once you begin to start managing people your career is going to go in a direction in which you’re going to have great impact. So, we’re looking for people that have shown that early ability to manage and to lead and to handle bigger decision within organizations.

The third thing we’re looking for is we’re looking people that are going to have an impact in society, so not just business, but also will they impact society in a positive and a purposeful way; so people who’ve had community impact and things like this. So, if I had to look at three areas of competency that we’d look for in people, these would be the three areas.

Now, if I look at candidates and I say, “Who’s the ideal candidate?” I want to see people that can come in and put a story together, that are able to project and to put together a storyline that allows them to communicate very complex problems to the interviewers. So, what we’re looking for is people that are going to have those solid presentation skills and solid human interaction skills that are going to be in large part, are what take you great places in your career.

Darren: Yeah, and so speaking of the interview, every candidate who is admitted to the program has to be interviewed?

Dr. Zerillo: That is correct.

Darren: Okay and who conducts the interviews? Is it student alumni or faculty or the MBA admissions office?

Dr. Zerillo: Well, it’s a combination. There’s at least one faculty member and sometimes there’s two and they’ll conduct it either—will have as many as two faculty members or we may have two faculty members and a person from the MBA admissions office. But as a maximum, we have three people interviewing you; sometimes it’s as few as two people interviewing you, but it’s some combination of faculty and MBA admissions office.

We have not, to this point, used our MBA students to go out as alumni—our past students to do these interviews. This will be something we’ll probably move to in the future, but as a young program with only 50 or 60 graduates, it would be very taxing for them to handle all the interviews at this stage. As the program grows and we have a more vast alumni, we’ll probably migrate more towards that model.

Darren: Yeah and I just want to say to candidates out there listening that just to have this opportunity to interview with a faculty member of the program is really an amazing opportunity, because of course, you’re going to have to have great responses and be ready to share your story, but you also get to ask the faculty about their teaching experience in the program and really hear firsthand what it’s all about, so I think that’s very special.

Dr. Zerillo:  Yeah, I mean I know that I’ve said that—

Darren: Yeah, two faculty, these are world-class faculty who are spending the time to interview you, so I understand when the program gets bigger it won’t be possible to do that, but I do think that’s a very unique part of the application process.

Dr. Zerillo:  Well, I think what will happen as we grow is we’ll probably still continue to do faculty interviews here at the university, but maybe for some of the more distant applications work with a local graduate, which is what we’ve done at many other universities I’ve worked with in the past.

Darren: Yeah. Okay, great and you mentioned one of your three criteria was experience leading people and managing people, What would you say to someone who—whether because it’s that’s person’s function or their industry, they just haven’t had that opportunity yet to manage others?

Dr. Zerillo: Yeah, I mean—

Darren: Should they still apply or…?

Dr. Zerillo: Yes, absolutely and we recognize that—is that there are some career paths where you’re probably not going to be managing people until you get to a certain level. Take a typical scientist, if you’re a bench scientist in a pharma company, you’re probably 15 years with that company until you’ve really got any significant leadership position. You’re going to be a scientist creating molecules somewhere on a team, right? And so what we would look for is not that you’ve led, but that you’ve been a part of a team and that people—when we read through your recommendations and things like this, we’re going to look for your collegiality, your ability to influence within the team and things like that. So, these are the kind of things that we really begin to hone in on when we look at the recommendations and things like that on your application.

Darren: Got it, and finally the question that’s on a lot of people’s minds is GMAT score. So, I saw that the class average is about a 650 or 660, I believe.

Dr. Zerillo: Yeah.

Darren: So, is there a minimum score that you’re looking for?

Dr. Zerillo: No, we don’t have a published minimum score. Let me be very direct about this though, Darren. I’ve been the Dean of these types of programs for a lot of years and one thing that we do find is that a solid GMAT score correlates very well with people’s academic progression in these programs. So, a good GMAT score is very important. Now, is it end all and the be all? Absolutely not. And we wouldn’t spend our time interviewing people and we would not ask an admissions committee to oversee all these applications if all we wanted was a GMAT score. If all we wanted was a GMAT score, we would publish what the GMAT score had to be and then we would let people—they could register online and we would become

I would say that we try to look beyond that GMAT, but it’s not to say that a solid GMAT is not required, right? Now, does everybody have to have a 750 GMAT or a 700 GMAT or something like that? No, and we do except some people under 600 in our program, but they have some other things that are very, very solid about their applications; either their past experiences or their interviews or things like that. And we’ve turned down some people with excellent GMAT scores.

Darren: Yeah, it sounds from what you’ve told me that the communication and presentation skills are very important

Dr. Zerillo: Absolutely. Yeah.

Darren: So, Dr. Z., I want to thank you so much for your time. I know you’re a very busy man, so thank you for spending an hour with us and shedding more light on the program. If candidates are interested to find out more about SMU or to actually talk to students, where would you recommend they go –

Dr. Zerillo: Yeah, so—

Darren: To find out more information?

Dr. Zerillo: You know certainly, you’re always welcome to contact me and my email—and unfortunately for the university, my picture is up all over the website and if that doesn’t scare people away, people are certainly welcome to contact me. The other thing I would suggest is that they go directly to the MBA program and that they contact either Gilbert Chua or Edwin Lim Yee Ping, who are the two people working in admissions here at the university and they do a great job of interacting with people and helping them to navigate this process.

Darren: Okay, fantastic. So, yeah we’ll include those emails below and thank you again Dr. Z.

Dr. Zerillo: Thanks, Darren.

Darren: And hopefully we can do this again next year as well. See what’s changed with the program.

Dr. Zerillo: And hopefully we’ll catch up with either other on the road somewhere.

Darren: Yeah, exactly, alright Dr. Z.

Dr. Zerillo: Thanks, Darren.

Darren: Thank you so much.

Dr. Zerillo: Bye, bye.

Darren: Take care. Bye, bye.