Addressing a lack of quant coursework

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Addressing a lack of quant coursework

by b-schooler » Wed Aug 05, 2009 1:47 pm
Hi Graham and Stacey,

Excuse my hypothetical question :-)

If an applicant was offered an interview at a top b-school, and the interviewer asked how the applicant would be able to handle the quantitative coursework when the applicant had no substantive quant background, what would be the best answer?

Let's assume this applicant had a decent but not stellar GMAT Q score. Obviously, the best thing would be to build an alternative transcript with quant courses including calc and accounting. But let's say that the applicant hadn't done this but was offered an interview anyway. It seems like it wouldn't be advisable to say, "I plan to take a calc class if I'm admitted," even if that's true. What would be the best thing to say, assuming they couldn't just enroll in a quant-based class today?

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by Stacey Oyler » Wed Aug 05, 2009 3:38 pm
Hi B-schooler,

You raise a good question. The best answer to the interview question "how will you handle the quantitative coursework?" is the honest answer. Think about how you indeed will survive. Do you have quantitative experience in your role at work? Do you plan to take courses or attend a math camp prior to enrollment? You should honestly assess your answer to this question because not only may it impact their decision to admit you, but it could indeed impact your success in the program should you be admitted. In short, I don't have a canned response to this question as I think it greatly depends on the applicant.

Best,

Stacey
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by b-schooler » Wed Aug 05, 2009 4:27 pm
Thank you, Stacey. I just wonder if it would come off as hollow if (even if it's true) I address the question by saying I fully intend to take such classes if admitted.

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by Graham » Thu Aug 06, 2009 1:12 am
B-schooler,

I'll echo Stacey's advice here. When it comes to a lack of quantitative experience, and the various ways to remedy it, there's a bit of a pecking order:

1) Ideally you've scored above the 80th percentile on the quantitative section of the GMAT exam. This is a very strong way to signal your abilities. A high GMAT result (in both math and verbal), coupled with solid marks in undergrad (even in the humanities) can go a long way towards suggesting that you will be a solid student, that you are naturally bright, etc.

2) Another great step to have taken is to build an alternative transcript by pursuing coursework in subjects like calculus, accounting, statistics or economics and earning As. Some candidates take online classes, like those offered at the UCLA Extension School or MBAmath.com too.

3) Finally, your recommenders should support you in this regard by highlighting your facility with numbers/quantitative approach at work, etc. Your job descriptions and essays may also hint at the fact that you frequently tackle quant. issues, etc.

Since it sounds like you can likely check items #1 and #3 off of the list, the real issue is how you tackle item #2. While in an ideal world, you should have already taken the quant. courses and be able to share grades with the adcom at an eventual admissions interview, there are some other options. For example, you could pre-enroll for some courses that start this fall, and indicate as such to the adcom at the time of the interview (you might even have a mid-term grade at that point - if the interview is in October/November). You could also take an online course that starts now - or sometime in the coming weeks, such that you'll have it on your record at the time of application (and may even have a grade). The final option is to simply state that you "intend to pursue courses if admitted" to business school. While this isn't ideal, it's cetainly better than saying that you plan to 'wing it' once you show up in b-school (or saying nothing). There are also some ways to make the claim more convincing. For example, you might name specific courses, start dates, schools that you are looking into.

"Although I've learned a lot on the job, I am aware that my formal quantitative education is somewhat limited. As such, I've looked into taking both statistics and calculus at NYU's School of Continuing Education. They meet once a week and the start date is January 15th, so I expect to have a busy winter!"

It sounds much more impressive to say something like that, than to simply make an ambiguous claim. In addition, to the extent that you can pre-enroll for any courses, I'd recommend it - so that you can really signal to the adcom that you are serious about doing this.

Clearly, there is no substitute for having already constructed an alternative transcript of quantitative courses - but if you haven't, you're still better off showing a genuine interest in that coursework than saying nothing at all.

Best of luck,

Graham
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