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The Inside Scoop on UCLA Anderson School of Management

by Stacy Blackman Consulting, Feb 20, 2024

There's arguably no finer place in the world to earn your MBA than in sunny Los Angeles. As the leading academic institution in Southern California, UCLA's Anderson School of Management drives innovation and entrepreneurship in the region. But don't take our word for it. The school placed 19th overall in the latest US News & World Report ranking of the best business schools. And when it comes to specialties, US News ranks UCLA Anderson highly for real estate (No. 8), finance (No. 9), and marketing (No. 13).

Alex Lawrence, who's been the assistant dean of admissions and financial aid at the Anderson School for over a decade, dropped by the B-Schooled podcast to chat about the program. This blog post will spill all the deets on UCLA Anderson's curriculum, culture, and admissions practices. Plus, as an Anderson MBA alum himself, there’s no one better to shed light on what it takes to get into the UCLA Anderson MBA program. Check out the highlights of Alex's conversation with B-Schooled host Erika below (comments and questions condensed for brevity and clarity.)

What makes the UCLA Anderson School special?

Alex: It's going to sound cliche to say "the people," so I'll save that for a little bit later in the discussion. But let's start with the location, which is a great hub for business activity in Silicon Beach. It's also a great area for those who have entrepreneurial endeavors. Some people lose sight of the fact that we have a really strong finance and tech area. All of these roll up into our nine centers of excellence. So there's a lot of great opportunities and we know that two years is not enough to explore everything.

Tell us about some of the newer aspects of the program worth highlighting.

The subject of ethics and its importance in the business world is a growing trend. So now, our students are required to take an ethics course as part of our graduation requirements. We've always been a program that tries to make sure our students have a global experience. That's why we're actively working on expanding some of the study abroad opportunities for students.

Individuals who are interested in the entrepreneurial segment can get involved with our venture accelerator, the Price Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Many times, people come to our program as career switchers. They may have a secondary interest beyond what they put in their application that they start exploring. Some of those entrepreneurial interests and activities may be part of their future—maybe not in the short term but in the long term. That's why we built out that business creation program.

We've also launched immersion programs that start after the first week of classes, two months before corporate employers come on campus. They focus on technology and consulting, and we have a finance fast track. Based on our research and working with different business partners, we felt that it was imperative that we create these immersion programs in support of those career activities. That way, students are better prepared when employers come on campus in the fall. They can figure out whether that will be the right program for them.

Finally, we're going to begin accepting the Executive Assessment as a test option for the class of 2026.

Do you want to clear up any misperceptions about the Anderson School?

People often think it's just an entertainment and media town because we're in Los Angeles. But applicants who are interested in a career in finance will also find a lot of support. We have 15 specializations, including real estate, healthcare, technology, leadership, and social impact. With over 115 elective courses in a STEM-certified MBA, people start saying, "Oh wow, I never knew about the way UCLA is positioned out in Los Angeles."

People also wonder about job placement after graduation and whether they can go back to the East Coast or the Midwest. Do you have to stay on the West Coast? When you come here, know that mobility is very high for our students and alumni.

What do students do outside of class for fun?

We're a school that really values community engagement. That's what we look for in individuals who apply to our program. And me being an alumnus from the program way back, I've seen it getting stronger and stronger. Some of the best ideas come from our students, such as the conferences and different clubs that get initiated. Wherever you look, there are a number of ways to take on leadership positions.

We have professional clubs in tech, finance, consulting, et cetera. And then some of the clubs are fun. LA is a big foodie town, so there's a club for that. The wine club went to an international wine competition. They were one of 10 business schools or US schools that were able to compete and move on to the international level.

There's always something going on the UCLA campus. As for the broader campus, it's more about what interests you: beach, snowboarding, foodie, wine tasting, going to arts, entertainment shows, you name it. There's plenty to do.

Turning now to admissions...what is the admissions committee looking for in applicants overall?

We're looking for success and accomplishments in many different areas. As I described earlier, we're looking for engaged people with some level of community involvement because that will be important when they come to our campus.

Applicants should have some leadership and teamwork in their background. Academic performance matters, too. We're looking to assemble a class of individuals with different backgrounds from different parts of the world and diverse career industries. We feel like that combination makes the classroom and campus activities so dynamic.

At the end of the day, I take a lot of pride when I hear some of our partners from the business community say, you know what? We really like those Anderson students. They're smart, they are competitive, but in a nice way.

Please give us your insights into how best to answer this year's new MBA essay:

UCLA Anderson seeks to develop transformative leaders who think fearlessly, drive change, and share success. We believe the ability to persevere is an essential component of effective leadership. Please share an example from your personal or professional life where you demonstrated perseverance to accomplish a significant goal or milestone. 250 words max.

Is there any preference between whether the applicant shares a personal or professional example?

First, think about the real estate you have throughout the entire application. I know 250 words for an essay is not a lot, but you can also showcase your abilities in your resume and in the interview if invited. Also, the letters of recommendation on your behalf can talk about your strengths. So you don't want to waste that real estate by repeating things.

Don't miss Stacy Blackman's UCLA MBA Application Essay Tips for 2023-2024

When it comes to the essay itself, we understand that setbacks are great learning opportunities. We want to see that when the applicant had these setbacks, not only did they learn about that experience, but how did they react? Business school is hard. We're looking for people who have that resilience in them.

People can share a story from the workplace or something that's more personal. At the end of the day, all business schools are looking to build leaders. But we're looking at the Anderson School to help individuals become transformative leaders in many different ways.

Nothing in the application explicitly asks, Why Anderson? Is that something that the admissions committee isn't concerned with at this stage?

If it naturally flows in your storyline, by all means, feel free to share that in the essay. Some of the best letters of recommendation I've read have been when the recommender writes that Anderson is the next best phase for this candidate.

For applicants who get to the interview stage, this is an opportunity to showcase their knowledge about the Anderson School and why Anderson is going to help them in their short- and long-term goals. All our interviewers are trained to ask applicants to explain why Anderson is the best fit for them at this stage in their careers.

How does Anderson handle MBA interviews?

Applicants interview with a current MBA student. It's a blind interview, meaning the interviewer will only have the candidate's resume. The interview should be a casual conversation between the MBA student and the applicant. They're going to ask the individual to walk them through their resume. And then also, what is their interest in UCLA Anderson? What do they think their impact would be on campus?

So it should just be a really nice casual conversation at that point. You've been invited to the interview for a reason. The admissions committee has seen something they want to explore more. But we don't want to make it a high-stress environment or experience for the individual. One of the key items that helps is that the individual showcases their knowledge about UCLA Anderson School.

I would expect them to highlight a class, a center, or maybe a student experience based on their own research of what they feel is going to be influential for them if they were admitted to Anderson. It's about showcasing that specific program knowledge—something unique to Anderson you won't find anywhere else.

Again, we train all of our student interviewers. They've also gone through the experience themselves, and at the end of the day, they want to give back. The interviewers want to see people succeed, especially the interviewees.

How do you ultimately pull together a class?

A typical application will have multiple sets of eyeballs on it. There are at least four different individual readers who are going to look at an overall application file, plus the interviewer. There's also a committee that looks at the entire potential class to see where there are opportunities to make some shifts.

I don't mean that we have any quotas. We're not necessarily looking for a certain percentage of domestic versus international or those interested in tech or whatnot. But based on feedback from our stakeholders, the business community that wants to recruit our talent, and the faculty teaching these students, we might make a few tweaks on the margins if there's an opportunity to do so.

A key ingredient of the secret sauce is finding the people that we want in the Anderson family for life. We rely on alumni to help us talk about their experiences and how the Anderson MBA has helped them in their careers. Just showcasing that giving-back mentality.

Any advice for people applying to the UCLA Anderson School in the future?

Our website is just chockfull of information, videos, blogs, et cetera. Also, take advantage when you see opportunities to come to visit for our campus experience, where you can have coffee chats with students and meet the admissions team.

Or look for us on the road in all the major cities—even internationally. There are plenty of opportunities to meet us in either the virtual space, in person, or with our third-party vendors that put on these tour events. These are great ways to engage with the admissions team, student ambassadors, and alumni who join us at these events. And then you'll get a good sense of who we are.

Ultimately, if you're making this huge investment in time and money to advance your personal development, you want to be in a community where you're going to have fun. You're going to learn a lot, and you're going to be making friends and partners for the rest of your life.

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We so appreciate Alex Lawrence taking the time to chat with SBC's audience about all things Anderson. Check out the B-Schooled podcast if you'd like to listen to their entire conversation.

Stacy Blackman Consulting offers multiple services to meet your MBA application needs, from our All-In Partnership to hourly help reviewing your MBA resume. Contact us today for a free 15-minute advising session to talk strategy with a Principal SBC consultant.