Scott Edinburgh
July 10, 2019

Interview with Columbia Business School Associate Director of Admissions, Nicole Shay

This week, I am excited to share the details of my interview with Nicole Shay, Associate Director of Admissions at Columbia Business School. Get a special insider’s look at what is new at Columbia, what makes Columbia unique, how candidates can best stand out, what MBA candidates should do differently during the MBA application process and more. Do not miss this rare and valuable advice!

How did you first get involved in admissions?

I started my higher education career working in program administration for a university in Philadelphia. I found myself working closely with the admissions team there, and was recruited for a role helping to oversee admissions for ten biomedical science graduate programs. About four years ago, after deciding to move to New York City, an opportunity at Columbia became available which allowed me to remain in admissions, but pivot to business candidates. I gladly accepted!

What excites you most about your work?

I really enjoy the opportunity to travel around the globe and help prospective students better understand how a Columbia Business School MBA can help them reach their professional, and oftentimes personal, potential. Being situated within Columbia University, and in Manhattan, a Columbia Business School student is offered a multitude of resources regardless of what industry or function she chooses to pursue. Helping a prospective student find a path to best fit her MBA education needs is extremely fulfilling. For candidates looking to make a larger career transition, we have the traditional 20 month August entry. For candidates working in Family Business, entrepreneurship, sponsored, or looking to make a smaller career transition post MBA, our 16 month January entry program might be right the right fit. For candidates who are a little further along in their careers, we also have a suite of Executive MBA programs, including EMBA- Global, a partnership with University of Hong Kong and London Business School.

Focusing on CBS, what are you most excited about coming up on campus?

Last year the Columbia Business School admissions team launched the first application cycle of our new Deferred Enrollment Program. This program allows seniors in an undergraduate program, or full time graduate students who entered a master’s program directly after earning a bachelor’s degree, to apply for admission to matriculate into a class after gaining two to five years of work experience. It has been a fantastic experience to be able to travel to college campuses and discuss how an MBA can benefit professionals across all industries, with varying academic backgrounds. This program allows undergraduates to have more control of their professional and educational options a few years into their career, and allows our team to demonstrate the value of an MBA for those who otherwise may not have considered it.

What is a common misconception about Columbia Business School?

I have encountered many prospective students who believe that because they don’t have a bachelor’s degree in business or economics, or aren’t working in finance or consulting, there isn’t a place for them in an MBA program, or specifically at Columbia Business School. What makes Columbia Business School such an inspiring learning environment is the diversity of the student body. We have many students with social science, journalism, and music degrees, and whose work experience is in social impact, luxury goods, and theater, just to provide a few examples. Further, we have a vibrant campus culture and tight-knit community with nearly 100 different student organizations across a wide range of professional and personal areas of interest. So that student with the music interest could help lead a trip to the New York Philharmonic with other members of the Arts Society organization, for example.

How do you best see students taking advantage of being in NYC while studying for their MBA?

Some of Columbia Business School’s most popular electives are our Immersion Seminars which allow students to engage with industry practitioners through downtown site visits to multiple organizations each term. Many students also choose to participate in part-time, in-semester internships because of the school’s proximity to the offices of organizations across all industries. These part-time in-semester internships may be counted for course credit, if students are able to secure a faculty sponsor. Additionally, Columbia Business School has over 16,000 alumni in New York City alone, and this network is available to students to leverage for coffee chats, mentorship, and to carve their own paths for internship opportunities.

I was recently on campus for a Forte Foundation event and saw the dynamic community in action, even from just a corner of the campus. What is something you think students underutilize / are not aware of?

When I have the opportunity to present with current students, the resource they often mention wishing they had better utilized is our Executives in Residence program. The Executives in Residence Program is comprised of twenty-five retired, or semi-retired, senior executives and senior partners who span almost every industry. Those that do take advantage of this opportunity talk about how impressed they were by the amount of thoughtful insight that was given during their interactions, and many of these executives go on to be active members of the student’s network.

I know we both travel together to many MBA events. I see a lot, but from your perspective, what is one piece of advice you would give to applicants before they arrive to best utilize these fairs?

Event attendees who spend time asking questions that demonstrate a genuine interest in Columbia Business School and wanting to understand how we can meet their needs will get the most out of a conversation with a member of the admissions team. It will be a more beneficial interaction for the candidate if she comes to the event with a basic understanding of our program, rather than needing to use the time to ask for information readily available on our website (such as our average number of years work experience).

What other changes are you looking forward to at Columbia?

Columbia Business School has always done a fantastic job of making sure coursework and student opportunities are contemporary, so I am always excited to hear about the new coursework being introduced each semester. Courses like “Introduction to Programming Using Python” and “Blockchain, Cryptocurrencies and Digital Tokens Demystified” are some of our recent additions, and have quickly become favorites among our students. A focus on technology certainly will be underscored with the announcement of our new Dean, Costis Maglaras. Dean Maglaras has a demonstrated commitment to data-focused scholarship, and I am sure there will be more to come once he really hits his stride this year. And, of course we are excited for the opening of our brand new campus in Manhattanville in 2022.

What advice do you have for applicants interested in the new deferred admissions option?

My advice for anyone interested in the Deferred Enrollment Program is to start preparing early for the GMAT or GRE. This component tends to be the most time consuming aspect of the application. Apart from the standardized test, I would encourage candidates to get to know Columbia Business School, whether through one of our visits to the student’s respective campus, an information session in their city, one of our informational webinars, or a visit to our campus in Manhattan.

How do you think the admissions process will evolve over time?

We continue to strive to find new ways to connect with diverse student populations. Our team does a fantastic job planning on-campus events in the fall for diverse groups, and producing webinars for those who cannot make it to campus, but these are still self-selecting. We are continuing to explore ways to show those who might consider themselves “non-traditional”* how a business education can benefit them professionally. I think the Deferred Enrollment Program has been a great launch pad for this, as we are seeing peers bringing their friends to group meetings, encouraging them to learn more, and these are often stellar candidates who may have not otherwise seen how the MBA can benefit their professional plans.

*We’ve had Grammy nominated opera singers, journalists, Broadway actors, social scientists, and almost every other professional background join the class, and we think a “non-traditional” perspective is one of the features that makes Columbia so great!

What do you wish applicants would do differently when applying?

Be yourself when applying! There are no molds to fit or quotas to fill at Columbia Business School. We are looking for talented candidates from every walk of life, with diverse experiences to bring to the table, and who will succeed academically and professionally, while also contributing positively to the Columbia Business School community.

Do you have any advice for applicants excited about CBS that isn’t easily found on your website?

I would encourage anyone interested in applying to Columbia Business School, or even just curious about the benefits of an MBA, to get to know us. Our admissions team does a great job planning events on-campus, online, and in most major cities around the globe. While the information shared at these events can be found on the website, the insight an applicant will gain from hearing from our team members, current students, alumni, and faculty that participate cannot. An applicant can sign up to receive invitations to relevant webinars and events in their area by using our Stay in Touch form.

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