• Scott Edinburgh

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

Personal MBA Coach interviewed Nicole Shay, Associate Director, Admissions, at Columbia Business School to get an insider’s look at what is new at Columbia, what makes Columbia unique and how candidates can best stand out! Plus, find out how COVID-19 is changing the Columbia MBA application process and more. Do not miss this rare and valuable advice!

Nicole Shay: Associate Director, Admissions, Columbia Business School

Scott Edinburgh: Founder, Personal MBA Coach

Personal MBA Coach: How did you first get involved in admissions?

Nicole: 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 five 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!

Personal MBA Coach: What excites you most about your work?

Nicole: I really enjoy the opportunity to connect with candidates from across the globe and share how a Columbia Business School MBA can help them reach their professional, and oftentimes personal, potential. 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 candidate 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, those who are sponsored, or looking to make a smaller career transition post MBA, our 16 month January entry program might be 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.

Personal MBA Coach: Focusing on CBS, what are you most excited about coming up on campus?

Nicole: In February the Business School received the fantastic news that our program would be formally STEM designated. This designation recognizes the ongoing efforts to emphasize technology, data science, and analytics within the curriculum. The STEM-designated degree also increases the length an international student may work in the U.S. under an extended Optional Practical Training (OPT) work permit.

Additionally, in late 2018 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 now, but start the MBA after gaining two to five years of work experience. It has been a fantastic experience to visit 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.

Personal MBA Coach: To address the elephant in the room, what is changing in the admissions cycle this year due to Covid-19?

Nicole: There have, of course, been a multitude of changes related to the current pandemic. What holds steady is our shared dedication to supporting our students, our community at Columbia Business School and the communities around us. We have seen students, faculty, and staff going above and beyond to put courses online this past spring, to host social hours and speaker events to stay connected, even when we couldn’t be together, and to find creative ways to give back to first responders and communities who have been hardest hit by the pandemic. It has been inspiring.

The admissions team has been working to bring in a diverse and vibrant class, and we hope to meet them on campus soon. Many will be on campus in our new hyflex model this fall, where students will rotate when they will be on campus, in masks, socially distant, with many of our faculty teaching in person keeping safety in mind. The rest of the class will join virtually and have a conversation in real time with enhanced technology in the classroom. It is a different experience than in the past, but the experience of learning leadership in this time of crisis is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

From the admissions perspective, this next year will be similar to past years. We are still looking for a diverse group of candidates, with a variety of strengths, who have done their research and are excited about the opportunities they will find at Columbia. We are looking to bring in teammates who will keep our community strong and will engage with each other to broaden their mindset. The world is always changing, and a CBS MBA will help our students lead in any environment, whether it is in a crisis, or a time of calm and prosperity.

Personal MBA Coach: What is a common misconception about Columbia Business School?

Nicole: I have encountered many candidates 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 arts degrees, and whose work experience in social impact, luxury goods, and theater, brings richness and depth to the classroom conversation. 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.

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

Nicole: 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 and 47,000 alumni worldwide. Students can leverage this network for coffee chats, mentorship, and to carve their own paths for in-semester internship opportunities.

Personal MBA Coach: 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?

Nicole: 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.

Personal MBA Coach: 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?

Nicole: 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). This is 100% relevant for virtual interactions too. A candidate with smart, thoughtful questions is going to standout regardless of the format.

Personal MBA Coach: What other changes are you looking forward to at Columbia?

Nicole: 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”, “Blockchain, Cryptocurrencies and Digital Tokens Demystified”, and “Virtual Reality & Artificial Intelligence” are a few of our recent additions, and have quickly become favorites among our students. A focus on technology has certainly been underscored with the introduction of our Dean, Costis Maglaras. Dean Maglaras has a demonstrated commitment to data-focused scholarship, and I am sure there will be more to come. And, of course we are excited for the opening of our brand new campus in Manhattanville in 2022.

Personal MBA Coach: What advice do you have for applicants interested in the new deferred admissions option?

Nicole: 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 through one of our many virtual events. From anywhere in the world candidates can chat with a current student, attend an MBA class, or log in to an information webinar. It is easier now than ever to connect with our team.

Personal MBA Coach: How do you think the admissions process will evolve over time?

Nicole: We continue to strive to find new ways to connect with diverse student populations. Our team does a fantastic job planning events in the fall for diverse groups, 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!

Personal MBA Coach: What do you wish applicants would do differently when applying?

Nicole: 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.

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

Nicole: 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 a robust slate of events to suit candidates at any point in the admissions process. 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 events by using our Stay in Touch form.

Are you looking for help with your MBA Applications? Personal MBA Coach is willing to be your guide. Founded by a Wharton and MIT graduate, we regularly help applicants navigate their applications each year. We also conduct mock interviews with former M7 interviewers on our team.

Personal MBA Coach has been guiding candidates through all aspects of the MBA application process for 13 years with a 96% success rate. Call us today at +1 617-645-2424 or email for a free consultation on your profile along with how we can help make your MBA dreams a reality!

Check out these blog posts for additional MBA application help:

How to Write a Great MBA Essay

How to Get into Stanford Business School

How to Get into MIT Sloan

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