American University MBA Admissions Director Tells You How To Get Accepted

We sat down with Jason Garner, director of admissions at American University’s Kogod School of Business, to find out more

When I meet Jason at the BusinessBecause office in late November 2018, he’s just about to embark on a two-week trip around India to meet with business school applicants. Aside from the long flight, he’s looking forward to speaking to prospective students.

“I think that’s part of our roles as admissions professionals,” he says, “to have those conversations with folks and help them find their path.”

Jason has been the director of graduate admissions at American University’s Kogod School of Business for almost two years now, and before that was director of MBA admissions at The George Washington University School of Business.

At Kogod, the philosophy is ‘business as a force for meaningful change,’ and this is reflected in Jason’s role too. For Jason, the job of an admissions director is very much like “a career counselor or life coach.

“Specifically, for us, it’s about finding the right fit,” he adds. “I ask myself, ‘Are you someone that I think is bringing their experience into the classroom in a way that adds to the class and cohort?’”


"Our role is not a barrier, we’re not there to keep people out of business schools. We’re here to find the path that’s right for you."


A unique process

While the admissions process might be similar to other schools, Kogod's particular location, size, and mission all have a hand in making the application decisions unique, Jason believes.

“A lot of applicants want us to have a very regimented formula that shoots out a decision, but it’s much more subjective than that,” he explains. “So every piece of the application that we ask for is really meant to paint one picture or tell one narrative.”

Kogod is also unique in that GMAT or GRE scores aren’t required in a candidate’s application. The reason for that, Jason says, is to show that students “are more than just a test score to us.”

American University's Kogod School of Business is a relatively small business school—there are just over 500 residential graduate students registered in Kogod's programs, with 76 in the full-time MBA program. Nonetheless, it has excelled in business school rankings over the past few years—Forbes ranked their MBA program in the top-70 in the US in 2017.

“Given that we’re a smaller school and we have a very strong collegial experience in our classrooms, we really want to make sure you’re a right fit for that environment,” Jason remarks. “That’s why we tend to focus not just on the quantitative process but the qualitative parts as well.”

“I think we definitely attract a student that’s excited to be in Washington, DC, to explore the city as an extension of our campus,” Jason notes. “You’re seeing more and more industry being attracted to the Washington area.”


Tips for success

So, how do you craft the perfect MBA application?

Emily Phipps (pictured) is a recent successful applicant to the full-time MBA at Kogod School of Business. She was initially attracted to the close-knit environment of the school and found that the size of the cohort certainly wasn't indicative of a lack of diversity.

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“One thing that really intrigued me about Kogod was the variety of backgrounds that people were coming from professionally and personally,” she recalls. Emily herself came from a background in non-profits, and found that throughout the application process, she could let her experience speak for her.

“I was someone who hadn’t taken the GRE and hadn’t always planned on going to graduate school,” Emily explains. “But I found through the application process I could communicate my eagerness in a multidimensional way.

“My strengths, weaknesses, and truly what I wanted to get out of the program were considered with the same amount of respect and consideration as the quantitative parts because all of those things eventually play into how successful you’ll be.”

Jason himself knows where Emily succeeded in the application and interview process— “she had really done her research and she had a cohesive part to her story, but it was still really natural,” he explains.

“Through all the different pieces of the application, we should really feel that we’ve gotten a good chance to know who you are, what your background is, and what you’re trying to do,” he says.

“So many times I think candidates see each piece of the application as a very separate piece, but when I see it it’s all together. We’re looking for all of those things to flow together—I always encourage candidates to keep that in mind.”

As a successful applicant, Emily also has some valuable advice for fellow MBA applicants.

“There are different ways that you can go into an application process, are you trying to brag and prove that you already know everything?

"Or are you trying to say, ‘This is what I know and this is what I want to know by the time I finish your program’. The latter perspective is the one I took.”