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MBA Programs Flourish When They Keep the Same Admissions Directors

Stanford has announced that Director of MBA Admissions Derrick Bolton will step down on September 1.

His departure marks the end of a 15-year tenure at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. During his time as Director of Admissions, Stanford saw a 55 percent increase in applicants and became the B-school with the highest average GMAT.

Bolton’s record at Stanford shows that an admissions director who stays at a school for an extended period of time can have a real impact on that school’s direction. Being at a school for several years gives an admissions director more of a chance to enact a vision.

In the case of Stanford, the stability that came with having Bolton as Director of Admissions for 15 years helped make the school’s MBA program both more selective and more diverse.

MBA Programs Flourish When They Keep the Same Admissions Directors

For example, the 407 students in the Class of 2017, drawn from a pool of 7,899 applicants, boast an average GMAT of 733 and an average GPA of 3.75. Meanwhile, they are 40 percent women, 40 percent international students and 40 percent U.S. minorities.

Another example of how MBA admissions directors who stick around can leave a mark is Dee Leopold, Harvard Business School’s outgoing Managing Director of MBA Admissions and Financial Aid.

In her 10 years as HBS’s admissions director, Leopold brought more transparency to MBA admissions, releasing more statistics and information about the admissions process. For example, Leopold started HBS’s Direct from the Director blog, providing regular admissions updates.

Greater transparency isn’t the only way Leopold created a better customer experience for MBA applicants. By introducing HBS’s regular webinars, she made the admissions process more accessible for those who couldn’t make it to campus in person and helped the school reach applicants earlier.

Leopold’s ongoing tenure at HBS made it possible for her to innovate and experiment with new ways of bringing people into the MBA admissions process. Under her leadership the 2+2 program, a deferred admissions program that lets college seniors gain work experience before arriving on campus, has flourished and become even more selective.

Although she has stepped down from her position as Managing Director of MBA Admissions, Leopold will stay on as Program Director for 2+2.

Likewise, Bolton will remain at Stanford as Dean of Admissions for the Knight-Hennessy Scholars Program. Announced this year, the program will award three years of full funding to 100 graduate students annually.

While HBS and Stanford GSB both show how schools can benefit from having admissions directors who stay in their positions long-term, not all top MBA programs have experienced this consistency in recent years.

For example, Wharton has seen several admissions directors lately, with the most recent being Frank

DeVecchis, who was brought on in 2015.

As Wharton struggled to keep the same admissions director, the school also saw applicant interest fluctuate. Between 2009 and 2013, applications to Wharton declined by 12 percent, at a time when Harvard and Stanford reported steadily growing applicant pools.

Recently, however, applications to Wharton have started to rise again, and the school may be finding its stride with its new director. Time will tell whether Wharton will benefit from the same stability that Harvard and Stanford’s MBA programs have enjoyed over the last decade.

Of course, Wharton isn’t the only top B-school looking toward the future. This is a year of transition across the board, with Stanford and Harvard ushering in new MBA admissions directors as well.

Altogether, recent history at Harvard, Stanford and Wharton shows how schools who keep the same admissions directors are in a better position to build a rapport with applicants while schools with more overturn tend to experience more turbulence.

All three schools will be looking for stability with their new admissions directors. Whether they can find it will likely influence MBA applicants applying to these programs.

That said, it’s also worth keeping in mind that all top B-schools are looking for similar qualities in applicants. They want the best, they want leaders, and they want smart, intellectually curious students. This is true no matter who they have as admissions director.

So in a year of MBA admissions director transitions, you can weather the choppy waters by focusing on what you want to communicate with your application. Honing your personal brand and bringing out your strengths will help you maximize your chances, no matter who ends up reading your application!