Interview: Jodi Schafer of the Tippie MBA


Jodi Schafer

Asking yourself questions like “Where do I want to be?” might seem trite, but it’s an essential step to picking the right b-school and getting in, says Jodi Schafer, director of MBA admissions at the University of Iowa’s Tippie School of Management.

How clear do you think MBA applicants should be about their career direction?

We like to see that candidates have some idea of the different opportunities in business so that once they get here, they’re able to quickly identify with a specific career path. That’s important because we only have two years. A big part of our program is career preparation, and if the student hasn’t identified with a functional area by the second semester it makes it difficult to prepare them for their post-MBA career. The goal is to help them obtain the type of position that they want. That requires focus from the student and the program.

That being said, we realize that candidates a lot of times don’t know exactly what they want to do, and we wouldn’t expect them to. But we would want them to say, “Oh, I would appreciate a career in strategy, and here are the reasons why.” Now the assumptions of what that position would be may be wrong, and they might figure that out during – in our case – the first semester of the program. That’s really the time when they are exposed to alums and current students who talk about their experiences in internships and full-time positions. You kind of go through a day in the life of different careers, so that they can tell the students what to expect, and dispel some of the myths associated with MBA positions.

Do you encourage people to connect with alumni before applying?

We do try to connect prospective students that appear to be a good fit for our program with Tippie alums, but it would be difficult to learn exactly what you want to do through a few interactions with an alum. Fully participating in the MBA program is really the best exposure to possible MBA careers.

A lot of Tippie MBA alumni end up working in the Midwest. Should applicants pick schools based on this kind of geographic placement data?

I think those (placement) percentages really play out based on the program you are looking at and the strengths of that program. With our program specifically, we are known for finance. So you might see more of our placements in finance for that reason. When you’re looking at geographic placements for a particular program you tend to see a regional focus. Because we are in the Midwest, the majority of our students want to stay in the Midwest, so that’s why you see more placements in Chicago and Minneapolis and other major Midwest cities.

I don’t think that the statistics are showing that you can only get a job in the Midwest if you decide to attend the program. I think it’s just to say that a lot of our students prefer to stay in the Midwest.

You mentioned your school’s reputation in finance. How do applicants evaluate a school’s strength and reputation in a certain area?

If a school is offering multiple concentrations, they are probably strong in all of those concentration areas. It might just be that there is a concentration that has been around longer, so it has gained more traction in the rankings, giving it more of a presence. That’s not to say that the other concentrations are not as good. I think that is a misconception that many people have: “this school is known for marketing, this school is known for finance.” But you can get an exceptional education in other areas that are lesser-known.

If a prospective student is looking for a functional area that is not listed on a school’s website, that school is probably not a good fit and they may want to consider another program.

Other things to consider would be the number of faculty, number of courses, do they offer consulting projects, and what do the placements look like in their area of interest. Career opportunities are a major consideration and something I would definitely encourage prospects to look into – what types of companies are the program’s graduates landing in? If you can’t find this information on the website, you should contact the admissions office. MBA programs want you to have accurate information and are happy to connect with prospective students directly to answer their questions.

The absolute best way to find out whether the program is strong in your area of interest is to visit. The visit not only gives you an opportunity to meet with program staff and faculty, but it will also allow you to meet with students directly. Students are a great source of information about what’s going on in the program.

What is the first step for someone who is just starting to look for the right business school?

They should think about what is important to them. What career goal are they seeking? This goes back to having some idea of what you want to do, because if you don’t have some idea, you won’t be able to effectively choose the right program. Try to figure that out.

Understand your threshold for the amount of money you’re willing to pay for the degree. Look at the return on investment. And then look at the location. Where do you want to be? Will the school get you to where you want to be long-term? How far is the program’s reach to where you want to go? And then start narrowing based on those criteria.

Applying to a program before going through those steps will likely be a waste of time for the candidate because it will be apparent to the person reading their application that they haven’t done their due diligence. It will be in their best interest to take the time up front to look into these things so they can present a better case for themselves during the admission process.

Photo courtesy: Jodi Schafer / Tippie MBA

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