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The AIGAC Conference Experience

Submitted By Donna Bauman, Stratus Admissions Counseling

The AIGAC News & Updates email arrived in my inbox in January 2017 with an invitation to participate in the upcoming June 2017 AIGAC conference. Since I spent many years as part of the MBA Admissions Team at UNC Kenan-Flagler, I was not sure that I needed to attend a conference to mingle with other admissions officers and consultants. However, I am the kind of person who wants to be the best at whatever they do, and as someone fairly new to the consultant’s side of the table, there are many things still to learn. As I read the conference preview and saw the opportunities to share best practices with other consultants, meet with admissions representatives from so many top programs, and discuss topics including global career mobility for applicants and new tools and criteria in the admissions process, I knew the conference would be worthwhile. The serendipitous kicker that moved me to final action came when I found out the week before that two of my four children would be out of town at camp for this very week greatly diminishing the potential home-front chaos. With just hours to spare in qualifying for the early registration rate, I registered for the AIGAC annual conference on February 17!

I’m not sure what my exact expectations were as I arrived at the Graduate Hotel in Berkeley in time for the new member Recognition Reception and the overall conference welcome, but as I engaged in very insightful conversations with legends in our industry like Maxx Duffy of Maxx Associates, I knew that I made the right decision. Whether meeting a fellow Kellogg alum and new consultant (William Kotas from Accepted.com) or just feeling very welcomed by other admissions officers like Diana Economy from Michigan Ross, there was a very collaborative and friendly vibe in the air, setting the tone for the entire conference.

The opening All Schools Day, hosted by Berkeley Haas, provided a wonderful opportunity for admissions consultants and admissions directors to better understand each other and discuss key trends. The free-flowing conversations helped both sides gain new insight into the MBA admissions experience. Peter Johnson, Assistant Dean, Full Time MBA Program and Admissions at Haas, along with Morgan Bernstein, Executive Director, Full Time MBA Program at Haas and the entire admissions team at Berkeley Haas could not have been more welcoming and gracious hosts. We continued at Haas with opportunities to discuss best practices in admissions consulting and learn about key applicant trends from the AIGAC applicant survey. The discussion about the “millennial paradox” of having applicants who love the immediacy of digital information yet who also place a high importance on personal attention and human connection has been useful in helping me understand how to best serve my clients.

By Wednesday, we were ready for a road trip, and channeling the feelings of field trips past, we boarded a charter bus and headed to our first stop: Wharton San Francisco. I appreciated the opportunity to tour their amazing building and learn so much about different parts of Wharton- from their EMBA Fellows Program to their entrepreneurship offerings to having the opportunity to meet with Wharton’s Director of MBA Admissions, Frank DeVecchis. In addition, we were all quite impressed with their technology that enabled them to beam in colleagues from Philadelphia who could see us all sitting in the San Francisco classroom. There is no way I could have made all those connections on my own in one day without all the help that AIGAC provided to make it happen. The conversation alone with Frank made the trip worth it as any time you have the chance to speak directly with the gatekeeper to one of the nation’s top business schools and gain more insights into their thought process regarding MBA admissions, it is going to benefit you in all your conversations with clients going forward.

By midafternoon, our bus had arrived at Stanford and we were greeted by Mike Hochleutner, Director of Stanford’s MSx program, which is a 12-month long Master of Science in Management program for experienced professionals. We learned more about this program and toured Stanford’s inspirational campus which included a stop at the new dorm Highland Hall and a short visit to the d School. Once we all picked up our jaws off the floor after seeing both of these amazing spaces, we got an even bigger treat in meeting Kirsten Moss, Stanford’s new Assistant Dean and Director of MBA Admissions and Financial Aid. Just weeks into her job, Kirsten made time to speak very candidly with us and gave us all some great insights about the “GSB” ethos and some thoughts about how to approach “what matters most” in the essay prompt. Again, this alone would have made the entire trip worthwhile as the opportunities to have access to all the key players and programs in the MBA world were hitting us every day like a string of greatest hits.

The fun continued as we “road-tripped” back on the bus for our evening in San Luis Obispo and then we arrived in Los Angeles on Thursday afternoon in time to get some great negotiations tips from Lisa Gates, a negotiation consultant, executive coach and co-founder of She Negotiates. On Friday, we met with Ilana Van Allen, Associate Director MBA Admissions for UCLA Anderson and learned about program’s core principles – Share Success, Think Fearlessly and Drive Change. We gained great insight into the entrepreneurial climate of Anderson from a session with Professor Jeff Scheinrock, who teaches the capstone Applied Management Research program. Our day was rounded out by more exceptionally informative sessions including a career management session conducted by Chris Weber of the Parker Career Management Center. We also met with Dean Judy Olian who shared the school’s vision and plans for the near future. We ended our day with a tour of Anderson and surrounding areas. I now have far more knowledge about UCLA to share with clients after spending time on campus.

To say that the AIGAC conference exceeded my expectations is an understatement. I literally have used something I learned from the conference just about EVERY DAY since in my work with my clients and colleagues at Stratus Admissions Counseling. One of the biggest benefits is just having such a deeper understanding of the “culture” and “fit” at each program we visited. They were all amazing programs, but it was clear to me that each has a distinct “personality.” As consultants, we help our clients by sharing these insights and encouraging them to go beyond the surface in discovering these nuances for themselves. When we were at Haas and listening to students share their personal experiences in the Story Salon sessions, I could feel the closeness that students share with each other. Near the end of the session, I was about ready to spontaneously stand up and reveal all kinds of secrets because of the rawness and realness of the experiences the students shared with us. When we visited GSB, I felt more introspective as I reflected on what mattered most to me and how I could use my gifts to make the world a better place. Just being on campus and speaking with their admissions team made me want to be a better person. When we visited Wharton, I marveled at how thoroughly Frank DeVicchis and his team think through the admissions process. They control for interviewer bias and they have innovated in the recommendations process by creating new questions that ask interviewers to select positive traits in describing how a candidate will excel both in the classroom and the job search. In my reflection of this visit, I was fully impressed with Wharton and thought that THIS is a great place for people who like to analyze and then even analyze HOW they analyze! My impressions of UCLA were also extremely positive. Anderson gives off the vibe of a school for people who like to get things done; there were so many opportunities for experiential learning and being a part of LA’s vibrant entrepreneurial scene. It also seemed like a place where people had a great time as the culture of sunny Los Angeles permeates the campus environment.

The other thing I really appreciated about the AIGAC conference is that after spending a week together with people who do what I do, I made some excellent professional and personal connections. I have already richly broadened my network of people to call when I have a hot topic to discuss and these new relationships have already borne much fruit. There is no hiding in the back of the class here; I had a meaningful conversation with just about all the consultants who attended AIGAC. There are also great opportunities to get involved and I have now joined the membership committee. If you are now reading this and wondering if there is value in joining AIGAC and attending the conference, I can say with a resounding YES that I am a better admissions consultant and my clients are getting better advice because of the things I learned and the people I met while attending the AIGAC Conference this past June. I am already looking forward to next year’s conference hosted by my alma mater, Kellogg!

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