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#1 SMU MBA Admissions Q&A with Dr. Philip Zerrillo

“I don’t think you’re going to find better students anywhere in the world.”

I had the pleasure of talking to Dr. Philip Zerillo (Dr. Z), who is Dean of Postgraduate Professional Programs at Singapore Management University. Dr. Z has played a pivotal role in developing SMU’s MBA program. We had a very open conversation about the latest developments at the SMU MBA program, its unique pedagogy, career placement success and admissions.

Topics Discussed:

  • The most exciting developments at SMU MBA (1:15)
  • SMU’s unique pedagogy (7:26)
  • SMU’s faculty (9:52)
  • SMU’s plan to grow the MBA class above 60 students (12:10)
  • Career placements stats SMU MBAs as a young program? (14:40)
  • How SMU MBA students compare to MBA students at other top business schools (20:40)
  • When you can expect to hear back from the program with a decision (22:47)
  • Available scholarships – over 50% of the class gets scholarships (29:03)
  • The 3 criteria SMU is looking for in candiates (31:43)
  • Candid thoughts on GMAT scores (38:03)


  • SMU is Singapore’s up and coming business school. Modeled after Wharton, the school is known for its interactive seminar-style pedagogy and focus on leadership and communication skills. Within 4 years, the program has gotten accreditation from AACSB and EQUIS. It has a strong reputation with the business community in Singapore; its business undergrads earn higher pay on average than NUS and NTU. Unlike NUS and NTU, SMU’s main focus is on business and management studies. SMU’s campus is centrally located between Singapore’s CBD and shopping/art districts. Recently, the school has massively expanded its postgraduate offerings, and now offers 18 other Masters degrees along with its flagship MBA.

What is relatively unique about SMU? What are its key advantages?

  • SMU was modeled after the Wharton School and is Singapore’s one national university focused on business management education
  • SMU is known for its interactive seminar-style pedagogy and focus on leadership and communication skills
  • Strong relationships with business community in Singapore due to its business graduates and proximity to the central business district
  • Very international faculty
  • 12-month general management MBA that starts in January
  • Has a blended joint degree MBA with IE (Spain) – intended for working professionals in SouthEast Asia

Possibly a Good Fit if:

  • You’re looking for post-MBA jobs in Singapore and Southeast Asia and want to go to a brand-name school
  • You want to shape an up and coming business school; SMU launched its MBA in 2009 and is not yet ranked by the Financial Times or Economist
  • You’re looking for a consulting or finance career in Singapore; 41% of Class of 2013 grads went into the consulting function and 34% the consulting industry and 20% went into finance (function & industry)

Listen on for much, much more!

Show Notes:

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Full Transcript:

Darren: Hey everyone, this is Darren, from Singapore MBA consulting and I’m here with Dr. Philip Zerillo, who’s the Executive Director of Postgraduate Coursework Programs at Singapore Management University and Dr. Z, as he is known among students, got his Ph.D. in marketing from Northwestern and he’s taught at top MBA programs around the world, such as Kellogg, University of Texas, Austin and Helsinki School of Economics.

When I was at SMU, I actually worked very closely with Dr. Z, and I know he’s played a pivotal role in developing the MBA program. He also teaches the Core Marketing class at SMU and the students always used to rave to me about his classes. So, welcome to the show Dr. Z.

Dr. Zerillo: Darren, thanks so much. It’s good to hear from you again.

Darren: Could you talk to us about the single—what’s the single most exciting development at SMU this year?

Dr. Zerillo: I would say, I don’t know if I would confine it to one single thing, but several things that I really think are exciting and happening here at Singapore Management University are first of all, if I look at our students, our class is really starting to diversify a great deal here.

Darren: Yeah.

Dr. Zerillo: If I look at the number of people that we’re bringing in and where they’re coming from, some areas and some places where we haven’t had a lot of students from in the past, we’re now getting multiply students coming in. So, we’re starting to get a lot more reach in places like Japan, the Philippines, Korea, Vietnam. So, what we’re doing is we’re seeing many more students coming from diverse set of countries around South East Asia.

Also, we’re starting to attract students from North America and Europe as well and we’re starting to see students enter the program. I know that a couple of years ago, you had recruited a gentleman by the name of Sander Bogdan and Sander eventually became our Valedictorian in the MBA class. We posted his interview when he was exiting the university. Just his discussion about what a nice it was to go to school and how as an American he felt very comfortable going to school over here. And what we’re doing is, we’re finding a lot more applications coming into Singapore Management University from some of these other English speaking or primarily English speaking places around the world. So, I think the first thing that’s exciting is, just the change in our application pool that we have here at the university.

We’re kind of new to graduate education here at Singapore Management University, hence one of the reasons why you don’t see us in a lot of the rankings. We actually have to wait until we’ve had at least four graduating classes from the MBA program before we’re eligible to be ranked and things like this. So, some of these things will take care of themselves here very, very soon as we move along, but these are just parts of being a new program. So, if I look at this university, what’s exciting right now is how healthy the intake looks in terms of new students coming into the program.

The first couple of years are very difficult to get the word out and get people interested. Now what you’re seeing is you’re really starting to see a really increasing wave of demand for this program. The second thing is we’ve revamped the curriculum a bit here at the university. We’ve always very, very internationally focused in terms of the pedagogy and what have you.

Darren: Yes.

Dr. Zerillo: And what we’ve done is, as you know, I started a case writing initiative several years ago and it’s now turned into an actual center on case writing and what’s happened is we’ve written a great number of cases about the businesses in this region and the number of cases that we have downloaded by sister universities and what have you, has been increasing by 400 – 600 percent a quarter for the past year.

So what’s happening is there’s a lot of interest in the pedagogy that we’re developing here at the university, because we have a lot of people going out writing cases about businesses in Vietnam, businesses over in Thailand, businesses out in Indonesia and these cases are becoming very, very interesting to students who want to really come out here and learn about this region.

So, I think from a pedagogical standpoint, one of the real changes in this program has just been our commitment as a university to develop the stories of Asia. So, people coming here and people going to school here are not just going to just get Western business models, but they’re also going to get some of the local models as well. And 60 percent of our faculty has got their Ph.D.s from the west, but writing these stories about the east.

And then the other thing that’s happened, curriculum wise is, what we’ve done is we’ve developed the special projects class for all the MBA students, so as they go through their entire time here they have a project, which gives them a real application base to their education. So, one of the things that sometimes universities are accused of is being a little bit theoretical and not as applied or application-based.

Well, this is a project that gets overseen from the moment that they walk in the door until they leave, but it’s an application-based opportunity for the students. And then I think the last thing is we really tried to ramp up our connection with industry through this case writing as well as through our Executive Education Outreach and what this has done is it’s really led to a much more vibrant placement market for our students around the region. So, we’re getting offers from a number of these case writing centers to employ our graduates when they graduate in these more distant markets, as well as they’re offering internships and things like that to our students.

So Darren, if I had to say what’s exciting, I think what’s exciting is some of the health, right? I’ve been an administrator at a number of universities including my time as the Dean in Texas and it’s really quite reaffirming that these things are all starting to come together. So, there’s a confluence of things that are really healthy indicators of the vital signs of the program.

Darren: That is fantastic. For those of you listening, I will post a link to the interview with Sander, which is on Youtube. So, we’ll be sure to link to that in the show notes.

Dr. Zerillo: I’m that very thin guy sitting next to Sander…

Darren: Yeah, and in terms of the special pedagogy of SMU, can you talk a little bit more about that?

Dr. Zerillo: Yeah, SMU was set up initially when the current President of Singapore, Tony Tan, envisioned this university when he was minister of education. The idea was that this was supposed to be a different university and it was set up with a very western-style of teaching. So, it’s very inactive. It was meant to be interactive right from the beginning.

The other thing is, we went to small lectured classrooms. So, we have no classrooms on the campus with over 65 seats in them. So the idea here is let’s move people into smaller classroom sizes where they can have interactive lectures.

All of the classrooms are horseshoe-shaped or theater-style, so that students are able to see each other, engage with each other and conversations are started. So if I look at the pedagogy itself and the way things are delivered, this has been a very interactive western-style teaching environment here.

What that has done is it’s created very different students. Our students are very comfortable speaking, speaking up; very comfortable discussing things and being what I would call, intellectually curious. This is really translated in large part to some of the higher compensation that our graduates get upon exit from the university. As you know, our undergraduate program here has the highest salaries upon exit in the Singapore market. Though, we’re a new school, part of that is due to the teaching style. Also, part of it is due to people that we select and what have you.

So, pedagogically, I think this is a different university. I always say that this was a graduate institution parading as an undergraduate institution. It was really set up like a graduate school. We had worked with warden during the initial design, development and early stages of the university’s creation and we’ve maintained that partnership with warden through the years. It’s been the sort of thing that has really led to a different teaching environment, a different teaching style.

But the other thing that’s happening is the leadership of this university, has really made a commitment to bring the faculty closer to the industry itself. Though, business is still our primary school here at the university, we’re still a Singapore Management University. Even though we have a law school, a school of accounting and a school of information sciences and social sciences and Economics, the business school is still a large part of the portfolio.

And what we’ve done is we’ve opened up a center for management practice. Now there is, to my knowledge, no other university that’s set up a center such as this. And the center of management practice, the idea is to bring the faculty closer to the problems of business. It’s a place where faculty can do immersions in corporations; corporations can also bring their executives into the university.

This is the place where we do a lot of the case writing and things like this. So, it’s the sort of thing where we’re putting our people in contact with the problems that businesses face, which makes our students, when they come out the door, a great deal more worldly and they’re able to begin their careers and have a very, very easy ramp up into their work life.

Darren: Yes, I mean and I saw on the site that class participation counts for 20 – 50 percent—

Dr. Zerillo: Yeah.

Darren: Of the grade often. I remember when I was working at SMU, that the students really, really loved having this intimate connection with their professors, many whom had experience working in industry as well.

But you mentioned that the class size—there’s no class that seats more than 65 students and I know that the class size in this past year of the MBA program was 60. So, do you plan to keep the program this size, this small intimate size or are you planning to expand it? And I’m sure some students might think, “Oh, you’re only taking in 60 students. Do I even have a chance of getting into a program like this?” So, could you talk a little bit more about the class size for the program?

Dr. Zerillo: Yeah, where we started out, we were running about 15 or 20 students in our part-time MBA program and also about 15 – 20 students in the full-time program. Now, what has happened is, we’ve gotten to where we’re running 50 – 60 students in each one of those programs. Now that’s pretty much a full class, right? If you think about the size of a classroom physically, we have about 60 seats in a classroom, so those are really full classes.

We’ve kept it this year as we’re going to run one full cohort of each one of these, but I think next year what we’ll be doing is, we’ll be moving to multiple cohorts. But there’s some advantages to having multiple cohorts, because when it comes time for electives, you have a critical mass of students, which allows you to offer more electives in the future. So again, this is one of those health things that as we get more applications and we move to multiply intakes of students, we have the opportunity to offer more electives and things like this, because we have just a volume of students that’ll be going through the programs.

In terms of, “Do I have an ability to get into this program,” we always have room for talented students. So, I think that one thing that we’re going to continue on is that I don’t think our admissions criteria is going to go up particularly, but I also don’t expect it to go down at all. So, I think we’re just going to continue to recruit the same types of candidates; the only thing is we’re going to be recruiting more of them and from more diverse regions. So, I expect the program to grow. I would suggest that next year we’ll have two and possibly even three cohorts coming in next year, which is very, very good from a standpoint of competitions and the opportunity for students to meet a diverse group of people and things like that.

Again these are all very, very healthy things and having taught at very large MBA programs like the University of Texas or Northwestern University or Vanderbilt University, I would just say that these are the sort of things that are very, very good, just in terms of your overall experience.

Darren: Great, yeah later in the show we’ll definitely get to admissions and what that means and what you guys are looking for.

Dr. Zerillo: Okay.

Darren: But, in terms of the class size as well, I know SMU is like you said, is a young program, it’s got this unique pedagogy. You know, you’re ramping up the corporate connections and I know that you’ve recently been awarded the EQUIS accreditation as well, along with a AACSB, which is amazing for a program that’s only been running for less than five years. But what would you have to say to prospective candidates to SMU about career placement, given that the school is still in ranked, it’s still a young program, and yeah, could you talk a little bit more about what students can expect from the career services and how successful you guys have been in terms of placing graduates in the program?

Dr. Zerillo: Yeah, last year we had—you have to report your graduates six months out from graduation day, what the percentage of your people are that are fully employed and last year 96 percent of our students were fully employed six months out. That would compare more than favorably with any institutions in the west. So, any of the Western top 25 MBA programs in the world are not going to see better numbers than that. As a matter of fact, these would be very much on the high side of any employment numbers that we see for those universities.

So I think one of the things that first I want to say is that our placement numbers have been very good and this is really been something that has been a little bit of a struggle for us as a university, because it’s a new program and we have to get the word out and as a new program, you’re not ranked right away, right? As I said, you have to wait four years until the institution can go up for ratings and go up for rankings. So, it’s the sort of thing that we’re probably not going to be ranked for another year and a half or there about.

Having said that, you have to start calling your employers and connecting with your employers and asking them to take a look at your students and interview your students and give them the time. Now in the early days that’s a little bit harder sell and the university is only 12 years old to begin with. But one thing that we found is, if I look at our undergraduate programs, 100 percent of our undergraduates were placed at graduation date last year. So, it’s the sort of thing where we’ve had remarkable relationships with the corporate recruiters throughout the region with the undergraduate program and it’s transferred very nicely to our graduate programs now. As I say, in the early days we kind of struggled with this a bit, but last year’s class—it wasn’t the best job market this last year, as a lot of people have been stalling their hires but 96% of our people were placed within six months of graduation, And quite frankly, the ones that weren’t, had really been from family businesses and they—

Darren: Yeah, and I mean did most of these students from the full-time program, did they end up working in Singapore or did they go back to their home countries?

Dr. Zerillo: Well, the overwhelming majority stayed in Singapore. There were a number of people though, that did go back to their home countries. We had some Thai students; we had some students like Sander who went back to the United States after he was done with his degree. A couple of students went back to India. So, some of them did go back, but I would say even the students who went back to their home countries, they probably only represented 50 percent of the people from their country that came over here. So, probably half of the international students wound up staying over here in Singapore.

Darren: Yeah, and with the sort of accelerated one year program that SMU has, could you talk a little bit more about internship placements for your students

Dr. Zerillo: Yeah, we’ve got a series of internship programs here and students are able to do a 12-week internship as they go through the program. So, what we do is we begin having their classes in the late summer; those classes will be in the evenings and that opens up time for them to work a internship during the day. It’s become mandatory for international students or for the students to take an internship; roughly 90+ percent of them engage in internships.

Darren: You mentioned this new special projects class and I just wanted to get back to that really quickly. Do the students have a choice in deciding what they study or are there certain classes that are already made up that they can enroll in? How does that work?

Dr. Zerillo: Well, it’s a little bit of both, Darren. If people come in and they’ve got a particular issue that they want to study and they know it coming in the door, we certainly welcome that and we try to pair them up with faculty  members that can oversee that project.

On the other hand, if the students don’t have an idea, what we do is we try to generate some projects for them to work out as well. We always have businesses interacting with us that have specific problems or issues that they’d like to have studied.

Darren: Okay.

Dr. Zerillo: A little bit of both.

Darren: Yeah, I think that’s a great new addition to the program.

Dr. Zerillo: Yeah, it’s a wrinkle.

Darren: Yeah. Before we get into admissions talk, is there one area of the program that you wish more international students—cause within Singapore, everyone knows that SMU is one of the top universities in Singapore, but in terms of outside of Singapore, is there one area of the program that you wish applicants knew more about?

Dr. Zerillo: Yeah, you know Darren, I’ll tell you what, if I look at this program now, I’ve taught ad Hebrew University in Jerusalem, I’ve taught at Thammasat University in Thailand, I’ve taught with the University in Maryland, I’ve taught at Emory University, I taught with the University of Texas, Northwestern. I’ve taught at a lot of different schools and one of the things I see here is is I see, one is that we have tremendous students. I go in a classroom, the students are ready, they’re prepared and the level of conversation is quite high in the classrooms here. So, I think from the standpoint of who it is you go to school with, I don’t think what you’re going to find better students anywhere in the world, right? This is a very, very solid group of students and both technically as well as strategically; these people are very, very advanced.  So that would be the first thing.

The second thing is that the level of English fluency and English competency in this program is very high. I think, if I look at Western students and you, yourself having grown up in the United States, maybe not all of the students really understand some of nuances and differences between different countries out here in Asia. And if we talk to the average American, Canadian or Mexican student, they might not understand, just what the level of facility with English in a place like Singapore.

Darren: Yeah.

Dr. Zerillo: So, this is a place where the instructors—there’s no communication problems here in terms of the instructors’ abilities to be able to speak English in the classroom. I think that’s always one of the things for an international student looking at potentially coming to a far and distant land—

Darren: Yeah.

Dr. Zerillo: That’s one of the things that scares them, right? So, I think that’s one of the first things, is that I’d like to put people’s concerns or their fears—I like to ease them and let them know that the classmates that you’re going to go to school with are very, very— first of all, they’re very kind people out here and secondly, they’re very intelligent and very hard working people on the level of commitment. And professionalism in the classroom is very high and the teachers are also very, very competent and very, very fluent in English and there really is no slip on things such as that. So, if you watch that interview with Sander, this is one of the first things that Sander explains to people is, “As an American I found this to be a very, very soft landing.”

Darren: That’s great. Yeah, and again we’ll link to that interview. If we could switch our focus to admissions, what everyone wants to know.

Dr. Zerillo: Okay.

Darren: Yeah, so I know before when I used to work at SMU, we used to have three deadlines for the full-time program but I know that it’s changed a bit in terms of how quickly you get back to applicants once they apply.

Dr. Zerillo: Yeah.

Darren: So, I see three deadlines on the site for the full-time program, starting in January. So, could you walk us through the life of an application in your office; what happens from when someone submits and application, when do they hear back from you in terms of for an interview?

Dr. Zerillo: Let me just start of by saying that when it comes to applications, the first thing is, the earlier you apply the better and that’s for a couple of different reasons. One, just in terms of the places that are still available in the program, we’re going to wait to cap it at some level, whether 60, 120, 180 whatever that is, so certainly the earlier the better in terms of applications, but it shouldn’t dissuade you if your timing is not on the early side.

Also, we have piles of money for scholarships and things like this and certainly all of them are still open and available on the first day, by the time we get later in the cycle, some of those are not as available as they might have been. So, while I wouldn’t discourage anybody later in the cycle, I would certainly say that the earlier you can get in, always the better.

The second thing is, is what happens in the application cycle. Now, it used to be that what we would do is we would take the applications in and then we would wait until the end of the cycle and then at the end of the cycle or the application period, we would began calling people for interviews and it might be 30, 45, 60 days from when you submitted until you got an interview here at the university.

Well, one of the things we did, is we just have made this process much faster, because we realize the people who are applying have lots of schools that they want to consider or what have you, so we try to get back to people in a very timely fashion. So now, what happens here at the university, when you apply, as soon as you complete your application, within seven days we have you scheduled for an interview.

When you have your interview within seven days we get back to you with a decision and you either get an offer from the program, you get a decline from the program or if you are going to be on a wait list, which we try to keep the wait list to a minimum, we let you know that you’re on the wait list during that time period.

So, what we try to do is speed up the process a great deal for people. What we were finding was, we lost a lot of very qualified candidates, because what happened was they just didn’t know if they were getting in the program or not and they made alternate plans and it was the sort of thing we probably missed out on some very solid candidates in the past.

The second thing that we’ve done is we’ve tried to make the process a great deal more streamlined. Initially, the program had had five essays that we wanted people to write. Now, what we’ve done is we’ve said, “Look, the need for an essay is to give people an opportunity to tell us something unique and different about themselves and also to look at their writing and their ability to communicate with a written word and things like that.” Really, two essays is probably enough and so what we’ve done is we’ve reduced the number of essays needed for an application from five to two. So, it’s streamlined the process, it’s made it a little bit easier for people to get their applications in, in a timely manner and it’s speeded up the entire process.

Darren:  Yeah, so I think, I’m sure many ears perked up when you said a few things. So, the first is that SMU will return a decision, basically within 14 days. Is that correct? That’s seven days to—

Dr. Zerillo: Yes, 14 days. What we’ll do is within seven days, we’ll schedule an interview. Now, it may be three days until you can get your interview or your schedule might be such that it takes you 10 days or whatever to get your interview, but from the day that you get your interview, then its seven days until we return a decision again.

Darren: Wow that is fantastic.

Dr. Zerillo: And this is the sort of thing that, look, we just want to maintain contact. If this is something that you’ve gone through the steps of process, we’re not going to let down on our side to where we don’t give you the attention that your application deserves. So, that’s what we really tried to ramp up here. And quite frankly, I’ll tell you Darren, this has been really why I think a lot of the numbers have started to grow in terms of our number of students matriculating, is simply because it’s a continued interest and I think people began to look for other options when the process lags on a little too long.

Darren: Yeah, I think that is just fantastic that someone can apply and get a decision within two, three, four weeks. I think that’s fantastic.

Dr. Zerillo: Yep.

Darren: And in terms of the ear perking thing I heard was “piles of money for scholarships.” So, could you talk a little bit more about the scholarships that are available to candidates, both international and Singaporean?

Dr. Zerillo: Yeah, we have a number of scholarships and about 65 percent of our students last year were on scholarship of some sort and 45 percent of those students—45 percent of students had multiple scholarships. So, there is money available here at the university. It’s the sort of thing I spend a lot of my time doing is trying to raise money for scholarships and things like this for the graduate programs here at the university; so we are out constantly looking at employers and people like this to become involved and help to sponsor some of the students and what have you.

It’s the sort of thing we always wish we had more scholarship money available, but yeah, we’ve done a good job of being able to assist students. Now, it’s not the sort of thing that we’re looking at 100% tuition, scholarships, but we’ve had fairly significant levels of scholarship participation.

Darren: Wow, so nearly half the class has been awarded a scholarship. Could you give us a range in terms of what a typical award would be?

Dr. Zerillo: Well, most of them tend to be in the area of somewhere between 15 – 30 percent of the tuition.

Darren: Wow that’s still—that’s great.

Dr. Zerillo: Yeah, most of them tend to be in that range. Now, we do have some fully paid scholarships and we have some scholarships that work out to about 10 percent of tuition, but the most of the things tend to be in that 15 – 30 percent range.

Darren: Fantastic.

Dr. Zerillo: A lot of students—I’m sorry, I was going to say a lot of students have multiply scholarships as well, so it might be the sort of thing they have 15 percent and then another 20 percent for something else, so it’s not to say that people don’t have more than a 30 percent scholarship.

Darren: Great and yeah, I’d encourage those of you listening to check out the scholarship page that SMU, MBA program has. They’ve listed all the different scholarships that are available, so definitely check out that resource which I’ll link to in the show notes. And I guess the other question is what types of candidates are you looking for? You mentioned “qualified,” right? But can you unpack that a little bit in terms of what you’re looking for? I know SMU has a slightly older class than average, but could you talk a little bit more about what types of candidates are you looking to attract to the program?

Dr. Zerillo: Well Darren, if they can walk on water that’s a good thing. But seriously Darren, what we’re looking for is, one, people who have demonstrated an academic profile that indicates that they’re going to be able to do the work here at the university, so a good academic turn fact record is a very important thing.

Secondly, we’d like to find people who have a good work profile, right? That have shown a good solid career progression that they’re starting to manage people or they’re managing people and they’re responsible for significant decisions within their firm.

The reason that you want those type of people is they add a great deal to your discussion. They’re people that once you begin to start managing people your career is going to go in a direction in which you’re going to have great impact. So, we’re looking for people that have shown that early ability to manage and to lead and to handle bigger decision within organizations.

The third thing we’re looking for is we’re looking people that are going to have an impact in society, so not just business, but also will they impact society in a positive and a purposeful way; so people who’ve had community impact and things like this. So, if I had to look at three areas of competency that we’d look for in people, these would be the three areas.

Now, if I look at candidates and I say, “Who’s the ideal candidate?” I want to see people that can come in and put a story together, that are able to project and to put together a storyline that allows them to communicate very complex problems to the interviewers. So, what we’re looking for is people that are going to have those solid presentation skills and solid human interaction skills that are going to be in large part, are what take you great places in your career.

Darren: Yeah, and so speaking of the interview, every candidate who is admitted to the program has to be interviewed?

Dr. Zerillo: That is correct.

Darren: Okay and who conducts the interviews? Is it student alumni or faculty or the MBA admissions office?

Dr. Zerillo: Well, it’s a combination. There’s at least one faculty member and sometimes there’s two and they’ll conduct it either—will have as many as two faculty members or we may have two faculty members and a person from the MBA admissions office. But as a maximum, we have three people interviewing you; sometimes it’s as few as two people interviewing you, but it’s some combination of faculty and MBA admissions office.

We have not, to this point, used our MBA students to go out as alumni—our past students to do these interviews. This will be something we’ll probably move to in the future, but as a young program with only 50 or 60 graduates, it would be very taxing for them to handle all the interviews at this stage. As the program grows and we have a more vast alumni, we’ll probably migrate more towards that model.

Darren: Yeah and I just want to say to candidates out there listening that just to have this opportunity to interview with a faculty member of the program is really an amazing opportunity, because of course, you’re going to have to have great responses and be ready to share your story, but you also get to ask the faculty about their teaching experience in the program and really hear firsthand what it’s all about, so I think that’s very special.

Dr. Zerillo:  Yeah, I mean I know that I’ve said that—

Darren: Yeah, two faculty, these are world-class faculty who are spending the time to interview you, so I understand when the program gets bigger it won’t be possible to do that, but I do think that’s a very unique part of the application process.

Dr. Zerillo:  Well, I think what will happen as we grow is we’ll probably still continue to do faculty interviews here at the university, but maybe for some of the more distant applications work with a local graduate, which is what we’ve done at many other universities I’ve worked with in the past.

Darren: Yeah. Okay, great and you mentioned one of your three criteria was experience leading people and managing people, What would you say to someone who—whether because it’s that’s person’s function or their industry, they just haven’t had that opportunity yet to manage others?

Dr. Zerillo: Yeah, I mean—

Darren: Should they still apply or…?

Dr. Zerillo: Yes, absolutely and we recognize that—is that there are some career paths where you’re probably not going to be managing people until you get to a certain level. Take a typical scientist, if you’re a bench scientist in a pharma company, you’re probably 15 years with that company until you’ve really got any significant leadership position. You’re going to be a scientist creating molecules somewhere on a team, right? And so what we would look for is not that you’ve led, but that you’ve been a part of a team and that people—when we read through your recommendations and things like this, we’re going to look for your collegiality, your ability to influence within the team and things like that. So, these are the kind of things that we really begin to hone in on when we look at the recommendations and things like that on your application.

Darren: Got it, and finally the question that’s on a lot of people’s minds is GMAT score. So, I saw that the class average is about a 650 or 660, I believe.

Dr. Zerillo: Yeah.

Darren: So, is there a minimum score that you’re looking for?

Dr. Zerillo: No, we don’t have a published minimum score. Let me be very direct about this though, Darren. I’ve been the Dean of these types of programs for a lot of years and one thing that we do find is that a solid GMAT score correlates very well with people’s academic progression in these programs. So, a good GMAT score is very important. Now, is it end all and the be all? Absolutely not. And we wouldn’t spend our time interviewing people and we would not ask an admissions committee to oversee all these applications if all we wanted was a GMAT score. If all we wanted was a GMAT score, we would publish what the GMAT score had to be and then we would let people—they could register online and we would become

I would say that we try to look beyond that GMAT, but it’s not to say that a solid GMAT is not required, right? Now, does everybody have to have a 750 GMAT or a 700 GMAT or something like that? No, and we do except some people under 600 in our program, but they have some other things that are very, very solid about their applications; either their past experiences or their interviews or things like that. And we’ve turned down some people with excellent GMAT scores.

Darren: Yeah, it sounds from what you’ve told me that the communication and presentation skills are very important

Dr. Zerillo: Absolutely. Yeah.

Darren: So, Dr. Z., I want to thank you so much for your time. I know you’re a very busy man, so thank you for spending an hour with us and shedding more light on the program. If candidates are interested to find out more about SMU or to actually talk to students, where would you recommend they go –

Dr. Zerillo: Yeah, so—

Darren: To find out more information?

Dr. Zerillo: You know certainly, you’re always welcome to contact me and my email—and unfortunately for the university, my picture is up all over the website and if that doesn’t scare people away, people are certainly welcome to contact me. The other thing I would suggest is that they go directly to the MBA program and that they contact either Gilbert Chua or Edwin Lim Yee Ping, who are the two people working in admissions here at the university and they do a great job of interacting with people and helping them to navigate this process.

Darren: Okay, fantastic. So, yeah we’ll include those emails below and thank you again Dr. Z.

Dr. Zerillo: Thanks, Darren.

Darren: And hopefully we can do this again next year as well. See what’s changed with the program.

Dr. Zerillo: And hopefully we’ll catch up with either other on the road somewhere.

Darren: Yeah, exactly, alright Dr. Z.

Dr. Zerillo: Thanks, Darren.

Darren: Thank you so much.

Dr. Zerillo: Bye, bye.

Darren: Take care. Bye, bye.


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