Interest is increasing in the Master of Science in Finance (MSF) program in the College of Business at the University of Illinois. Recently, Ginny Hudak-David, director of the Communications Office (Comm, far right) spoke with Roger Cannaday (third from left), the Director of the MSF program, and Associate Director Shelley Campbell (second from left), as well as David Ikenberry (far left), Chair of the Department of Finance, to learn more about the program and to hear what is happening with admissions for the class of 2006.
Comm: In recent years and particularly last year, data show that B-Schools across the country experienced a substantial decrease in applications. What was the impact on the Illinois MSF program?
Ikenberry: From what my colleagues around the country are telling me, the vast majority of all business schools have seen a sharp decline in applications. Even some of the most prominent MS programs in the US reported decreases of 20% or more in their applications last year. Fortunately for us, we have not experienced this here at Illinois and our numbers are quite different - we've seen a remarkable increase in applications over the last five years.
Comm: Why the increase in applications?
Ikenberry: The Illinois MSF degree is a 12-month program that starts in June, which makes it different from most B-School graduate programs in the US. One-year degree programs are more common in Europe and Asia. Yet in the US, knowledge of one-year programs is growing and gaining popularity with students who don't want to be away from work for more than a year. Because of this new awareness, North American applicants are the fastest growing segment of our pool.
Comm: What makes the MSF at Illinois so special?
Ikenberry: The MSF degree at Illinois (or at UC-Berkeley or Carnegie Mellon, to name two other schools for example) is a great degree for those professional students with, say, 3 to 6 years of good work experience and who have a focused desire to return to school for an in-depth finance experience. These same students are often great candidates for an MBA and will often come to the Illinois MBA program. However for those with a more focused set of needs, the MSF program is an attractive option.
What sets Illinois apart from other schools though is the exposure that we can provide to the full breadth and depth of finance. Some MS programs focus on one narrow area of finance. At Illinois our courses span many areas such as investment banking, financial engineering, corporate finance, insurance, real estate and so on. Students come to Illinois to take advantage of this breadth.
Comm: How many applications have you received compared to last year at this time?
Cannaday: We see roughly double the level of interest based on inquiries from this time last year. If we look at the applications we've received, though, we see about a ten-fold increase compared to this time last year.
Comm: To what do you attribute this dramatic increase in applications?
Ikenberry: Several factors have played a part in this increase and one is that we've worked hard to let people know about the quality of an Illinois MSF degree. No matter where we are or how we're delivering our message, we're telling potential students about the excellence of our program and about innovations to our curriculum.
Illinois Finance faculty are true leaders. Two recent research-related rankings list our faculty as 12th in the world. It's important for potential students to know that these same faculty are in the classroom every day and they keep our curriculum dynamic. For example, two new courses on investment banking and bankruptcies/turnaround management are proving popular. This spring, we will offer a new course on Enterprise Risk Management taught in part by the former CEO of CNA Surety, the only course of its kind that I'm aware of in the world. In the last two years, we've introduced new courses in all kinds of areas such as leasing, statistical arbitrage, and private equity.
The new modular course structure that we introduced two years ago is allowing these new classes to come alive more quickly. Classes in quantitative methods, investments, and fixed income have all been recomposed under this new structure as well. This format, shorter than a semester in length, gives our students an opportunity to learn about a broader range of subjects as well as obtain more depth.
Clearly the Finance Practicum is an attractive feature drawing interest. During the January break between semesters, we offer for a select number of MSF students a chance to solve a problem for a corporate partner. Although this program has been sponsored for two years now through a generous grant from Archer Daniels Midland Corporation, demand outstrips supply. We do our best to match student interest and capabilities with our corporate partners' needs. We've had a great response to this program, both from our students and from the host companies including Home Depot and Wal-Mart to mention two easily recognized firms.
One final reason we think applications are up so much this year is the new "Quick App" we introduced. Students can quickly apply online in only a few minutes with no application fee. Applicants typically hear a preliminary indication from us within about two weeks, sometimes less. We do eventually require a more thorough set of details for each potential student including transcripts and test scores. But overall the process is much shorter in contrast to previous years and the response has been almost overwhelming.
Comm: Speaking of test scores, is the GMAT required for admission to the MSF program at Illinois?
Cannaday: The GMAT score is required. Applicants can request a waiver but we don't anticipate granting many this year. So far this season, we've only admitted students who have reported their GMAT scores (or GRE in some cases). To date, we have admitted a broad range of scores but the average score is running above last year's mean of about 665.
It's possible we may admit a handful of students without GMAT scores. These few cases will be motivated by what are otherwise exceptional credentials such as outstanding work experience--something that would convince us that these students need to be in next year's class.
A year from now, our policy will most likely have shifted to where no waivers will be granted. Those who are intending to apply in future years should plan on taking the GMAT.
Comm: Shelley, how does the MSF admissions process work?
Campbell: We use a rolling admissions cycle that allows us to review applications as they are received. People interested in applying should do so as soon as possible and we strongly recommend using the Quick App process, which gives the admissions committee critical information that gets the process started.
Admission to our program is based on the applicant's composite profile. The admissions committee looks at academic history, work experience, letters of reference, and test scores. The committee is interested in potential- the potential to excel in our intensive program as well as in the world of finance after graduation.
Our website, including the FAQ section, gives more detail about the complete admissions process. Again, I urge anyone interested in our program to apply as soon as possible using the Quick App.
Comm: When is the application deadline for the MSF program?
Campbell: We stagger admissions to allow additional time for processing visa documents for our international students. International students must meet one of two deadlines: February 1 or March 15. The first date applies to those students who currently reside outside the US, while the latter is for those already in the US. US citizens or permanent residents must apply by April 1.
We urge anyone interested in the program to apply as early as possible.
Comm: These dates seem to be later than what we see at high-ranking MBA programs such as Chicago or Stanford, two programs that start in the fall. Why is that?
Campbell: We process things so quickly we simply do not need the same amount of lead time. The main issue here is that we provide students enough time to get their affairs in order and to arrive at Illinois for classes starting in June. For international students, these arrangements require more lead time.
A candidate who is on the fence about applying to Illinois really should not delay applying because of our later deadlines. The main rush of applications occurs in early January. If demand continues at the pace we've seen, it's possible that our class may fill up before the deadlines we currently have posted. In these cases, we will need to defer students to the class of 2007.
Comm: What would you recommend that someone considering Illinois do to increase his or her chance for admission?
Cannaday: You would be surprised at how helpful a few things can be in helping make the best case for admission. First, I recommend that all students apply now. Given our rolling admissions process, the flow of applications increases almost every day. Applicants' chances increase the sooner they apply.
Next, of course, is that they take and submit their GMAT score. The GMAT demonstrates to us not only a base-line competency, but a commitment to studying finance and related elective business courses.
A final word of advice is to make sure you carefully share your work experience. Not only do we want to see the maturity that comes from working, we look to see the quality of that work. You can help us by sharing how your work relates to your future career goals. If your work experience does not relate, tell us why you believe you would still excel in our program. For example, discuss the relevance of your academic background or other experiences in you for our program.
Our FAQ gives more details.
Campbell: Roger, I would add one more thing. I'd encourage all applicants, particularly those who are concerned that their application may not stand out, to ask for an applicant interview with one of us. This can be done by phone, by video conference, or in person on campus. These meetings are extremely helpful in allowing us to fully assess a student's needs and capabilities. In addition to talking to our student ambassadors, the applicant interview is also a great way to learn more about the program.
Comm: Students are naturally interested in employment opportunities after graduation. Overall the job market is tight, but seems to be improving. Are you seeing good numbers with the current class of students?
Campbell: Yes, the employment outlook is definitely getting better. We already have some students with job offers and expect that our students will see additional offers after the practicum experience in January 2005.
Cannaday: I agree with Shelley. We had more firms participating in campus interviews this year and more are asking for the resume book of our students. Over 30 firms interviewed MSF students on campus this fall and over 150 firms accepted MSF resumes through the College's free, online recruiting tool. To prepare our students, we have a staff member who works with them to polish their resumes and to improve their interviewing skills.
Comm: What you have all pointed out is that admission to the MSF program is competitive because of the changes that have been made recently. Potential students surely have a better understanding of the MSF program and how to improve their chances for admission. Thank you all for your time.