The Gatekeeper to Michigan’s Ross

When Soojin Kwon Koh applied to the University of Michigan’s business school in 1997, MBA applicants were given their admission verdicts by snail mail.

If you were accepted, you got a thick envelope. If you were dinged, it was the thin one.

For months, Koh lived in limbo until she received an invitation to interview, and then still more time before receiving her thick envelope. As director of admissions for Michigan’s Ross School of Business, she now tries to minimize the anxiety of applicants who want to get into the school’s prestigious MBA program.

But sometimes even complete candor and straightforward advice in her blog fails to put applicants at ease. Only a few weeks ago, one unhappy round one applicant decried the school’s three-week wait between the first batch of interview invites on Oct. 24th and the second on Nov. 14th. The complainer groused that the wait “takes a toll not only on our psyche, but also on our work and to some extent our family.”

Empathetic but firm, Koh replied that she “completely” understood the pressure the applicant was under and then recalled what it was like when was, too, was an applicant. “It was tough,” Koh wrote on her blog, “But I did my best to focus on the present and try to manage my anxiety. It’s a useful skill to develop as you’ll need to leverage it for so many other things in life.”

For Koh, who became director in 2006, it’s all in a day’s work. At a time when most business schools have been reporting declines in MBA applicants, Ross saw a 7.6% increase last year to 2,929 applications for 501 seats. Explains Koh: “Our dean gave me the direction of no fewer than 500, and the faculty said, ‘Please, no more than 500.’ So I said, ‘Well, would you like me to err on the 499 or 501 side?’ Because there’s a little bit of give, 501 was the better number.”

Whether the upward trend in applications holds is uncertain. In this year’s first round, when typically 35% of the total applicant pool flows in, applications were slightly down. With an upcoming deadline of Jan. 5th, she’s now well into the second round, when 55% of the MBA applications arrive.


In a wide-ranging interview with Poets&Quants, Koh explains why Ross is putting more weight on interviews this year, why high GMAT scores don’t correlate with success at business school, and why she wouldn’t hire an admissions consultant if she was applying to Ross now. She also describes in detail what happens to an application once it makes an appearance in Ross’ computer systems.

  • GuessedWho

    Had an honor to meet Soojin in person. She is awesome!

  • rainman

    I completely agree with David. I love the school and I only applied to Ross. But now due to co signer loan, I have wasted one year of my time because I wont be able to attend the school I was so keen on. I expected Ross to be open and upfront on this major change.
    We have been shortchanged.

  • David

    While I appreciate the honesty shown above, I am dismayed by Ross’ silence on the closing of its no cosigner loan program.

    To quote several members of GmatClub:

    “If only Ross would have informed about it’s loan program for International students being stopped, I would not have wasted my time and effort (including some hundred dollars) to apply.”

    “Even Wharton emailed their applicants to let them know of the finance changes. Ross should do the same. I think it’s unfair and disrespectful to applicants to keep them in the dark.”

    “it’s a shame if it is true and it tells you about the school.”

    And yet no formal announcement has been made to applicants despite several people being told weeks ago that the loan is canceled.

    It’s pretty disgraceful IMHO for school to let its applicants continue to write essays through the holidays – and pay a few hundred bucks – without telling them of a major change that will preclude many of them, particularly internationals, from attending.

  • Jason Woolery

    I agree. Awesome interview.

  • applicantech

    Very open and honest interview…great work! it might push me to apply to Michigan. I really wish more schools would work to weed admissions consultants out of the picture. I noticed the Duke app is asking if students used consultants on the application. And I wish this website and others like it would stop publishing so many pieces from admissions consultants like hbs guru, etc. when it is really just advertising for their companies and a way to make us applicants feel insecure about our consultant-less apps. The consultant industry acts like a tax on applicants. Pay another 3000-10000 dollars for a consultant on top of all the other app expenses (app fees, gmat prep, gmat, interview suit, plane tix to visit schools, etc.). I guess it is fine if you are already making a good salary and are a consultant or investment banker, but it discourages applications from people in non-profit industries.

  • raghu

    Hi John and Ms. Koh,

    Incredibly informative interview.

    @John: this site is a really, really great resource. Thanks a ton for all you’re doing to make business school life and admissions processes more transparent!

  • studiobokeh,

    Thanks. Unfortunately, I don’t know that number.

  • Soojin

    @studiobokeh: We won’t know until mid-January. We’re still reviewing files and interview reports (the deadline for the reports was this past Monday).

  • Thanks! Great interview!
    I’m curious to see what the acceptance rates are for people who were invited to Super Interview Saturday…would you know that figure?