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The MBA Gatekeeper To Michigan’s Ross

Soojin Kwon Koh, director of admissions at Michigan’s Ross School of Business

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.

WHY SHE WOULDN’T HIRE AN ADMISSIONS CONSULTANT

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.