The MBA Gatekeeper To Michigan’s Ross

Soojin Kwon of Michigan’s Ross School of Business

Many people believe an applicant’s chances in the first round are best because none of the seats in the class have been filled. So you probably aren’t weeding many people out to balance a full class. Is that true?

No. We know that we can waitlist if we are not sure about somebody. We review that with each subsequent round.

Being waitlisted can be a real drag for an applicant. Last year you put 472 people on the waitlist and admitted 131 of them. Do you have guidelines on how big your waitlist should be?

It’s more natural. It happens when we review an application and we’re just not sure that we have a place yet. It’s not a matter of we want to have only 100 people on the waitlist and that’s the only number we allow. We let it be as big or small as the evaluators see fit. But we try to minimize the stress of being on the waitlist. If an applicant is waitlisted in round one, we communicate with them again in round two to say if there is a positive decision, we will let you know with the round two folks, if not sooner. If you don’t hear from us that means you will remain on the waitlist, but know that we are still reviewing you. When we get to the summer, we try to release as many folks as we can. If we know that we only got ten spots in the class that we are flexing, we are not going to keep 300 people on the waitlist. So we try to winnow it down as much as we can as we go.

For the second evaluators, we highly encourage them not to waitlist people. So I ask them, ‘If you had to tip the scales one way or the other, which way would you go?’

If you’re on the waitlist at Ross, are the odds against you?

Not necessarily. It means you were admissible. We’re interested in you, but we need to wait and see. It’s a matter of do we have room in the class, and we won’t know that until we see how many people have accepted the offers of admission.

Do you think you’re looking for anything different than the peer schools you compete with for applicants?

We are all looking for leaders who are team players who have accomplished a lot and are really smart and fun to be around. In that way, I would be surprised if any school said it was looking for something other than those very generic qualities. Part of the differences may come in the kind of people who apply to a particular business school. There is probably a bit of self-selection in advance. People who don’t enjoy collaborative study will not apply to a Ross or Kellogg. If they are more quantitatively, independently focused, they would not choose to apply here. Our selection process is facilitated in some part by having a clear identity of who we are and what we offer. Candidates know some of those subtle differences.

I’m sure you get candidates who try to pull strings. Does that help?

It’s another piece of information. We say thank you for it. But if someone is just not qualified, they’re not going to get in. Let’s say they do know somebody. I don’t let the readers know that. That’s just something I know in the back of my head so that the dean or the associate dean are not blindsided by someone who calls and says, ‘What do you mean?’

What if the children or grandchildren of Stephen Ross apply and are rejected? His name is on the school. That can’t be good.

Here’s what I tell our development officers: ‘Don’t bring people with connections to me after they have applied. There’s nothing I can do with them. But encourage them to be as competitive as they can by taking a GMAT class or getting work experience or anyone of us can do a counseling session in advance.’ Once the application is submitted, there’s nothing I can do with that. And if they are not qualified, I can’t do it.

If you were applying to Michigan’s MBA program today instead of in 1997 would you do anything differently?

I would be completely stressed. Gosh, I would be out there reading all of those things. I would be reading books and would probably think about getting a consultant. I really would. But in the end, I wouldn’t.

Why wouldn’t you get a consultant?

I want to get in on my own merits. If I don’t get in on the basis of what I can do, than how do I know I can do what I said I could in the application once I get to business school. I’m not serving myself by not doing my own work.

What do you dislike about your job?

No one says when I grow up I want to be an admissions director. That’s not what I said when I went off to college. But now that I’m here, this is the most fun job I’ve ever had. It allows me to pick up a lot of things I learned in business school. I do a lot of marketing and work hand in hand with the marketing team to come up with our messaging, our website, and the materials. I love understanding the voice of the customer and having an MBA helps me connect with that mindset better than someone who might not have had that experience. It’s really fun thinking about how we talk to candidates now. When I first started, it was so print heavy and email after email. And now there is so much social media and informal guerilla marketing that we try to do. When I came in I viewed this as a consulting project. There were so many process things that could be improved upon. So a lot of my first couple years were spent developing and documenting processes. So that when somebody leaves, we don’t get left in a hole. We established very clear processes so we can do this very efficiently.

What’s the best advice you can give an applicant?

I don’t think candidates believe us when we say it but we really mean ‘be yourself.’ They think they should be this business school candidate prototype. The packaging is a concern. I don’t know if it is them or a consultant wrapping a bow on them. If someone is trying to coach you on the inside track or process, it becomes obsolete quickly. We change our process literally every year. A lot of the purported value that some admission consultants provide is given to you by the source. Just go to the source. Ask us. You don’t even have to ask for that information. We give it freely. So why would anyone say they are giving you the inside scoop. You don’t have the inside scoop because that was last year’s scoop or the year before that. And even then, that was only part of the picture so how can they say they know what the process is.

Would you ever become an admissions consultant?

You know I thought would I ever do that and I don’t think that I could because I don’t think it’s fair to admission offices that I know what will get you in. because you don’t. If you are saying I can help you write better or think about yourself in a different way, sure. I can see the value in someone doing that. Would I want that for myself? Right now I can’t picture that.

DON’T MISS: THE GATEKEEPER TO HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL or THE GATEKEEPER TO STANFORD GRADUATE SCHOOL OF BUSINESS or THE GATEKEEPER TO THE WHARTON SCHOOL OF BUSINESS

About the Author...

John A. Byrne

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.