The MBA Gatekeeper At Notre Dame

Kristin McAndrew

Kristin McAndrew

When Kristin McAndrew told her father that she had just accepted a job to be director of admissions at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, he had some rather direct and succinct advice.

“‘Don’t screw it up,’” quipped Tom McAndrew, who graduated from Notre Dame in the 1960s.

“He has some serious Notre Dame pride,” laughs Kristin. “He was thrilled. He’s not one to get choked up but on my first day when I called him from the office he was sincerely moved.”

McAndrew settled into her new job at Notre Dame in early January. Three weeks later, the walls of her office were still bare and boxes of personal effects remained scattered on the floor. Already, though, there are folders filled with applications to Mendoza’s MBA program stacked on her desk. “I always hate the first couple of weeks of a new job,” she says. “You feel you want to do strategic things and offer direction and guidance. But at the same tie you can’t find the photo copier and the staples to put in the stapler.”

‘EVERY TIME I OPEN A FOLDER I FIND IT SO EXCITING’

Though new to Notre Dame, McAndrew is not new to admissions. She has spent 18 years in the field at Simmons College and Emerson College in Boston as well as St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame. During that time, she figures she has read tens of thousands of applications. “Sometimes you go home with a big stack and you think you can’t possibly read another one,” concedes McAndrew. “And yet every time I open a folder I find it so exciting. I get to call people on the phone and tell them they have been accepted to the University of Notre Dame. You don’t get over that, even after doing it for 18 years.”

The true appeal of her job, she believes, is the notion of crafting an ideal class, one in which a highly diverse group of people bring their personal experiences and attributes together in a way that creates something special and unique. “So often people think of admissions people as gatekeepers. We decide who is in and who is out. Certainly that is part of the job, but for me it is offering people opportunities and crafting a class. We all strive to have diverse perspectives and people in the class. I love the puzzle of crafting a class.”

For the first time in her career, however, she is now evaluating MBA applicants—and at Mendoza it is truly about crafting a class. Both Notre Dame’s two-year and one-year MBA programs are small and close-knit. The two-year candidates in the Class of 2015 number just 135 and entered with an average five years of work experience, undergraduate GPAs of 3.32 and GMAT scores that ranged between 640 and 740 (mid-80 percentile). Only 24% are female and just 21% are international. The one-year MBA program for applicants who have already taken statistics and financial accounting adds another 64 students in the mix, with 8% hailing from outside the country and 23% female in the Class of 2014.

AN EARLY GOAL: TO BRING A GREATER ARRAY OF DIVERSE VOICES TO THE PROGRAM

A big part of her job, as defined by McAndrew, is to bring more diverse voices to the program. She leads a team of three who read applications and four support staffers who respond to emails, answer questions on the phone, and process applications. Last year, the school received 740 applications for the 136 seats in the two-year MBA program.

In a wide-ranging interview with Poets&Quants, McAndrew reveals what attributes make the Notre Dame MBA experience different, how the school evaluates candidates, and what she hopes to achieve in the job.

Kristin, you arrived at Mendoza just as the Jan. 6 round two deadline for MBA applicants hit with decisions due no later than Feb. 28th. What’s that like?

It’s true that I’m making the transition in the middle of the cycle, but I’ve already begun to read applications and do interviews with candidates. I still work on a temporary computer and sit in a room with naked walls. But I was anxious to jump in and get involved with the admissions process. I’ll decorate the walls later.

The community here could not be more welcoming. I am amazed by the students. The school sent an email announcement about my appointment and the number of students who have come by the office to welcome me is really amazing.

You’ve largely worked in undergraduate admissions for smaller colleges. From your perspective, what’s the biggest difference between the young people you evaluated before and the application folders you’re reading now?

The big difference is I’m talking with students who are making a conscious choice to go to graduate school. Very often, if you are a strong student in high school, you are going to college. But if you are an adult in the working world, you are putting a lot of deliberate thought into the decision. Their decisions are considered and helping to guide them through the decision is important.