When the adcom is going through applications, the first cut is the shallowest: there’s no deep digging required to weed out people who are patently not qualified for the challenges of the Kenan-Flagler MBA. “We look for evidence that the person is able to keep up with a rigorous program that can be quite quantitatively front loaded,” Wallace says.
ADMISSIONS CHIEF COMES FULL CIRCLE
Wallace, a Kenan-Flagler MBA (’87) herself, began working in the school’s admissions office in 1998, after a corporate career that was by turns cheesy, sweet, and sporty. She went from business school into the Leo Burnett Company as an account executive, a job that included developing market strategies for Velveeta Slices. After three years with Leo Burnett, she spent a year as associate brand manager for Planters Life Savers Company, managing a $13 million advertising and promotion budget for the confection company. She then worked for six years at trading-card company Fleer Skybox International, managing product lines totaling more than $100 million in sales, and 40% of the company’s profit, before moving on to a position as a consultant and interim GM for a greeting card firm for less than a year before starting in admissions at Kenan-Flagler.
In her years in Kenan-Flagler admissions, Wallace has seen more than 10,000 applications, she estimates. In the Q&A that follows, she discloses that “many applicants would be surprised” to know that the people they chose to provide letters of recommendation fall short of whole-hearted endorsement. She presents a laundry list of reasons why an applicant with a high GMAT score and GPA might fail to make the admissions cut. She describes the perils of coming into an interview with a list of talking points. She explains why applicants put Kenan-Flagler on their list when the bright lights and scintillating minds of New York City and Silicon Valley also beckon. She suggests a much more effective approach to showing interest in the school than badgering the admissions staff. And Wallace reveals what every applicant should do after an admissions interview (hint: it requires just two words).
Q&A WITH UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA KENAN-FLAGLER BUSINESS SCHOOL MBA ADMISSIONS DIRECTOR SHERRY WALLACE
What are the best things an applicant can do when applying?
They need to take the initiative to learn and read all the information that’s readily available, whether that’s reviewing our website, whether that is blogs, whether that is looking at brochures. There’s a lot of information that can make the person very familiar with the school. I’m floored at how many times I’ll get a request to meet with a student who says they’re very interested in the program, and we may have 20, 30 minutes, and in the 20, 30 minutes all their questions are things that they could have easily gotten on our website. What kind of responsibility are they taking for readying themselves? When you do get an opportunity with a member of the staff or the students, go to the things that will take you to a deeper understanding, not the the things that are very shallow that you could’ve learned on your own.
What matters most to you about an application?
What matters the most overall is whether se see the true and authentic person here. Some candidates spend a lot of time trying to figure out what we want. It’s important to present themselves in the best possible light, but not when who they end up presenting is not who they are. I look for authenticity: if they were to come here, is this who we’re getting? Is what they’re looking for and what they’re attempting truly what we’re looking for? Only then can we make an assessment of fit.
We clearly need people that are going to come here and do well academically. We want to make sure that we’re bringing in people that are going to be marketable, that they’re going to be successful.
We’re looking for clarity of goals. We’re looking for past career success or career results, and we’re looking for what third parties say about their abilities to get things done.
What’s the most common big mistake applicants make?
Some applicants make big mistakes by not doing their self-assessment, not knowing what they want and why before they start the process. That becomes very evident in admission interviews when a candidate’s not very fluid about speaking about their goals, and their vision. Another applicant mistake is not having a good knowledge of our program, or even of the MBA in general, not being able to articulate specific reasons we are one of the programs they are considering, what outcomes they’re expecting.
Sometimes people make mistakes in putting forward a sloppy application, missing some of the data, things that would suggest that they were very rushed or not committed to the process. That’s hard to miss when you see an application and it looks like there wasn’t a lot of effort. You don’t want to do anything as an applicant that would make us question your judgment. Why would someone submit an application that they didn’t proofread? Or why would someone submit an application where all the questions are not answered?