The MBA Gatekeeper At UNC Kenan-Flagler

What mistake surprised you the most?

I think not being prepared, not knowing why they want to do this. I’m surprised at how many people don’t have a good answer for, ‘Why the MBA?’ Sometimes the answer is, ‘I’ve always thought about getting a graduate degree,’ or, ‘I’m trying to figure out what direction I want to take my career and I know if I come to business school I’ll learn about a lot of careers.’ That is a little bit scary, because this is two years and a large investment. We do expect them to have some hypotheses about why this route makes sense for them. Some candidates really can’t give you that. That’s a big mistake, signing up for a life choice that doesn’t have any better underpinning than that.

Sometimes, and this is probably a nit-picky one, I’m surprised at applicants who choose people to provide recommendations that aren’t really helpful in what they provide. What we expect of the recommender is a rating of the candidate against certain attributes, as well as some answers to questions. On the rating form, there will be eight or nine different attributes. Sometimes I’ve seen recommendations where half of the time, the answer is ‘no opportunity to observe.’

On the day of an admissions interview, what should an applicant do before the interview?

They should make sure that they are ready to talk about their goals, their accomplishments. They should be able to walk through their career, their resume, giving us all the reasons why they’ve made the moves that they’ve made. They should be able to tell us very efficiently what their goals are and why an MBA. They should be very comfortable speaking to reasons why Kenan-Flagler is one of their schools. That is not us saying they have to declare us as their No. 1 school. What is it about this program that puts us on your list?

We love talking with candidates. The interviews are for me the part of the job I love the most. Just being able to engage with people and hearing their stories, it’s an honor. There’s a real person behind every one of these conversations, and I think that’s what makes this a very rewarding career.

What should applicants do after the interview?

Say thank you.

What I think applicants should recognize is that the interview is very important to us, but the interview is one piece. Very often candidates will ask at the end of an interview, ‘How did I do?’ That’s not a question we’d ever advise people to ask. The problem is that even if you did extremely well, I can’t tell you at that point how great a candidate you are because I haven’t seen the other inputs. It’s going to be married with all of the other parts of the application.

Should applicants contact the admissions office to follow up on their application? At what point does this become a negative?

In general, an applicant should not have to. But thus is a human process. Throughout admissions, as applicants submit, they should be getting communication from our team. If at any time we missed communicating with them, where it’s not clear to them what their status is, absolutely we welcome them checking in with us – we can make a mistake, too. Sometimes we get the sense that some applicants think there’s some benefit that every now and then I need to contact someone. But we don’t have an ability to every week chat with someone. There are really no points for just being in touch that way. That said, should applicants be reaching out to students, alumni, joining our webinars, and coming to our events, coming to open houses? Absolutely. All of those things show interest in the program. But calling once a week or every month, that’s not productive.

Chapel Hill, North Carolina doesn’t have the cachet of New York, or Silicon Valley – what reasons do applicants give for wanting to get their MBA at Kenan-Flagler, given the fact that other top schools are located in regions with more buzz?

We have many applicants who come here because they have either worked with a Kenan-Flagler graduate or have talked with an alumnus, or have heard through various media or personal interaction with students who are here who described their experience.

What we are doing in the area of leadership development is really standing out as different and desirable for a lot of people – I hear the leadership program standing out. We have a real estate program that is quite well regarded and there are not a lot of schools that have such programs, and that brings a certain group, in the same way as some of our other offerings for people who are looking for something specific.

It’s also a great place to live.

What do you like to hear from applicants about their reasons for wanting to come to Kenan-Flagler?

Every now and then I’ll talk to an applicant and they’ll mention a quality of the program that is not a true quality, and then you know they haven’t done their homework. Sometimes what a candidate has written in their goal essay might be very different from what they answer in the interview. If someone is inconsistent, which one is right? Or which one is wrong? Are they still searching, and in which case, are they ready for this yet? It may just be that you’re not far enough along on that path, to where business school might not be the best thing. We just don’t want to help someone make a mistake or start on a path that might not necessarily be the best path for what they’re trying to accomplish.

Why are you getting so many more applications in the past couple of years?

There’s a lot of things going on. No. 1, the market’s been in a good place. We certainly have benefited from people feeling confident and feeling that there are opportunities that make investing in an MBA worthwhile. Our communication and marketing have been more consistent. We’re not a big city; there may be schools or cities that are more well known, but I think that Kenan-Flagler has certainly been put on the map for a lot more people. I really think it’s the outcomes for our students. Our graduates have done really well in the past number of years. We have a summer workshop where about two-thirds of our students come to classes about a month early. They’re talking with their friends and they’re posting on their social networks.