Category Archives: Michigan Ross Advice

UM Ross Admissions Director on Choosing Recommenders

A few weeks ago, I provided a Tuesday Tips video on selecting the right recommender. So many people think choosing a well-known or prestigious individual will be the ticket to acceptance at the b-school of …

A few weeks ago, I provided a Tuesday Tips video on selecting the right recommender. So many people think choosing a well-known or prestigious individual will be the ticket to acceptance at the b-school of their dreams. As I said then, the key when selecting recommenders is to think about about their placement in your life; can they write about you thoughtfully and with enough insight so that the admissions committee can get an authentic feel for you as a person, as well as your skills and capabilities? Truly, the prestige of the recommender is not important.

Soojin Kwon Koh, the director of admissions at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, offers additional advice on choosing your recommenders in the latest Ross MBA Newsletter. The key to selecting your recommenders, says Soojin, is picking someone who knows you well, values your work, is committed to your success, and is willing to take the time to write a detailed recommendation that is supported by examples.

Here are the four things to focus on when choosing recommenders:

  1. Choose substance over title: In other words, don’t ask your CEO, unless you’ve worked directly with him or her for a significant amount of time. Instead, focus on finding someone who knows you and your professional strengths and weaknesses. The admissions committee would rather receive a recommendation letter from a mid-level manager that has depth, substance, and supportive examples than a generic recommendation from someone higher up in your organization.
  2. Go with professional relationships: Whenever possible, seek out recommendations from direct supervisors rather than professors, peers, or family friends. If that’s not possible, ask a work mentor, an unofficial supervisor, or a client. Some candidates work for a family business, are entrepreneurs, or find themselves between jobs. In lieu of a direct supervisor, Soojin suggests asking an investor or a major client who has worked with you for a period of time, or perhaps a previous employer.
  3. Make it easy for your recommenders: Give your recommenders context on why you want an MBA. Remind them of the projects you worked on together, and provide a copy of a recent performance review. While the letter must be written in each recommender’s own words, those words will come easier once you’ve provided context and reference information. But don’t prepare your recommenders so extensively that their letters repeat what you’ve discussed in your essays. You also want to ensure that the two recommendation letters don’t sound virtually identical; this would make AdCom question the authorship of the letter.
  4. Provide ample lead time: Remember that all parts of your application must be submitted by the application deadline, including the recommendation letters. Since it is more difficult to control the timeline of a third party, give your recommenders plenty of lead time. It can be helpful to build in a buffer for yourself by providing them with a deadline well in advance of the actual application deadline. At a minimum, request the letter four weeks prior to the application deadline.

I urge you not to underestimate the importance of your recommenders, as some top schools have said the letters of recommendation are the most important aspect of the application. This third-party input and perspective on you as an individual is invaluable when schools are making their admit decisions, so take your recommendations seriously, choose wisely, manage carefully and make sure they are as professionally executed as every other aspect of your application.

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5 Test Prep Steps from UM Ross Admissions Director

It’s that time of year again, when most b-school applicants have the GMAT or GRE on the brain. Soojin Kwon Koh, director of admissions at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of …

It’s that time of year again, when most b-school applicants have the GMAT or GRE on the brain. Soojin Kwon Koh, director of admissions at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, lays out five steps in the latest Ross Newsletter that can help you develop your own test training plan.

Step One: Start preparing early
Unless you’re a natural at standardized test-taking, you’ll need to train your brain to get it into test-taking mode. Studying is like a workout for your brain, writes Soojin, so the more you exercise it, the better you will perform when it counts.

Step Two: Assess your baseline, then set a goal
Take a practice test to assess the level of training you’ll need to close the gap between your practice score and the average and middle 80 percent range of a school’s GMAT scores. Given a similar professional background and undergraduate performance, a higher GMAT score will make you more competitive, the director explains.

Step Three: Set up a study schedule
Commit to a study plan that fits your schedule and budget. Whether you take a test prep class, work with a tutor, or use study guides, thorough and disciplined preparation is a key to success, Soojin writes. While a score over 700 isn’t necessarily a must, schools want to feel confident you won’t struggle in a rigorous MBA program.

Step Four: Simulate the test day scenario
While you can’t replicate the exam environment completely, do eliminate all distractions, set a timer, and take a practice test at around the same time of day you’ll be taking the actual test. This will help you build up your endurance and maintain focus  throughout the exam.

Step Five: Go for your personal record
If you fall short of your goal on the first try, rally your energies to try again, Soojin urges. The admissions committee considers the highest total score, and she says the majority of Ross applicants take the GMAT more than once. If you do re-test, focus your preparation on the sections that challenged you the most.

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Like most top MBA programs, Ross School of Business evaluates your application holistically; no single section will make or break your candidacy. A great score won’t guarantee admittance, and a less-than-stellar test performance won’t seal your fate.

“Continue these training runs and your preparation regimen until you score in your target range and feel you can go into the actual test with confidence,” Soojin advises.

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Tuesday Tips – Michigan Ross MBA Essay Tips

As Dean Dolan advises applicants on the Michigan MBA website, the “Ross difference is action-based learning.” Ross is a program that emphasizes learning both inside and outside the classroom, and is seeking candidates that are …

As Dean Dolan advises applicants on the Michigan MBA website, the “Ross difference is action-based learning.” Ross is a program that emphasizes learning both inside and outside the classroom, and is seeking candidates that are both intellectually curious and able to accomplish their goals.

When you are approaching this set of essays think about how you will best illustrate your fit with the unique Michigan MBA program.

Don’t forget to check your deadlines before getting started!

Essay 1
Introduce yourself to your future Ross classmates in 100 words or less.

The first thing to ask yourself is what you would want to know about your future classmates as potential teammates and friends? That is the information you should communicate here. If you have worked on your application strategy and thought about your personal branding, this question is just one part of the whole. You will be discussing career goals and other professional aspects of yourself in the next few essays, so this is your opportunity to tell your future classmates something about you as a person. Do you have a unique background you will be able to share with your classmates? What about hobbies and personal accomplishments? Think about this question as the “elevator pitch” to adcomm, and one that should be more personal than professional.

Essay 2
Describe your career goals. How will an MBA from Ross help you to achieve those goals? What is your vision for how you can make a unique contribution to the Ross community? (500 word maximum)

This career goals question is fairly standard, yet focuses more on the future rather than the past. Since you are not specifically asked to explain your entire career path, focus on the high points that will provide the relevant context to your goals. When did you face a turning point or make a big decision about your career? What were some of your proudest accomplishments?

When you describe your goals it will be important that they are both aspirational and credible. Because you are investing in an Michigan MBA, you will want to show how your career goals warrant the time and money you will spend. A promotion to the next level is not enough of a reason to spend two years at the Michigan MBA program, but perhaps your goal to run the company one day is. Think about the goal that will represent the pinnacle of your career in the next 10-20 years, and then describe any other sub-goals that will help you get there.

Having done your research on Michigan MBA’s academics and resources will help you answer the question about your motivation to pursue an MBA at Ross and how you will contribute to the community. Choose specific classes, professors and programs that fit into your career goals. Think about clubs and conferences that are unique to the Michigan MBA and will advance your career. This question is about more than how Ross will help you achieve your goals, you’ll also need to show your unique value as a member of the community. Can you share your career expertise? Your network? Personal hobbies or skills? Think again about what you would want from a future classmate and apply that filter to your unique talents.

Essay 3
Describe a time in your career when you were frustrated or disappointed. What did you learn from that experience? (500 word maximum)

Behavioral questions like this one are meant to illustrate how you have acted in situations in the past, as a predictor of future behavior. Your answer should be concise but detailed, and clearly lay out both the situation and what you did and thought as you navigated the outcome.

Often a tough experience is an excellent learning opportunity and contributes to your growth and development. Don’t be afraid to admit that you have faced frustration and disappointment, because you are only human. The important part of this story is how you reacted and what you learned. Think about the type of person who will be successful in a Michigan MBA program and as a manager and a leader. What skills do you share with a strong leader, and were any formed during a challenging interpersonal situation like this?
Similar to the HBS essay, this is an opportunity to show how you handle challenging situations. Everyone faces frustrations and challenges at work; it is how you decide to react that creates learning and growth. Revealing your emotions and thought process in this essay will provide a window into how you process difficult experiences and emerge from them with a new direction.

The key to a successful essay is to demonstrate how, specifically, you navigated the experience. A lesson learned or beneficial outcome to the experience would end the essay well and allow you to illustrate your leadership, teamwork or social skills.

Essay 4
Select one of the following questions:
Ӣ What are you most passionate about and why? (300 word maximum)

Since you have only 300 words you will want to focus on one aspect of your personal, professional or extracurricular life that really excites you.

Overall, this essay is meant to show how introspective you really are. Have you thought deeply about your passions and motivations in life, and do you know what truly makes you happy? If you can show that you understand yourself and are most motivated by your own passions rather than the expectations of others, you can demonstrate both self-awareness and maturity in this essay.

If the open ended prompt is intimidating you can try brainstorming over a period of a few days. Ask friends and family what most excites you when you go about your day to day life. Keep a notebook by your bed so you can record your first thoughts upon waking up, or dreams that might help you understand your passions.

Ӣ Describe a personal challenge or obstacle and why you view it as such. How have you dealt with it? What have you learned from it? (300 word maximum)
This essay question is similar to Essay 3, but focuses on a personal challenge or obstacle. This question is the perfect opportunity to bring up a pivotal moment in your background that has shaped your personal development. Challenges often reveal quite a bit about character, and your story should convey how you handled the situation, and reflect upon the key lessons of the situation. If you are describing a challenge that was external to you rather than self-imposed be sure to avoid blame or excuses. Everyone faces challenges or obstacles in life, and your response will reveal a tremendous amount about your character. This kind of essay is ideal to seek a third-party opinion on tone and approach.

Optional Essay
Is there anything else you think the Admissions Committee should know about you to evaluate your candidacy? (500 word maximum)

If there are any areas of concern, this is the correct place to address them. Strike an upbeat tone here and avoid excuses. Explain your issue clearly and focus most of the essay on the correction for the issue. For example, if you had a disciplinary issue in college, spend most of the issue demonstrating that you learned from the experience and have been an ideal citizen ever since.

If you do not have a weakness to address here, it’s an ideal opportunity to provide any information that you were unable to work into the other three essays. If you have an unusual background, hobby or extracurricular experience, this may be an opportunity to provide that information to the adcomm.

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Michigan MBA Director Provides R3 Update, Word of Caution

Soojin Kwon Koh, director of admissions at University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, updated the MBA admissions blog Friday with the news that round three decisions were released earlier in the week and the …

Soojin Kwon Koh, director of admissions at University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, updated the MBA admissions blog Friday with the news that round three decisions were released earlier in the week and the waitlist has seen some activity–both with admits and denies.

“We will likely make additional admissions offers after the Round 3 enrollment decision of June 1,” says Soojin, and the admissions team plans to be done with the waitlist by the end of June. As is the case at all top programs, the goal is to create the best possible class, and Soojin says that Ross School of Business has several rounds of independent reviews of each file to ensure that happens.

Landing, or remaining, on the waitlist at your favored program is stressful for most people, but the director cautions applicants not to let stress cloud their judgement of what is appropriate behavior in that situation.

“Over the last few months, I have received notes from applicants (in various stages of the admissions process) that were rather inappropriate in their tone,” says Soojin. “I understand that they were probably written from a place of very strong emotions. But they didn’t reflect well on the candidates’ judgment, maturity, poise, professionalism, and resilience – all things that we value highly.”

Don’t think if you simply make nice with the admissions staff you’re golden. Every personal interaction plays a part in admissions decisions, from the way an applicant treats the receptionist to communications with members of the greater Ross community, the director explains.

Consider waiting a day or two before sending off any missives that may come off as aggressive or inappropriate if written when emotions ran high. If the recipient will see anything less than your best self in the note or application, Soojin urges applicants to cool off or revise until it does.

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For more of my essay and interview tips, as well as prior posts about Ross School of Business, follow this link.

 

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Alison Davis-Blake Named Ross School of Business Dean

The University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business has chosen Alison Davis-Blake as its new dean. Davis-Blake’s deanship will become effective August 22 of this year, pending the University of Michigan Board of Regents’ approval.


The University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business has chosen Alison Davis-Blake as its new dean. Davis-Blake’s deanship will become effective August 22 of this year, pending the University of Michigan Board of Regents’ approval.

Davis-Blake has served as dean of the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota since 2006. Previously, she was a management professor and associate dean at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas.

Davis-Blake said in a Ross press release:

I am very excited for the opportunity to lead the Ross School of Business. Ross has long been among the top business schools in the country and the world. It has strong programs across the board and is housed within a great university. Its action-based learning approach is a unique niche that sets it apart from other business schools.

Davis-Blake will be the first female dean in Ross’ history. She was the Carlson School’s first female dean as well. Given that women make up a small minority of business school deans, Davis-Blake was asked last year in a Financial Times interview how she dealt with male-dominated environments.

“If I’m in the extreme minority I always assume I need to perform twice as well to get half the credit as a member of the majority group and I act accordingly,” she replied.

Clearly, Davis-Blake’s hard work has not gone unnoticed. Said Jerry Davis, who led the Ross School’s Dean Search Advisory Committee:

She impressed the committee with her grasp of the broad competitive landscape of business education, its future trends and the factors that distinguish Ross from the other top schools. She has had great success working with faculty, staff, students, alumni and donors at Carlson, and the school’s reputation has risen accordingly. She also has great experience with globalizing the educational experience of students at Carlson, managing alliances with schools in Europe and Asia, and implementing a required overseas experience for undergraduates.

Davis-Blake’s commitment to global education may be one of top factors that attracted the committee. According to the Wall Street Journal, Ross has lagged behind other top business schools in establishing a global presence, and catching up is one of its highest priorities.

Image courtesy of The University of Minnesota.

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MBA Interview Tips From Ross Michigan MBA Program

The following are 5 MBA interviews tips from the Ross Michigan MBA program. The latest application advice offered this week by admissions director Soojin Kwon Koh of the Stephen M. Ross Michigan MBA Program covers …

The following are 5 MBA interviews tips from the Ross Michigan MBA program. The latest application advice offered this week by admissions director Soojin Kwon Koh of the Stephen M. Ross Michigan MBA Program covers how to use the interview experience to provide added dimension to the “paper” version of yourself.

As we’ve noted before, the purpose of the interview is twofold: it gives AdCom a chance to see a candidate’s personality, leadership qualities and motivation for pursuing an MBA; and it also lets applicants tell their own story beyond the essays and other materials in the application.

Applicants should remember that an invitation to interview doesn’t mean you’re a shoo-in. The admissions interview is intended as a “fit” interview, says Soojin, so you should approach it with the same seriousness and vigor you would a job interview.

Here are some of the admissions director’s MBA interview tips for conquering the admissions interview with grace:

Be professional: Schools want to admit candidates who will represent their institution well to recruiters and the outside world ”” both as students and future alums. Interviewing with a second-year MBA student doesn’t mean that you can be more casual in your language and demeanor. Remember to keep it professional.

Know yourself: You should be prepared to answer the question, “Why an MBA?” While you already have written about it in your application essay, AdCom also wants to know how you talk about it in person: Do you have your “elevator pitch” down?

Anything on your resume is fair game, so know it well. Explain your experiences clearly and succinctly. Provide specific examples and relevant details. Use the “CAR” approach ”” context, action, result ”” to frame your responses.

Know the school: Interviewers tend to feel more positively about candidates who have done their homework. They don’t just want really smart, accomplished students to join the community; they want students who will engage in the many opportunities Ross offers.

Knowing all about Ross doesn’t guarantee an interviewer’s endorsement, but you can make a more favorable impression on an interviewer ”” whether it’s for b-school admission or for a job ”” if you show you’re interested enough to research the organization.

Distinguish yourself: Make sure the stories and examples you share give the interviewer a sense of your interests, passions, goals, values, decision-making framework, and personality. AdCom wants to get to know you as people, not as resumes.

Practice: Here is the last, but arguably the most important, of the MBA interview tips. Practice discussing your professional experience, and identify stories that highlight some of the characteristics the school is looking for in candidates ”” leadership, teamwork, initiative, engagement, integrity, self-awareness, curiosity, passion, etc.

Conduct a mock interview with a colleague or friend to crystallize your thoughts and figure out the appropriate level of detail and length of response. And remember to relax and be yourself. We hope the above MBA interview tips were of help.

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If you’re in the midst of preparing your application for the Ross School of Business’s Round 2 deadline coming up on January 5, 2011, read Stacy Blackman’s complete Michigan Ross Advice section for essays tips, application updates and more!

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