Today’s guest is Soojin Kwon, Director of Admissions at Michigan Ross. Soojin earned her Bachelor’s at Yale, her MPP at Harvard’s Kennedy School, and her MBA from Ross. She worked at Deloitte Consulting before joining Ross’s admissions team in 2004, and has been Director since 2006. She writes an outstanding blog and has an equally outstanding YouTube channel, which I highly recommend. Welcome, Soojin!
Can you give us an overview of Ross’s fulltime MBA program? [1:20]
There are three things that differentiate us from other programs.
First is our focus on learning by doing. If you’re someone who likes to get their hands dirty and learns best by experiential learning, this is a great program for you.
Second, we have a great strength across the board in business specializations. (USNews ranked us second behind Stanford for most top-ranked specializations.)
And third, being part of the University of Michigan, we have access to top-ranked graduate programs across disciplines (law, education, etc.), so there are a lot of interdisciplinary education opportunities.
What’s new at Ross? [2:50]
We have a new dean! Scott DeRue, who was a longtime management and organizations professor here. Since he came from inside Ross, he really knows our community here.
He’s creating a vision for our students – he wants students to have experience advising, investing in, starting up, and managing a business. The idea is to give students all those opportunities while they’re students.
Are all four of those elements currently part of every MBA student’s experience, or is this being developed? [5:15]
The only part that is currently required is advising experience (through our MAP program). The rest are available as elective or co-curricular opportunities. What Dean DeRue envisions is building it out – working with companies that envision our students helping manage their companies, etc.
You mentioned MAP, one of Ross’s signature programs. What differentiates this program from other b-schools’ experiential learning/consulting projects? [7:00]
MAP is a mini consulting project during the last quarter of the first year. Students work full time with three to five other students on a real world consulting challenge. It’s a seven-week project, working full time with an organization to help solve a business challenge.
Students select projects based on their interests, career plans, geographical interests, etc. It comes right before the internship, so it also helps them hit the ground running when they start their internship.
What makes it unique is that it’s full time, and at seven weeks it’s almost the length of an internship. The breadth of the projects we offer also sets the program apart. More than half of the projects are outside the US.
Can you give an example of a project? [9:40]
One cool example was a cruise line that needed help figuring out how to increase on-board revenue, as well as improve the onboarding process. They brought the student team onboard to observe every step of the process.
We have many market entry projects – how do we break into a new market with a given product.
There are projects in Israel, Ireland, etc. A lot of tech projects, an increasing number of social impact projects, and startups.
We work with alums to help us source projects. We’re looking for projects that will really interest the students.
Dean DeRue has also announced lifelong tuition free executive education for grads. Why? [11:55]
His goal is to make a Ross degree a long-term relationship – not just a two-year transaction. We’ll have online opportunities, onsite courses in Michigan, etc. Business and business education changes rapidly, so lifelong learning is really important.
Ross is located in Ann Arbor Michigan, not far from Detroit. It gives Ross alumni fantastic access to the auto industry and the U.S. industrial heartland. But some potential applicants may be concerned that Ross’ location is a disadvantage when compared to other major business centers. Can you address that concern? [14:00]
That perception couldn’t be more wrong. Our biggest recruiter last year was Amazon. We have a global alumni network, and the majority of our grads go to NYC, San Francisco, Chicago, and Seattle. We find that the bulk of our US students come from California, NY, the DC area, and Illinois. So geographically, it’s pretty reflective of where MBA students come from in general.
We say, “Go Blue, go anywhere.”
Recruiting is changing – the hiring path is more splintered. How is Ross adapting? [16:40]
You’re right – it’s changing. It used to be all about campus recruiting. Now students have to be able to manage their own career search. That starts Day 1 at Ross – we prepare students for the career search process for different industries.
One part of that is Functional Accountability Career Teams (FACT), small groups of students grouped by their functional career interest (consulting, tech, etc.). Each team is led by an MBA2 coach who’s already gone through the internship process, and keeps them on track week by week: contacting recruiters, working on resumes, following up, preparing for interviews, etc.
Our community is a pay-it-forward community: coaches volunteer to review resumes, do mock interviews, etc., to help them navigate the recruiting process.
What about students interested in entrepreneurship? [19:25]
I’d love to give an example of a recent project! Sneaks by Jordana was funded by our Zell Founders Fund. She produces custom high-end sneakers – her customers include celebrities like Miley Cyrus and Ariana Grande. She got $100K in seed funding from the Zell Founders Fund, which is administered by MBA2s.
How does Ross’ mission – Develop Leaders who Make a positive Difference in the World – influence admissions decisions? [21:00]
I lead with our mission in presentations – it’s something very important to us and what our culture is about. How do they make a positive difference in the organizations they’re part of (in their work, academics, community, etc.)? That can come out in essays, in the rec letters, and in the interview.
People who will fit in our community are people who want to do, and want to make a difference wherever they are.
What makes an application stand out for you? [21:55]
People who really seem to know what they want and know themselves, and articulate it well. People who connect the dots and show clarity of vision. We’re looking for people who are self-aware – where it’s clear they’ve done the introspection the application deserves and needs.
What can people invited to interview at Ross expect? [22:45]
If you interview off-campus with an alum, it’s one on one.
If you come for an on-campus interview, it’s more intensive. In addition to the one-on-one interview, there’s our group exercise. It’s a full-day experience including meetings with students and class visits.
You mentioned the team exercise. What do you learn from this exercise that you don’t get from the application or from the individual interview? [24:40]
You’re put together with four to five other interviewees, and given a set of random words (chosen out of a bag). Within the team, you have to come up with a business challenge and a business solution including those words.
Beyond the presentation you make to the panel, it’s about how you work together to solve a problem: how you communicate, how you work with new people, how you handle a challenge. These are all situations and skills students will need in business school. And it’s also a type of exercise more companies are using during recruiting.
Any advice for Round 2 applicants? [26:50]
If your test score isn’t the best it can be, consider one last retake.
Recheck your resume to make sure it really tells us something about you and the impact you had.
Really polish up your essays. Answer the question we ask and answer authentically – give it to someone to make sure it sounds like you.
So many people ask: “How can I differentiate myself? There are so many people just like me!” But there really aren’t – no one else has done exactly what you have in the way you’ve done it and accomplished what you have. If you just tell your story, you are going to be unique. People fall into the trap of thinking, “They’ll want to hear this,” and we get essays that all sound the same. Be yourself.
Any advice for people planning to apply next year? [30:30]
Do your research now! Research schools before talking to students and admissions directors. You’re not putting your best foot forward if you don’t know the basics.
Start the test prep process early – especially if you don’t have a quantitative degree as an undergrad. You need to show you can do the work.
Strive to make a positive impact in your current position.
What’s changed at Ross since you’ve been there (and since you were there as a student)? [32:45]
Our students are doing amazing things, here and around the world. Our facilities are amazing. Our new dean is really committed to engaging with our community and making this the best b-school for experience-driven learning.
I love our students and alums. It’s a great community to be part of!
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