What’s new at Michigan Ross? [Show Summary]
Taya Sapp, Senior Associate Director of Admissions, shares all of the latest updates including a new dean, new testing policy, and a new essay question.
Interview with Taya Sapp, Senior Associate Director of Admissions at Michigan Ross School of Business [Show Notes]
Welcome to the 479th episode of Admissions Straight Talk. Thanks for listening. You’ve seen the stats that most people have a great return on their MBA investment, but what about you? Are you going to see that return? And how much will it be? We’ve created a tool that will help you assess whether the MBA is likely to be a good investment for you individually. Just go to accepted.com/mbaroicalc, complete the brief questionnaire, and you will not only get an assessment but also the opportunity to calculate different scenarios. And it’s all free.
It gives me great pleasure to have on Admissions Straight Talk for the first time Taya Sapp, Senior Associate Director of Admissions at Michigan Ross School of Business. Taya practically bleeds Michigan blue. She graduated from the University of Michigan with a bachelor’s degree in American Culture in 2003 and then worked as an Admissions Counselor at another college for several years before returning to Michigan. She joined the admissions staff at Michigan Ross in 2011, rose through the ranks, and today is the Senior Associate Director of Admissions.
Could you start with a basic overview of Ross’s full-time MBA program for listeners who may not be that familiar with it, focusing on its more distinctive elements? [2:09]
I think the one thing that we are really known for is learning by doing. I always like to tell people if you learn best by doing, there’s no better place to be than Michigan Ross. I can give a couple of examples of that. The cornerstone is MAP which stands for Multidisciplinary Action Projects. It’s a seven-week consulting project that every single student does at the end of their first year at Ross. This past year we had projects with Blue Origin, a social responsibility project with Amazon, and we also had nonprofit students analyzing data sets to help design fundraising campaigns. There’s a pretty big variety in the projects. It’s a huge differentiator for us because students spend a full seven weeks doing it and then get to do their internship. A lot of times, people think of it as almost two internships. It’s also a great opportunity for travel. We did start sending people internationally again this year, and the nice thing is the sponsor covers all travel expenses.
Can you tell us a little more about what’s new in the Ross MBA program? [3:33]
We have a new Dean starting on August 1st. We are really excited to have her come to Ross and see her vision for leading our community here. There are a few other things I’m excited about. We started something called the Business+Tech initiative this past year which is a hub for everything tech. They launched a tech literacy week, which is basically a bunch of workshops to help people orient themselves to different areas of tech. It covers everything from how a lack of diversity can impact artificial intelligence to boot camps and machine learning and different programs like Python and Blockchain. They’re really helping prepare students for not just the recruiting aspect but also the actual knowledge in tech.
We have seven different student investment funds at Ross, and the newest one just started this year. It’s called the Michigan Clean Venture, and it’s focused on clean tech investments. I think it’s really exciting that our students saw a need for that, and we were able to launch it this past year.
I’m really excited to see both of those growing.
Is there anything that you think people generally don’t realize about Ross that you’d like them to know or any myths you want to dispel? [5:09]
I think the biggest one is that people have an expectation that when you go to a business school, you’re more likely to end up there post-MBA, and that’s where you get your job. I know that is true for some business schools, but with Ross, that’s really not the case. We have three-quarters of our students going to the East Coast, the West Coast, or Chicago. The East Coast and West Coast alone are about 30% of our students. We like to use the phrase go blue, go anywhere.
Ross requires either the GMAT, the GRE, the MCAT, the LSAT, or a statement of academic readiness. I don’t see the EA in there, is that an accepted test? [5:55]
We don’t accept the EA.
What is a statement of academic readiness? [6:16]
The statement of academic readiness is new for us. As you said, we have done a test waiver the past two years, which was a separate application, and we decided to build it into the admissions application this year so that we can basically review everything that you’re submitting with your application to understand if you’re ready for the academic rigor at Ross. We’ll look at transcripts, the resume, and recommendations as factors for understanding if you’re likely to be successful in the classes.
The statement itself is basically a narrative around what those things are in your application that are demonstrating you have strong quantitative skills. You also have the opportunity to upload a professional license or share anything that might not be in your application that would demonstrate that.
Is the focus of the statement of academic readiness mostly on quantitative skills? [7:14]
The focus is mostly on quantitative skills. We have other ways that we’re going to be assessing different skills as well.
What do you look for besides stats as you are evaluating an application? [8:00]
It all boils down to people. Like I said earlier, we have this environment of learning by doing, and we want to find people who are going to thrive in that environment and have qualities that demonstrate they’re comfortable with ambiguity and adaptable. These are things that are important when you’re in environments of learning by doing. It’s not just one or two traits we’re looking for. We want diversity in the class. We want to know that everybody is bringing their own unique qualities. The other side is we want to know who applicants are at 10:00 AM when they’re working, but also at 10:00 PM too. We want to know who they’re going to be in the community and how they’re going to be involved.
How do people present these qualities? [8:50]
The most common way is in essays. Our essays are written to dive into some of those traits. We ask things like, “I was challenged when…”, “I was humbled when…”, “I want people to know that…” And that’s where we get to know who they are, what they care about, what their passions are, when they’ve taken risks, and how they’ve built resilience. Not everybody has to demonstrate the same exact traits, but I think understanding those things that are important to them or that really stand out for them, in particular, helps us.
What are the essay requirements at Ross for this cycle? Can you share the changes that were made in the required essays? [9:33]
We kept some things the same and changed a few things. We have a couple of short answer sections. In the first set, students get to choose between a couple of prompts. You get to write two essays. For the first one, applicants choose from: “I want people to know that…”, “I made a difference when…”, or “I was aware that I was different when…” For the second one, the choices are: “I was out of my comfort zone when…”, “I was humbled when…”, or “I was challenged when…” They get to pick one question from each of those, and that’s the same as it was last year. We love those essays. We really do think they help us understand the traits that stand out about them and how that aligns with some of the values that we have at Ross.
The new one this year is we’re asking people to tell us one thing about their resume. It’s a variety of things that people can choose from, but we just wanted to give them a chance to dive a little bit deeper into something on their resumes. The resume is really important to us. It’s something we spend a lot of time on in the admissions review. Sometimes there’s more of a story that you want to tell beyond what you can fit in a bullet point. I would say, quite often, I’ve read a recommendation where they tell me a whole story about something I saw on the resume and I would’ve liked to hear that from the candidate, too but I recognize they just didn’t have enough space or a place to put that. It’s brand new and we’re excited to see what kinds of things people choose to write about this year.
We also have the career goal essay. It’s basically the same as it was before, but we just split it up this year. We really focus on the short-term career goal in particular. We don’t ask about the long term. Right now, we’re already preparing people for recruiting and just know that recruiting happens really fast, and we know people change their minds but splitting out exactly what your career goal is helps people focus. In some essays, it was getting lost for some people, and we just want to give them a chance to pull it out and say, “This is exactly what it is, and this is the why.”
One of the interesting things about the Ross application is that you don’t ask anywhere, “Why Ross?”. Do you care about why applicants choose Ross or do you just evaluate the suitability of the Ross program given the person’s background and goals? [13:12]
We care about that and we did ask that a long time, but we ended up taking it out. It just felt like people were copying and pasting from the website. It didn’t come across as authentic. We care most about what your goals are at this stage, and then in the interview, we’re going to ask more about why you chose Ross and how you want to be involved. Have you talked to any of our students? What kinds of clubs are you interested in? We give people a chance to do that in the interview when they can be a little bit more authentic about it.
What happens to the application after the applicant hits submit? [14:42]
The main thing that we start with is figuring out if you’re ready academically because that’s easy to tell from everything that you’re submitting on paper before we have the interview. That’s the first step. Obviously, there are a lot of people who have that and might not get the interview invitation too, so we’re looking beyond that. We read all the applications and do an initial review to assess whether their professional background seems to be competitive.
How many people review the applications? [15:40]
Before the interview, we do it twice. Then once the interview happens, we do another full read and then talk about it in committee.
What do you do if you have a split between decisions in the admissions committee? [16:16]
We talk about it as a team usually. The other thing is we look at them relative to our whole pool.
What can applicants expect if they’re lucky enough to interview? Are you interviewing now on campus, in person, or virtually? [16:34]
We are doing all of our interviews virtually and all will be with alumni. We decided it was just the best way to keep things equitable so we’re going to stick with that this year. The other thing to keep in mind is these aren’t like “gotcha” interviews. We’re genuinely trying to get to know you and your background better. People can always expect to be asked, “Why Ross?”, “Why an MBA?”, and “Why an MBA now?”.
After doing this for 11 years at Ross, what’s a common mistake that you see applicants make in this process? [17:23]
Honestly, one of them is overlooking the importance of the resume. That’s the first thing I look at when I open an application, and it’s the snapshot of your whole professional career. I’ve seen a lot of people kind of assume they’ve already done it and don’t need to worry about it and instead, they focus on the essays. I think it’s important to realize this should not be the same resume that you might have used to apply for your current job because it might include a lot of technical jargon that is only appropriate for your particular career path. I think earlier in our careers, we’re more often thinking about what our responsibilities are and need to be shifting into the impact. I see a lot of resumes where it doesn’t seem like people have stopped and really spent time thinking about how they want to be representing their professional career and what that looks like.
We asked listeners recently what they would ask admissions directors if they could. We had a wonderful response, and here is the first of some of their questions: What surprises Michigan Ross MBA students the most when they actually start at Michigan Ross? [19:06]
That is an interesting question. It’s ironic because a lot of people choose to come to Ross because of the community, but I can’t tell you how many students say, “I heard it was great, but once I got here, I really experienced it and it was even better than I thought.” People really do share interview questions and help people out, even though you’re recruiting for the same jobs.
We do a lot as a school to help facilitate building community too. We have events like Food, Friends, and Culture, where each month there’s a different cultural club that holds an event that talks about something related to a specific culture or how they grew up and then they share native food.
There’s an event called, Look Who’s Coming to Dinner, where you sign up and you have no idea who else is going to be at your dinner and you just get to meet other people within your section.
The other thing is being in Ann Arbor. Most people move here and don’t know anybody else in Ann Arbor, whereas, in other larger cities, you may have friends who might be there. Here, you’re really getting to know your classmates and building a strong network. It’s funny because the community is a big reason, something why people choose Ross, but I think a lot of times they don’t realize just how great it is.
The next listener question is, “What advice do you have for applicants who applied in the 2021-2022 application cycle, but who were denied and want to reapply to Michigan Ross this year?” [20:55]
I just did a webinar on this a couple of weeks ago so this is top of mind for me. We admit re-applicants every year. Quite honestly, a lot of times, it’s more of a function of the pool than the individual applicant. I think it’s sometimes more of an us problem than the applicant’s issue, which doesn’t always feel good.
The other thing I would say if I’m actually giving advice to a re-applicant is to spend time reflecting on how you could strengthen your application or what you could do differently because that is an opportunity to demonstrate that you have self-awareness. Most applicants don’t get to do that so easily and that’s something we really value. When I get to see that, and somebody really nails it, I think that’s an incredible trait to be showing.
What advice would you give to someone thinking ahead to a 2023 application? [22:27]
I like your advice about the resume.
I think the other thing is to really take time to think about why you want to do this. Think about different careers you might want to do and look people up on LinkedIn and see what their paths look like. The one thing I would say is don’t focus so much on the application process. Think about what types of stretch projects you can do at work or how you can be improving your resume. Think about the things that are going to take a longer time to do. What types of projects can you take on at work? What does this look like that might turn into a bullet point for your resume? I think if you are planning that early, you have time to do that. Think about taking on some things that are really going to challenge you that you might be able to write about in an essay or make as a bullet point.
There’s one question I forgot to ask earlier and I’m going to circle back to it. Whom would you recommend writing the statement of academic readiness, and whom would you recommend taking the test? [23:32]
With the statement of academic readiness, I would say, if you do not have strong quantitative skills or a strong way to demonstrate that, you should definitely take the test. That’s how you can demonstrate it if you don’t have that in your background. If you think you can do well on a test, take a test if you have access to it. It’s hard to do well on a test, and that’s one way to stand out in your application. There are a lot of ways, but having a great test score is one way to stand out. If you think you can do well and take it, then by all means do that. But if for some reason you have barriers, and you’re not able to take the test but you have these things that are strong examples that you will do well in the quantitative courses at Ross, then go ahead and do the statement of academic readiness. With the test waiver, we admitted some really great candidates, and we’re looking forward to continuing to do that going forward.
How are the students who were admitted with test waivers doing academically? [25:04]
We’ve obviously been tracking that because we want to make sure we’re setting people up to be successful. They’ve done well academically. This summer we have people doing internships at all the MBB consulting companies. We have a few different people in investment banking roles at the big banks. They’ve been able to be successful in both recruiting and in classes, but that’s because they have quantitative skills. We wouldn’t award the test waiver if we didn’t see that evidence.
Is there anything you would have liked me to ask you that I haven’t asked? [25:47]
We just did our 30th year of MAP so it’s something that has been around a long time and it’s truly incredible. When I ask alumni what they love about Ross, it’s either the community or MAP. It’s a reason a lot of people come to Ross, and it’s something that really stands out. I just want to emphasize how incredible of an experience it is. It is a big differentiator for us.
I’d also encourage all of your listeners to be talking to student ambassadors. We have over 300 student ambassadors on our website and alumni as well. The great thing about MAP is since it’s required, every single person can tell you about their own experience.
Where can listeners and potential applicants learn more about the Michigan Ross full-time MBA program? [26:47]
You can go to our website at michiganross.umich.edu.
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