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Ross Admissions Director Provides Insight into New Essay Questions

soojin kwon 2The admissions director at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business weighed in on the school’s new application essay questions—announced this week—in an exchange of emails with Clear Admit. Read on to learn what she had to say.

On Wednesday, Ross Admissions Director Soojin Kwon posted the school’s new essay questions for the 2015-16 application season on her Admissions Director Blog. This year, she and her team chose to combine last year’s two essay questions (“What are you most proud of personally?” and “What are you most proud of professionally?”) into one, more open-ended question and ask a second question about applicants’ career goals. 

What Drove the Changes This Year?
In an email exchange with Clear Admit, Kwon revealed three key drivers behind the changes to the questions this year. In terms of the decision to combine last year’s questions into one, the hope was to provide applicants with more latitude to write about something that really stands out to them, she writes.

Kwon uses her own admissions committee as guinea pigs to “test” essay questions, asking each of them to answer the questions to get a sense of the kinds of responses applicants will submit. In answering this year’s revised “what are you most proud of?” essay, some members of her team chose personal examples, others professional ones. “The interesting part was hearing why they viewed that experience as the thing they were most proud of,” Kwon writes.

By no means should applicants feel limited to providing just professional examples, she says. In fact, some on the team fear that could be the unintended result of the change to the prompt. “We hope to see a wide range of stories,” Kwon writes. “The important thing is to choose a story that will tell us something important about you as a person.”

A career goals essay made it back into the mix this year because without one, the admissions committee found it more difficult to choose which applicants to invite for an interview. “One applicant, for example, wrote about his passion for and achievements in philosophy for both of his essays,” Kwon shares. “This left us wondering whether business school made sense for him. It could have, but without knowing what his career goal was, we couldn’t say.” For this reason, the team is glad to have the career goals essay back, she writes.

Finally, taken together this year’s two questions invite applicants to be both retrospective and forward-looking. “Both questions are introspective but focus on different parts of a candidate’s timeline,” she notes.

Ross wants students who will pursue careers that are interesting, motivating and fulfilling, Kwon writes. “Hence, we ask the all-important ‘Why?’ at the end of the career path question.” Candidates who can define what is interesting, motivating and fulfilling to them will be well on their way toward a career that will deliver.

“Stars and Strugglers”
At the end of each academic year, Kwon and her team meet with the school’s career services department and MBA program office to discuss the year’s “Stars and Strugglers.” After colleagues in the other departments identify students in each category, the admissions committee re-reviews those students’ applications to look for indicators or predictors of success or struggle, Kwon writes. Her team also gathers feedback on how the students fare in the recruiting process and whether their backgrounds and skills matched what recruiters in various industries were looking for.

“We’ve found that prior experience is only part of the recruiting success equation,” Kwon writes. “Much of an MBA’s career success comes from their communication skills.” She notes that a survey of corporate recruiters by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) found that the top four things skills companies are looking for (out of 25) are communications-related, specifically oral communication, listening skills, written communication and presentation skills.  “That is, in large part, why we launched the Team Exercise—so we could assess that set of skills,” she writes.

Ross Seeks Real People
In her blog post announcing the questions, Kwon urged applicants to write clearly and concisely, as if they were speaking to a real person. In her email to Clear Admit, she expanded on that advice. “Tell your story, in your voice. Don’t scour the interwebs for ‘successful examples’ that got someone else into business school,” she writes. Doing so runs the risk that the story you lift will also end up in someone else’s essay—something she’s seen.

“We love getting a sense that someone has given us a glimpse into who they are—through the examples they choose, through the way they reflect on their stories,” she writes.

“We’re looking to build a community of people, not degree earners or box-checkers,” she writes. In fact, Kwon began her career years ago as a volunteer alumni interviewer for Yale undergrad admissions. “I did it (and still do it) because I love learning about people’s’ paths and goals,” she writes. “People are interesting! We hope the essay questions we’ve posed this year help candidates share that with us.”