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Admissions Director Q&A: OSU Fisher’s Alison Merzel

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Last week we shared the lighter side of Alison Merzel in our Real Humans of MBA Admissions series. This week, we’ve asked her some more serious questions about the admissions process at the Ohio State University (OSU) Fisher College of Business. Merzel is senior director of graduate recruiting, admissions and financial aid at Fisher, a role she’s held for the past year and a half. But she’s been at Fisher for much longer than that—starting as a student herself.

Soon after graduating with her master’s degree in labor and human resources from Fisher, she joined the admissions team as assistant director of MBA admissions. After two years in that role, she was promoted to director of MBA admissions and recruiting, a post she held for almost nine years before assuming her current role in October 2015.

If OSU’s Fisher School is one you are targeting, you’ll want to hear what Merzel shares below in terms of new developments, unique experiential learning opportunities and just how to approach the application process.

Clear Admit: What’s the single most exciting development, change or event happening at OSU Fisher this coming year?

Alison Merzel: Our new Technology Entrepreneurship Specialization—what an amazing opportunity for an aspiring entrepreneur.

CA: What is the one area of your program that you wish applicants knew more about?

AM: The terrific opportunities for experiential learning, like our Chicago Marketing Hop, Silicon Valley trip, Washington campus and Global Applied Projects.

CA: Walk us through the life of an application in your office from an operational standpoint. What happens between the time an applicant clicks “submit” and the time the committee offers a final decision (e.g. how many “reads” does it get, how long is each “read,” who reads it, does the committee convene to discuss it as a group, etc.).

AM: Once you submit your application to the program, our Application Manager checks to see whether we have any of your supplemental materials that need to be matched up (your academic transcripts, official test scores, etc.). Once we have enough information to proceed with an initial review of your application, the file goes to a reader.

This person is either a full-time staff member on the Admissions Committee, a graduate human resources student who works in the admissions office or a contracted file reader. The review of the application typically takes about 30 minutes.

Once the file is initially reviewed, it goes to the Admissions Committee for discussion. At that point, it is either reviewed by another file reader or an action is taken on the file. This can be a request to interview, a waitlist decision or a deny decision.

Waitlisted applicants are reviewed again about every six weeks and can then either be invited to interview or denied admission. Every student who is ultimately offered admission to the program is interviewed—there is always an admissions interview and typically also an interview with a member of the Office of Career Management. A final decision is rendered within one week of the interview.

CA: How does your team approach the essay portion of the application specifically? What are you looking for as you read the essays? Are there common mistakes that applicants should try to avoid? One key thing they should keep in mind as they sit down to write them?

AM: The essay is really the opportunity for you, the applicant, to showcase your personality, your opinions, your thought process and your writing style. We want to learn more about you. Common mistakes—putting another business school’s name in the essay, misspelling the business school name, referencing organizations or programs that are not offered at the school (copy/paste from another school’s essay response).

Be authentic and honest. Write from your voice—don’t write what you think the Admissions Committee wants to hear. Make it clear that you have done your research and are purposeful in your approach. Take the time to proofread.