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Admissions Director Q&A: Betsy Ryan of the Minnesota Carlson School of Management

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We continue with our Admissions Director Q&A series with Betsy Ryan, MS, the Senior Associate Director of Admissions for MBA & MS Programs at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. She holds a Master’s in Community Counseling from Mount Mary University (WI) and has over 10+ years of experience working with adult, graduate, and professional students in both academic advising and admissions roles at institutions in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Colorado.

Read on for Betsy’s insights into the Minnesota Carlson MBA, what to expect during admissions and more.

Betsy Ryan, Senior Associate Director of Admissions for MBA & MS Programs, Minnesota Carlson

Clear Admit: What is the one aspect of your program that you wish applicants knew more about?
Betsy Ryan: While it’s hard to identify just one aspect, because there is so much that all candidates should know about Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, as well as our unique position within the thriving business community of the Twin Cities metropolitan area!

If I had to narrow it down to simply one feature that all applicants should know about, it would be the incredible opportunity for experiential learning through our signature Carlson Enterprise Programs.

In our Carlson Enterprise Programs, students take on real, live projects for paying clients that range from nonprofits to Fortune 500 firms. Over the course of two semesters, Full Time & Management Science MBA students work in small teams and get individualized coaching from dedicated, industry-seasoned professionals. Students will present their recommendations in front of senior executives and deliver solutions that positively impact organizations.

There are four Carlson Enterprise programs that students may pursue:

  • Brand: Develop innovative marketing strategies for well-known global brands & products.
  • Consulting: Analyze and solve complex business challenges across a variety of industries.
  • Ventures: Identify, evaluate, and implement new ideas for startups and social enterprises.
  • Funds: Manage more than $30 million in real investment portfolios.

Eligible students are also able to participate in an optional, third semester Enterprise experience in the same or new program; leading to even more exciting opportunities to apply the classroom concepts to timely challenges faced by the client organization/markets.

The hard and soft skills developed in the Enterprise Program experience makes our students shine when they arrive on-site at their internship, which builds their confidence and leads to competitive job offers well before graduation.

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?
BR: Carlson School of Management’s MBA & MS Recruitment team aims to provide a lot of support to interested candidates and encourage everyone to either attend one of our informational application workshops or set up a one-on-one appointment with our team to discuss the particulars of their personal profile in order to put forth their strongest possible application.

As a candidate builds their application, our team provides email updates to the candidate confirming which application materials we have received and which requirements are still pending before the upcoming deadlines.

Once the candidate has submitted their initial application which will include academic transcripts, test scores (or wavier, see below for details), a personal statement, their most recent resume/CV, at least two professional references, and a brief video essay, the applicant is reviewed to determine if they qualify for an interview and selected applicants will be invited to do so. We currently hold our admission interviews both virtually and in person, in whichever modality our candidates prefer.

Following an interview, the application is then thoughtfully reviewed on all facets by our admission committee for the primary admissions review. Like many of our peer institutions, our committee takes a holistic approach in evaluation.

I understand the “holistic approach” can be hard to quantify from the candidate’s perspective, as they are likely looking for a more cut and dried answer if they are likely to be admitted (or not) in our program. In our estimation, a strong application is more than the sum of it’s parts and the admissions review is going focus heavily on the candidate’s strengths and potential over any minor shortcomings in fit.

For those candidates who may not be an initial, obvious match for our program after the primary review, their application is given a through secondary review by the MBA program’s most senior stakeholders. The goal of the secondary committee does not aim to be exclusionary, but rather takes care to ensure any admitted applicant is going to find success in our program and be well positioned to meet their stated goals.

We repeat this cycle of application review/decisions in 4 rounds each year for the full-time MBA program and encourage applicants to submit in first two rounds in the fall to maximize their chances of also receiving merit-based scholarships at the time of admission. Decisions are made on average within 8-10 weeks of a deadline.

To summarize, our application review process is intentionally built to ensure each applicant feels they have put forth the strongest case for their admission into the program and that each application has been given the absolute fullest consideration by as many of our qualified reviewers as possible, before the committee confers the final admission decision in a timely fashion.

CA: How does your team approach the essay portion of the application specifically? What are you looking for as you read an essay? Are there common mistakes that applicants should try to avoid? What is one key thing they should keep in mind as they sit down to write?
BR: All committee members read the entirety of the personal statement included the application, as we feel it’s our first opportunity to understand how the candidates present themselves and why the Carlson School MBA program is a good fit for their career progression. Candidates should be sure to connect the dots between their past, their present, and how the MBA is going to help them reach their desired future.

Our admission committee members say the strongest personal statement includes several thoughtful details about the program’s curriculum, faculty, experiential learning, or institutional benefits and how each might align with the candidate’s goals. They can clearly tell which applicants took the time to carefully review the Carlson School’s offerings, connected with current students or program alumni, and envisioned themselves contributing to our highly engaged MBA student community.

This also relates to the most common mistake I see in personal statements: an otherwise strong candidate who does not sufficiently articulate why they wish to enroll at Carlson School in particular. It’s a bit obvious when a candidate is trying to be supremely efficient and use one broad personal statement for all their applications (or worse, submits a statement that mentions another institution). These statements typically tend to not only be vague in what the candidate is looking for in a school, but also provide limited personal details that would make them stand out in the field of applicants.

At a minimum, all applicants should keep in mind the immense importance of a well composed personal statement in the admission committee’s review. While much has been said about investing your time in preparing for entrance examinations, it is the candidates who invest substantial time in crafting a concise, coherent, and compelling personal statement that receive the strongest endorsements for admission from the committee.

CA: Could you tell us about your interview process? Approximately how many applicants do you interview? Who conducts the interview (students, admissions officers, alumni) and what is the nature of the interview (resume-based, behavioral)?
BR: Qualified applicants are invited to schedule an interview after they submit their application. We do not cap the interview slots available, so nearly all applicants who complete the application fully will be invited to interview.

In the past, these were almost exclusively done in-person or over the telephone, but with the rise of Zoom and other platforms, we are conducting interviews virtually for a majority of our candidates. While the convenience and ease of video conferencing makes it a popular option for all, we do recommend that students take some time to prepare themselves, their technology, the ambient lighting, and the microphone well before the interview begins. It might be stating the obvious, but when candidates are confident that all is in order, it reduces distractions and delays so that both the interviewer and the interviewee are clearly communicating.

However, we encourage any candidate that would prefer traditional in-person interview to reach out to schedule one. We are able resume this format now that the pandemic precautions have been relaxed. In-person interviews are great as they can be aligned with a campus visit, so candidates can get a feel for the exciting energy of the Twin Cities and the University of Minnesota.

Our interviews are conducted by Carlson School admissions and recruitment staff, faculty, alumni, as well as current MBA student leaders. We find that having a diverse pool of trained interviewers yields the best insights about our candidates.

As far as the content of the interview, candidates can expect to be asked questions about their professional/academic background, career and personal goals, as well as why they choose to apply to Carlson School specifically. We also include a few behavioral questions designed to better understand their approach to challenges, teamwork, and leadership.

The best piece of advice I can offer prospective applicants to succeed in their interview,  is that they should take care to polish up their personal “elevator pitch,” identify specific features of the Carlson School that match their academic or career objectives, and to use the STAR method of responding to the behavioral questions.

CA: What is your testing policy? Do you offer exam waivers? Why or why not?
BR: The admission committee’s goal is to ensure all students are prepared for success in our MBA program and they feel for some candidates there is sufficient evidence in their profile to demonstrate that they are ready for the challenges ahead.

When that evidence is not so readily available or apparent, the committee will look to the test score to make a confident admissions decision.

Currently, the policy is that the GMAT or GRE General Test scores are required for admission to the MBA program and scores should be less than five years old at the time of application.

However, Carlson School does offer an exam waiver process for candidates who demonstrate sufficient academic preparation combined with advanced professional experience or education.

In terms of academic preparation, candidates who have obtained a cumulative undergraduate 3.2+ GPA (or equivalent) and with demonstrated ability to be successful in quantitative coursework meet the academic preparation requirement. For undergraduate STEM majors (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, etc.), we accept a a 3.0+ cumulative undergraduate GPA as sufficient academic preparation.

After the academic preparation is evaluated and found to be satisfactory, the admission committee will review the candidate’s application to determine if there is also sufficient advanced professional experience. This advanced experience is defined as meeting one of the following measures: 5+ years of full time work experience after the bachelor’s degree completion (undergraduate internships or co-ops do not count, but full time graduate assistantships/internships would count), 4+ years of full time military service, completion of a Master’s Degree or Doctoral Degree, Professional credential of CPA or CFA.

In order to be granted the waiver, an applicant must submit all items required for evaluation in the waiver application and meet BOTH the academic and professional requirements.

If a candidate is uncertain they meet criteria, they are encouraged to apply anyway for full consideration.

Applicants should use the established waiver application process through the Full-Time MBA application portal. Applying for the waiver does not guarantee it will be granted and the Admissions Committee may still require the applicant to take an exam

Applicants who are applying concurrently for the Full-time MBA/dual degree in which the respective partner program does not require a standardized test this year can apply for a GMAT/GRE waiver. Dual degree applicants to the MBA-MSBA Program are required to submit a GMAT/GRE test score. Additionally, students may consider taking the GMAT /GRE anyway, if they plan on pursuing competitive internships/roles in fields like consulting, investment banking, etc.

CA: Tell us briefly about two popular courses at your institution.
BR: It’s impossible to pick just two from over 20+ core and 70+ elective courses spanning six specializations designed align the curricular experience to the type of roles and industries our students wish to pursue after graduation.

However, here are two exciting electives that I am confident that are popular with our MBA students, as well as unique to the Carlson School:

MILI 6995: Medical Industry Valuation Laboratory –   this course is rare opportunity to perform a market analysis for a new medical technology with the potential to benefit lives. The course groups graduate students across the University of Minnesota into teams and challenges students to analyze market size; evaluate technical, business, preliminary intellectual property, and regulatory challenges; and develop a recommendation for continuing product development or market feasibility. Since the product in development changes each semester, students may take the course more than once.

A version of this course is also available in an international setting. Offered as a collaboration between the Carlson School of Management and the Stockholm School for Entrepreneurship (SSES) and Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden. The program is a mix of class sessions, research, site visits, and group work. This lab is geared to provide participants with an opportunity to work in cross cultural teams with students from two universities on a valuation project.

MKTG 6090: Food Fight: Contemporary Challenges in Agriculture – the challenges facing the food industry in today’s global economy are significant – from commodity volatility, to expanding demand across global marketplaces, to dynamic merger and acquisition activity, to ensuring food safety, to navigating disruptive scientific and social forces, to promoting better health, and finding ways to feed the world. Managing successfully in agribusiness today is truly a “Food Fight,” where the answers to these challenges will shape the global economy we live in and define the world for generations to come.

Minnesota occupies a unique leadership position in the food industry. Often described as the “silicon valley of food,” the region is home to leading companies from farm to fork – Buffalo Wild Wings, Cargill, CHS, General Mills, Hormel, Land O’Lakes, Mosaic, Schwan’s, Supervalu, and Target- as well as being home to defining agribusiness research in the University of Minnesota system. Lead by a former CEO of Hormel and a top Marketing professor, they combine industry knowledge with academic insight to provide practical frameworks to address this challenge.

CA: As we learn to live with COVID-19, campuses have opened up and students are back. What about prospective students? Will they have the opportunity to visit campus? Will admissions interviews be conducted virtually?
BR: The Recruitment & Admissions staff here at Carlson School are excited about gearing up for a new season of campus visit days this fall and spring! We can hardly wait to bring visitors back to our beautiful campus.

We encourage applicants and recent admits to follow our events calendar on our main page to get a glimpse ahead at some of the upcoming events, but you will also be invited by our staff to events and some of our exciting conferences planned around topics of interest such as professional development for people of color and women.

As mentioned above, we will hold interviews in both the virtual and in-person format, so all are invited to choose what works best for their schedules.

Lauren Wakal
Lauren Wakal has been covering the MBA admissions space for more than a decade, from in-depth business school profiles to weekly breaking news and more.