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Admissions Director Q&A: Coni Zingarelli of Rice Business

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In this Admissions Director Q&A, we hear from Coni Zingarelli, the executive director of recruiting, admissions and student financial services at Rice Business. Previously, she served in roles with Temple Fox and UCI Merage. She is passionate about helping students find the right graduate program to further their personal and professional aspirations. Coni spent the first 12 years of her career in the hospitality industry working in San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles. She earned her MBA from UCI Merage and her B.A. from the Pennsylvania State University. Now that Coni has spent some time at the helm in Rice Business admissions, read on for her insights into the MBA program’s application process, essays and more.

Coni Zingarelli, Executive Director of Recruiting, Admissions and Student Financial Services at Rice Business

Clear Admit: What is the one aspect of your program that you wish applicants knew more about?

Coni Zingarelli: The access that applicants will have as part of our program. As a Rice Business student, you have access to pursue any activity that will support your career growth to reach your professional goals. Students have access to career resources from the moment they deposit: leadership opportunities with the student professional organizations, coaching, hands-on experience in the Action Learning Project Class, weekly networking during our partio events, all with various community supporters from alumni to the dean’s office. Of course, our location in Houston, the nation’s most diverse city, provides unparalleled access to major industries such as healthcare and oil and gas and incredible cultural experiences.

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?

CZ: Once an applicant hits “submit,” a multi-stage process begins. First, we do a preliminary review to ensure the application is complete. Then the admissions committee conducts an in-depth review, and candidates may be invited to participate in virtual and community assessments. These assessments provide critical information for the review process. Finally, the admissions committee reviews the application package holistically and makes a final decision after assessing the cohort collectively.

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?

CZ: The essay portion of our application is an opportunity for candidates to showcase their individuality beyond their professional and academic background.

When reading essays, we aim to understand who the applicant is and why they are interested in pursuing an MBA at Rice Business. One common mistake is being too broad in the essay, as we limit the word count. The most important thing about the essay is to be authentic. We want to get to know the candidate and read essays that are unique and memorable that help bring the application to life. Another tip: avoid spelling and grammatical errors. Always proofread the final version before submitting.

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)?

CZ: Our interview process is called the community assessment and is only offered to selected applicants. The community assessment is crucial to building our close-knit community and is meant to be a two-way dialogue. The interviews are mainly conducted by current student ambassadors and serve as an opportunity to evaluate the candidate’s readiness for an MBA and fit with Rice’s culture. It also gives candidates a chance to ask questions and engage in dialogue with current students. The interview process helps the admissions committee fully understand the candidates and make informed decisions.

CA: What is your testing policy? Do you offer exam waivers? Why or why not?

CZ: Currently, we require applicants to take the GMAT, GRE or Executive Assessment for admission to the Full-Time MBA program, although there is a waiver process for those who can demonstrate their quantitative abilities in other ways. We recognize that test scores are not the only indicator of a candidate’s abilities, but they do provide evidence of quantitative skills and commitment. Additionally, test scores are considered when awarding scholarships and are often requested by employers in industries such as consulting and investment banking. Therefore, Rice Business views test-taking as an efficient way for candidates to showcase their strengths and demonstrate their readiness for the rigorous program and business world.

CA: Tell us briefly about two popular courses at your institution.

CZ: Electives are easily the most popular courses at Rice Business, and with more than 100 to choose from, it’s hard to pick just two. Students’ favorites differ based on their personal interests and career goals, and the options allow them to truly customize the program. Two of the top electives that come to mind are Enterprise Acquisition and Power and Influence in Organizations.

Enterprise Acquisition, Professor Al Danto
This class enables students to gain real hands-on experience. Students learn the process to acquire an existing business or start a search fund. They develop selection criteria, network to connect with sellers, conduct preliminary due diligence, perform a business valuation, develop potential deal structures and can move forward on any potential opportunities on their own after graduation. There is a check-in class every other week to present updates and receive feedback from faculty, students and alumni mentors.

Power and Influence in Organizations, Professor Jonathon Miles and Siyu Yu
A manager’s primary purpose is to use power to influence subordinates and create an effective organization. This course will teach students how to build power, how to influence people, and the proper use of power in the modern organization through lecture, discussion and experiential activities.

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?

CZ: At Rice Business, prospective students are always welcome to come to campus for a one-on-one meeting, to visit a class or to take a tour. This year, the Diversity Preview Weekend and Women’s Preview Weekend were both held on campus. However, due to the global applicant population, most admissions interviews are conducted virtually. If an applicant is located near campus during the time of their interview offer, Rice Business will work to accommodate an in-person interview.

CA: Is there anything else you’d like to highlight about your MBA program or admissions process?

CZ: Yes, our diverse, inclusive and tight-knit culture. The program has eight student-led associations dedicated to empowering and enabling diverse and minority business students. These associations provide opportunities for networking, professional development and community building.

We create an environment where all students can thrive and achieve their goals. To learn more about these associations, interested applicants can visit

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.