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Admissions Director Q&A: Danielle Richie of UNC Kenan-Flagler

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In this Admissions Director Q&A, we welcome back Danielle Richie, Director of Full-Time MBA Admissions & Recruiting at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School.

Danielle brings a wealth of experience and expertise to her role as the leader of the Full-Time MBA Program admissions and student recruitment team at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School. With over 15 years of professional recruiting experience in both graduate and undergraduate business programs, she is well-versed in identifying top talent and creating a diverse and talented MBA student community.

Her educational background in communications with a specialization in advertising from Syracuse University, along with a bachelor’s degree in public relations from the State University of New York at Oswego, provides her with a strong foundation in effective communication and strategic outreach. Outside of her professional endeavors, Danielle has a passion for travel and exploration, having visited more than 40 countries and collecting passport stamps along the way. In her free time, she is a U.S. Soccer Certified Referee. 

Keep reading for Danielle’s insight into what to expect from MBA admissions this year at UNC Kenan-Flagler, from interviews to exams to essays and more. 

Danielle Richie, Director of Full-Time MBA Admissions & Recruiting at UNC Kenan-Flagler

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

Danielle Richie: UNC Kenan-Flagler’s strategic location in Chapel Hill, as part of the Research Triangle area – constituted by Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh – offers unique advantages to students.

  • Proximity: Being located just 10 miles from Durham and in close proximity to the Research Triangle Park is a significant advantage for students. The area is renowned for its concentration of science and technology firms, government agencies, startups and nonprofits. This provides students with ample opportunities for internships, networking and exposure to cutting-edge industries and innovations.
  • Expanding horizons and perspectives: By providing students with opportunities to try new things and explore diverse experiences, UNC Kenan-Flagler encourages them to expand their horizons and develop new perspectives. Our emphasis on exploration and learning beyond the classroom fosters well-rounded and adaptable graduates.
  • Reinforcing confidence: Encouraging students to take on new challenges and experiences not only expands their skill sets but also reinforces their confidence as they become more comfortable stepping out of their comfort zones. We prepare them to take on leadership roles and become change-makers in their respective fields.
  • Distraction-free environment: Chapel Hill’s location away from a large city environment ensures that students can focus on their studies and personal growth without the distractions that can come with urban living. Our setting provides a conducive learning environment and fosters a strong sense of community among our students.

Overall, UNC Kenan-Flagler’s focus on providing diverse opportunities, cultivating a positive and supportive environment and leveraging our strategic location in the Research Triangle contributes to the success of our students and their appeal to employers seeking top talent.

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?

DR: UNC Kenan-Flagler takes a comprehensive and thoughtful approach to evaluating applicants, aiming to build a diverse and talented student community while considering both academic qualifications and personal attributes.

The multi-step review process involving at least three or four committee members for each candidate, which demonstrates our commitment to thorough evaluation and a fair decision-making process. By initially focusing on a candidate’s essays, transcripts, letters of recommendation and resume without considering test scores, we aim to understand the applicant’s overall profile and potential fit with our program before incorporating standardized test results.

Incorporating interviews allows the admissions team to engage with applicants personally. This step provides further insights into the candidate’s personality, communication skills and potential contributions to the UNC Kenan-Flagler community.

During the second review, all relevant information, including test scores and interview notes, is taken into account to ensure a holistic assessment. The admissions committee’s involvement, including experienced members from different areas of the program, ensures a well-rounded perspective on each candidate’s strengths and fit with the our values.

By emphasizing the evaluation of both intellectual intelligence (IQ) and emotional intelligence (EQ), UNC Kenan-Flagler ensures that admitted candidates possess the academic capabilities and interpersonal skills necessary for success in our program and beyond.

Overall, the level of dedication and meticulousness demonstrated in the admissions process reflects our commitment to selecting candidates who will thrive in the academic environment and make a positive impact as part of the UNC Kenan-Flagler community.

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?

DR: Essays play a crucial role in the application process as they offer applicants an opportunity to showcase their personalities, aspirations and motivations beyond their academic and professional achievements. They serve as a medium through which applicants can establish  personal connections with the admissions committee and share their unique stories and perspectives.

The focus on career goals in the essays is essential. It helps the admissions committee understand the applicant’s vision for their future and ensures that the program can provide the necessary resources and support to help the candidate achieve those goals. This alignment between the candidate’s aspirations and the program’s offerings is crucial for a successful and fulfilling MBA experience.

Furthermore, the evaluation of the candidate’s writing style and attention to detail in their essays demonstrates their communication skills and attention to professionalism. Being clear and concise in expressing thoughts and ideas, as well as avoiding grammatical errors or inaccuracies, showcases the applicant’s ability to effectively convey information.

Encouraging applicants to be genuine and true to themselves when writing essays is very important. Candidate should share their genuine motivations, experiences and passions rather than trying to guess what the admissions committee wants to hear. Authenticity allows the admissions team to gain a deeper understanding of the applicant and assess how well they would fit within the UNC Kenan-Flagler community.

Lastly, if I can offer any advice to applicants, it is to avoid writing anything they think the admissions committee wants to hear. We can read it was not genuine and surface level. Tell us all about you!

In summary, essays provide applicants with a platform to express their individuality and aspirations, while the admissions committee uses them to gauge a candidate’s fit with the program and potential for success in their chosen career path. By encouraging authenticity and providing insights into the applicant’s writing style and goals, the admissions team can identify candidates who will thrive in the MBA program and make valuable contributions to the UNC Kenan-Flagler community.

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, application-based, behavioral)? Will your admissions interviews be in-person or virtual for the 2023-2024 admissions season?

DR: We conduct over 1,000 behavioral interviews per year by a group of interviewers and committee members, which demonstrates the commitment of UNC Kenan-Flagler to engaging with applicants and providing a user-friendly experience. Video interviews have become an essential part of the admissions process, especially when in-person interviews might not be feasible or convenient for all candidates. However, we piloted in-person interviews last year and look forward to bringing them back in 2023–2024.

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

DR: The availability of GMAT/GRE waivers for applicants to the UNC Kenan-Flagler Full-Time MBA Program is a notable aspect of our holistic application process. This approach recognizes that standardized test scores are not the only indicators of an applicant’s potential for academic success and that other criteria can demonstrate a candidate’s readiness for our rigorous MBA program.

The following criteria (but not limited to) are considered when evaluating candidates for GMAT/GRE waivers:

  • Strong academic background: Applicants who graduated with a GPA of 3.2 or above in STEM, business, economics or other analytical fields from a U.S. institution are eligible for consideration. This indicates that candidates have a solid academic foundation and are likely to excel in our MBA program.
  • Advanced or terminal degrees: Candidates who have earned an advanced or terminal degree in fields such as JD, MD, PhD, or MS within STEM, business or economics demonstrate a high level of expertise and achievement in their respective fields, which can be indicative of their readiness for an MBA program
  • Professional experience: Applicants with five-plus years of professional experience in quantitative or analytical fields showcase their practical expertise and skills, which can be highly valuable in our MBA program that emphasizes real-world applications.
  • Professional certifications: Holding professional certifications such as Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) or U.S. Certified Public Accountant (CPA) further validate a candidate’s expertise and dedication in specific areas relevant to our MBA Program.
  • Strong alternative test results: Exceptional test scores in other standardized assessments, such as the Executive Assessment, Law School Admission Test (LSAT), (Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT) or Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) also can demonstrate a candidate’s analytical and problem-solving abilities.

By providing GMAT/GRE waivers based on some of these diverse criteria, UNC Kenan-Flagler aims to create a more inclusive and accessible application process, allowing candidates with exceptional qualifications and experiences to showcase their potential for academic and professional success without solely relying on standardized test scores. This approach supports our commitment to building a diverse and talented MBA student body and ensures candidates are evaluated on a comprehensive range of factors relevant to their potential for success in the program.

CA: Could you tell us about the waitlist? What can waitlisted applicants do to maximize their chances of being accepted to your program? Does your office allow for waitlisted applicants to submit additional materials (e.g. letters of support, job updates, new test scores, etc.)?

DR: UNC Kenan-Flagler’s waitlist process reflects our commitment to giving every applicant a fair and thorough review, even after initial decision rounds. By reviewing waitlist candidates against the applicant pool in each subsequent round, the admissions team ensures that they consider new information and developments from these candidates.

The opportunity for waitlisted candidates to provide additional materials offers them a chance to update their applications with recent achievements and accomplishments. These materials could include new standardized test scores, updated letters of recommendation, evidence of job promotions or successful completion of professional exams like CPA or CFA. Our process allows waitlisted applicants to showcase their continued growth and achievements since the time of their initial application, which can strengthen their candidacy.

The waitlist process also gives candidates opportunities to demonstrate their continued interest and commitment to joining our program. By providing additional materials and staying engaged with our admissions office, waitlisted candidates can reaffirm their enthusiasm for UNC Kenan-Flagler and their alignment with our values and culture.

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

DR: The negotiations course and the private equity course offered at UNC Kenan-Flagler both sound like valuable and popular choices for students, providing them with unique learning experiences and practical skills applicable in various aspects of their personal and professional lives.

Negotiations Course: The negotiations course is highly sought after by students because it equips them with the essential skills to navigate uncertainty and effectively handle day-to-day conversations. Negotiation skills are crucial in many contexts, whether in business transactions, interpersonal relationships or other situations where different parties seek to find common ground. Students develop their abilities to communicate, persuade and find mutually beneficial solutions, enhancing their overall confidence in handling complex situations.

Private Equity Course: The private equity course, led by Professor Art Baker, brings real-world experience and expertise to the classroom. His extensive background in finance adds significant value to the course, providing students with practical insights into the field of private equity. By working in teams to review actual deal scenarios from both middle-market and mega-fund settings, students gain hands-on experience and learn how to analyze complex financial situations critically. Debating recommendations with faculty and peers fosters a collaborative learning environment and encourages students to approach problem-solving from various perspectives.

Both courses exemplify our commitment to offering relevant and impactful learning experiences to our students. By combining theoretical knowledge with practical applications and leveraging the expertise of experienced faculty, we prepare students to succeed in their future careers and become effective leaders in their chosen fields.

The positive feedback from students who have taken these courses underscores their value and impact on personal and professional development. Such experiences help create a vibrant and enriching academic environment at UNC Kenan-Flagler, attracting students who seek to acquire practical skills, gain new perspectives and thrive in a collaborative, supportive community.

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

DR: UNC Kenan-Flagler’s emphasis on the holistic MBA experience goes beyond the classroom, recognizing that the full value of our program lies in the comprehensive development of students, both academically and personally. We recognize that the connections made, experiences gained and personal growth achieved through extracurricular activities, clubs, leadership opportunities and networking are integral components of our students’ overall MBA journey.

  • Inclusive community: The “Carolina Way” highlights the inclusive and collaborative nature of the UNC Kenan-Flagler community. It fosters an environment where students, faculty and staff support and encourage each other to excel. The emphasis on diversity ensures that individuals from various genders, ethnic backgrounds and perspectives contribute to a rich and vibrant learning environment.
  • Beyond the classroom: UNC Kenan-Flagler emphasizes that the MBA experience extends well beyond academic learning. Students are encouraged to actively engage in extracurricular activities like Student Teams Achieving Results (STAR), clubs and events, which provide opportunities for personal growth, skill development and networking.
  • Leadership development: We emphasize the development of leadership skills. Students are encouraged to take on leadership roles in clubs, group projects and initiatives. Our emphasis on leadership ensures that our graduates are equipped with academic knowledge and possess the essential qualities to lead effectively in their careers.
  • Professional networking: The connections our students make during their time at UNC Kenan-Flagler become valuable professional contacts for their careers. The institution’s emphasis on networking opportunities and industry connections allows students to build a strong network of professionals who offer support and opportunities throughout their careers.
  • Understanding the culture: During the recruitment process, UNC Kenan-Flagler ensures that prospective students understand and align with our culture, values and collaborative nature. This helps in building a cohesive community of individuals who share a common vision and purpose.

Overall, UNC Kenan-Flagler’s approach to our MBA Program reflects our commitment to nurturing well-rounded and empowered individuals. By providing a comprehensive experience that goes beyond academics and emphasizes collaboration, diversity and personal growth, we prepare our students to become successful leaders in their chosen fields and make meaningful contributions to their communities and industries.

Christina Griffith
Christina Griffith is a writer and editor based in Philadelphia. She specializes in covering education, science, and history, and has experience in research and interviews, magazine content, and web content writing.