How to Get In: University of Michigan—Ann Arbor Stephen M. Ross School of Business

What can you do to set yourself apart in your application? Admissions officials have the answers.

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We posed questions to admissions officials at the University of Michigan—Ann Arbor Stephen M. Ross School of Business regarding the application process, what they look for in applicants and what sets their school apart. These are their responses:

1. What can applicants do to set themselves apart from their peers?

They really don't need to do much to set themselves apart other than tell their unique stories—through their résumés, their essays, their interviews, and their recommendation letters. No two applicants, even if they live and work in the same place, will have the same stories to tell. Differentiation shouldn't be a goal; telling one's own story well should.

2. What do you look for in the application essays? What do the essays tell you about a candidate?

We look for several things in the essays: Do they have clear and compelling reasons for wanting to get an M.B.A. now? Do they have a clear sense of their goals and why they've set those goals? Can they communicate well?

The essays tell us whether an applicant has taken the time to think about where they've been, what they hope to achieve and why. Essays tell us whether an applicant understands what an M.B.A. is about, whether our program is a good fit for them, and whether they'll be a good fit for our program.

3. How important is the applicant's GMAT score? How do you weight it against undergraduate GPA and work experience? Which of these carry the most weight? The least?

The GMAT is just one piece among many that we look at. It is not the thing that makes or breaks a decision for us. It gives us an idea of how an applicant may perform academically in the first year of the M.B.A. program.

The GMAT score is viewed in conjunction with undergrad major, curriculum and GPA so that we get a sense of an applicant's analytical skills and general academic abilities. There is no one thing that carries greater weight than another in the process. All components of the application are considered holistically.

4. How much does prior work/internship experience weigh into your decision making? What's the typical or expected amount of work experience from an applicant?

Prior work experience is an important, but equal, factor in our decision process. We look at the quality of the experience, the level of responsibilities, the nature of their work, the performance record, impact, industry, employer, length of time—everything. We don't have a minimum or maximum number of years of work experience. On average, our incoming M.B.A. class has had five years of full-time work experience.

5. What sets you apart from other schools? What can students gain from your school that they might not be able to find anywhere else?

Ross is focused on action-based learning: giving students an opportunity to learn hands-on, and not just in the classroom. The centerpiece of this action-based learning approach is the Multidisciplinary Action Project (MAP), which is a seven-week consulting-type project that all of our M.B.A. students do during the last quarter of their first year. It is a full-time project for a real organization—corporate, nonprofit and startup—that is facing a real business challenge. Student teams apply what they've learned in their first three quarters at Ross. There are real stakes involved; it's not just academic or hypothetical. We source more than 100 MAP projects each year—about half of which are based in the U.S.—and students have the opportunity to rank the 10 projects they would like to work on.

6. What do you look for in recommendation letters? How important is it that the letter's writer has worked regularly with the candidate in an office or school setting? Do you put much weight on letters from prominent public figures who may not know the applicant well?

We look for recommendation letters that give us a sense of an applicant's professional, interpersonal and leadership skills. We strongly prefer recommendation letters from direct supervisors as they are in the best position to speak to those aspects of an applicant. We do not recommend getting letters from a prominent public or industry figure or a professor unless that person was a direct supervisor. We are looking for insights on an applicant's professional abilities and potential based on first-hand experience working with the applicant, not a personal or academic recommendation.