We posed questions to admissions officials at the University of Notre Dame Mendoza College 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?
In my opinion, it's important for applicants to accomplish three things when applying to M.B.A. programs. One, be true to yourself. Don't try to present yourself as what the admissions committee might want to see. Be confident in who you are and be proud of what you have accomplished. Secondly, make sure you have done your research on each school and present why you think that school is a fit for you both academically and personally. Each school is different, with a different ethos and culture. Make a case as to why you think you fit that school. Finally, enjoy the process! Start the research and application processes early and have fun with the interview. The application process is a great time for self reflection. It's a time to ask yourself the tough questions: What do I want to do with my life? How am I going to impact the world in a positive way? How will an M.B.A. help me to accomplish these things?
2. What do you look for in the application essays? What do the essays tell you about a candidate?
Speaking for the Admissions Committee, we look for essays that are crisp and concise in both design and concept. In other words, write the essays like you would a newspaper article. Have a great lead and get your main thought out early. The lead is a great way to show your creativity, but it's also very important to have a specific point to your writing. The essays need to be perfect grammatically and in spelling. No mistakes are allowed here!
3. How important is the applicant's GMAT score? How do you weigh it against undergraduate GPA and work experience? Which of these carry the most weight? The least?
The GMAT is a very important aspect of the application process because we know that it is generally a good predictor of GPA in the first year of studies within our M.B.A. program. It is also the one common denominator that every applicant must go through. It's not an end--all be-all, but it does allow for comparison among the applicants. Ultimately though, we are looking for academic aptitude and leadership potential from these areas—not a particular GMAT, GPA, or work experience number. The overall application package is what supports admission, not just one or two data points.
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?
There is no magic number that makes an applicant an admit or not. The quality of work experience is more important than the quantity. it just so happens that most applicants need about four to five years to accumulate quality work experience. We typically measure quality of work experience by looking for good career progression, a clear and logical career development plan, the ability to work well in teams and experience managing people and resources (e.g., budgets). These things are typically good indicators of leadership potential and help to separate great applicants from good applicants.
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?
The University of Notre Dame M.B.A. Program is not for everyone. First and foremost, we are much smaller than most of other top M.B.A. programs. We typically have around 330 students in the entirety of our M.B.A. program, while many other top programs have incoming classes that are two and three times that large. This is a conscious choice that we have made as a program. We think that this small intimate class size ensures that you will build real and meaningful relationships with your classmates and with the professors and staff. It also ensures an environment of teamwork and shared accountability. The importance of this dynamic is hard to overstate, but also hard to fully explain to those that haven't experienced it. All we can tell you is that being 1 of 300 is much different than being 1 of 2,000. At the end of the day we think the relationships and the sense of camaraderie among the students, staff and faculty is why the Notre Dame Alumni Network is so passionate and connected to the University.
Secondly, we believe that we provide our students and alumni with some amazing opportunities for personal growth and professional development—equal or greater than at any B-school in the country. But, we also ask more of them in return. As a student, we ask you to get involved in our community beyond just completing your academic work. Participation in student government, clubs, committees, intramural sports and community service isn't mandatory at Notre Dame, but it's certainly a cultural expectation. Academically, we ask our students to think beyond just the fiscal bottom line to consider the wide impact of their decisions as managers—on their employees, their local communities, and the environment. We ask our students to solve tough problems using their values as a factor in the decision and we ask them to cultivate and demonstrate the moral courage to act on those values. We believe this experience of community involvement and ethical decision making creates business leaders who demonstrate individual integrity and contribute to the greater good. We wouldn't say that Notre Dame M.B.A.'s are better people than other M.B.A.'s (though we think we have outstanding people!) but we would tell you that they solve problems differently. With a different set of considerations than an M.B.A. from another school might use. And our corporate partners recognize the value of that difference. We also think you can see the effectiveness of this approach in our performance in national case competitions against other top B-schools.
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?
The key concept here is your recommender needs to know you well. They need to know both the positives and negatives you bring to the table. That could be a former professor or an immediate supervisor. Essentially, this person needs to know you well. Big name recommenders may seem more impressive to the applicant, but unless you worked closely with that individual, we're not certain that it is a value add.
7. Can you give a brief description of the life cycle of an application? What's the timeline applicants should expect?
Our process is rolling application process. The Admissions Committee will have a response back to you within four weeks of your submitted, complete application. The interview is considered a part of this process.
8. Which firms recruit heavily from your school? Which firms hire the highest percentage of your graduates?
Companies like AT&T, Citi, Ernst and Young, Emerson Electric, ExxonMobil Corporation, General Electric, Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, Intel Corporation, IBM, HP, United Airlines, Whirlpool, and Stryker are a few that come to mind. IBM is our No. 1 recruiter.
9. What are some of the most common mistakes that applicants make that hurt their chances of being accepted?
Not being prepared and not having done appropriate research on the program is a show stopper. If you're not interested, why should we be interested? Preparation is really a key component to any business transaction. The M.B.A. application process is no different. M.B.A. applicants need to come to the process buttoned up. They need to present a complete application with all ancillary materials. If interviewed, they need to be dressed appropriately, they need to have a list of in depth questions that they would like to ask of the interviewer, they need to be equipped with pen, paper, extra résumés, and last be not least, they should arrive at the interview early. Applicants need to be able to explain their résumé and experiences. Familiarity with the STAR method for answering behavioral questions is probably a good idea.
10. Can you describe the archetypal student for your school?
In our experience, the Admissions Committee focuses on three areas when evaluating an application: academic aptitude, leadership potential, and what we would call "cultural fit" or "consideration of others."
Academic aptitude is important in a program where most of the classes are only seven weeks long. The aggressive pace means you need to be able to balance a lot of different things at once, integrate new concepts and learn very quickly. GMAT, undergraduate GPA, and a strong transcript are good indicators of academic aptitude.
Leadership potential is important because M.B.A.'s will be expected to be leaders in whatever organizations they join after graduation.
The third component that we look for is really an outgrowth of the fact that the University of Notre Dame has a unique mission. Our founder, Father Edward Sorin, charged the graduates of this University to be what he called "a force for good in the world."
Candidates that can demonstrate a propensity for consideration of other people's needs and the ability to contribute beyond just the "40 hour work week" will generally do well in an environment like the one at Notre Dame, and so they will typically make a favorable impression on the Admissions Committee as well.