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Notre Dame Is "Very, Very Collaborative"

Q: The first essay question on your application asks about an applicant's career path and purpose in wanting the MBA and how it fits with their current goals. What should an applicant do if he or she doesn't know exactly what kind of career they want to choose right off the bat?

A: They should reconsider whether an MBA is right for them. An MBA is an incredible investment -- in time, money, and resources. And one of the things that's very important to us in the application process is establishing what that person's goal is.

One of the things we want to do as an educational provider is to help students get from point A to point B, and you can't do that unless you know what point B is. So knowing why a person wants an MBA is very important in the admission process, and that's one of the reasons why we have that essay.

We have three essays, and they're not very flashy. I've certainly seen more interesting questions on other applications, but [ours] get at the meat of what we're trying to find out about a person.

Q: The second essay question asks about what the candidate is going to contribute to the community. What are you getting at with this question?

A: Notre Dame is a community built on service to others -- it's known for that. Nearly 100% of our students will do some type of community service when they're here. We want students to understand that they have to accept the responsibility for being part of a community and making it better because you're a part of it.

Q: The last essay question asks simply: "What do you do for fun?" What kinds of things should not be in the answer to this question?

A: Nothing illegal, I guess [laughs]. But what we're trying to get at here is, are you a fun person to be around? If I'm stuck in an elevator with you, am I going to be miserable? I want to know if people have things they do that not only enrich their lives but add to the sense of excitement about being ina group with other people.

We get 130 people for the two-year program, and we want them to have fun with each other. So we're trying to get at people's personalities. The application process can be so sterile. Questions like this bring personality and life to it. Between that and the interview, you get a sense of who people are whenthey aren't on the clock.

Q: Any examples stand out from last year or this year that you thought were just knockout or bizarrely interesting?

A: One thing we have noticed about that question is that the answers are getting better as the years go by. We have applicants who are pilots, who have climbed Mt. Kilamanjaro. I was interviewing a guy the other day [who] started his own track club and ran a 55-mile relay race from Mt. Washington in NewHampshire down to the seashore.

These are things that you think people are crazy for doing, but they show a lot of determination. For instance, that relay race showed the person's ability to mesh into a community that's pretty diverse.

Q: An overwhelming majority of total applicants also were interviewed. Are interviews by invitation only?

A: No. If someone wants to initiate an interview, we welcome that. It's really a person's opportunity to put their best foot forward. It adds, as I said before, personality and life to an application that looks black-and-white on paper.

You get a lot of information from an application, but you don't get at the essence of a person until you ask the off-the-wall question or talk to them. Our interviews are both behavioral and conversational. We really do try to get at who the person is.

Q: What do you mean when you say "behavioral and conversational"?

A: We have some behavioral questions to help us walk through experiences that people have had regarding things like teamwork, leadership, and ethics. We may ask someone to give us an example of a time when they were experiencing team conflict, and we want to know how they resolved it and the role they played.

[In the conversational part,] what we're trying to do is just get two people in a room to connect, on a personal level, so that when I'm doing the interview, I can get to know the applicant. Try to envision what their life is like and who they are, what their dreams are. So I can figure out whetherthis meshes with the type of culture we have here.

Q: If it's up to the applicant to initiate the interview, and 100% of admitted applicants got an interview, it seems pretty obvious that candidates better choose to have an interview.

A: It's not completely up to the applicant. Let's say we're reviewing a file and considering someone for admission, and we want to get more information on this person. The admission committee will request an interview [in that case].

Q: Would it be possible for a person to get in without an interview?

A: Possible. But that's not the direction we are going. We're trying to get to know the applicants. So we really do try to interview everybody.

Q: Who does the interviews?

A: I do quite a lot of them. My associate director, Brian Lohr, does a lot. We have a team of seven students that does interviews, plus a network of 340 alumni.

Q: And you do these off-campus as well as on?

A: Absolutely, yes. We travel around the country to do interviews. If the travel schedule doesn't work out or [the applicant] can't get to campus, [we can do interviews over the phone.]

Q: Who'll look at an application first, and what are the first things that get looked at?

A: We have a team of people in what we call the War Room that puts the application together. The first time I would see an application is when it's complete, and at that point we'll have a minimum of three administrators read the file.

We may request an interview at that point, but the first read is actually kind of cursory. The second read will happen after the interview, if the interview hasn't taken place already.

And then it'll go to a third person, and if we come to a consensus about this candidate, they'll be admitted. If there isn't a consensus among those first three reads, it'll be read by a couple more people.

Q: What are the first things that you notice on an application?

A: We'll look at a cover page, which tells us where they're working right now, what type of job they've got. On the next page, we'll look at where they went to school and really try to develop a picture of what point A is. Then we get into the essays and look at where point B is and try to picture in ourminds what process this person is going through. We'll look also at the GMAT scores at that point.

There isn't a hierarchy that we go through, but we try to create the story of who this person is and what they're trying to do with their lives.

Q: What industries are represented in your applicant pool?

A: That's changing right now. The past couple of years we got a lot of people in e-commerce. Then there were quite a few layoffs, and last year we got quite a few accountants and energy-related people. And this year I'm seeing a lot more finance than I have in the past.

Finance has traditionally been one of the larger industries represented here. But today, it seems that every other applicant I'm looking at comes from that field.

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