This year's freshman business majors at the University of Michigan were the first to be admitted as business majors. Prior to this fall, students could only apply to the Ross School of Business at the end of sophomore year. Now students have the option of applying directly to Ross while they are still high school seniors, or else once they get to Michigan, says Michele Thompson, director of BBA admissions.
The school also changed the length of its undergraduate program this year from two to three years, though the curriculum is staying the same. Thompson, a Michigan (undergraduate) and Thunderbird (MBA) alum, is starting her third year in Ann Arbor. She started out at Michigan as associate director of MBA admissions before moving to the undergraduate world.
She recently spoke to BusinessWeek.com reporter Julie Gordon. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation:
This was the first year that Michigan allowed high school seniors to apply directly to Ross. Why?
We find that the BBA program is very attractive and competitive and we wanted to allow students the opportunity to have that peace of mind that they would be able to be admitted to the School of Business without having to apply during their freshman year (see BusinessWeek.com, 4/17/06, "A 'Luxurious Position' at Michigan").
What are the benefits of the new three-year program versus the old two-year program?
There's less stress on the students in their junior year. Rather than having several tough quantitative courses in one semester, their courseload is more evenly spread out over their sophomore year and junior year. That allows some flexibility for them to do a dual degree as well. If it were a two-year program, they could do a dual-degree, but they would have had to have figured it out in their freshman year. It was tough for students to do the dual degree. Now it should be much easier, and we expect an increase in the number of students who do a dual degree.
How is the change affecting faculty?
They're still teaching the same courses. There haven't been any major programmatic changes, as it is the same two-year program spread out over three years. It's just that the timing of the courses is different.
Are accepted high school students, known as 'preferred admits,' accepted to the university first and then moved on to your office?
Yes. The requirement to be a preferred admit is to be accepted by the University of Michigan and have filled out the application indicating they wanted to do preferred admission and doing our essay.
What was your preferred admission essay this year, and does it change each year?
It doesn't actually. The question is, 'Based on your accomplishments, experiences and goals, tell us why you want to pursue a BBA degree at the Ross School of Business, and how all that you describe will contribute to your success in the program?'
We're not necessarily saying, 'What do you want to do when you grow up?' We're really trying to keep it at a high level so we can get a sense of their direction and maturity, to see how much research they've done, and see how much they've thought through their application. What we're trying to get them to do is not talk about things that we can see in their applications such as grades.
Is there a formula for figuring out admissions?
There is no formula.
For all Ross admits, are extracurricular activities as important as grade point average (GPA) and test scores?
When we assess it, the grades are important, as are the quantitative skills. Essay quality is important, as is extracurricular depth. How am I going to judge you by looking at a number or by looking at one thing? I can't.
You really need to look at everything in its entirety and compare everything in its entirety against all the different students that you see.
When it comes to preferred admits, if some of the students' ACTs may have been lower than 31, which was the average this year, there was probably something else really stood out that made them unique, and the admissions committee felt there would be something that they could add that other students couldn't.
Are SAT or ACT scores looked at for students who apply while enrolled at Michigan?
Neither one is looked at. Once you're in Michigan, everyone is equal, except for transfer students. We require them to provide us with their high school transcript and their ACT and SAT scores because when assessing a transfer student for the three-year program, we want to make sure that they were in fact admissible to the University of Michigan.
How many transfers do you take each year?
We're not really looking for a certain number, but each year it seems to be about 2% to 3% (see BusinessWeek.com, 7/24/06, "Junior Colleges Get Some Respect").
How important is high school class selection for preferred admits—such as AP and other advanced-level courses?
I think it's important that the students are challenging themselves. That's really what it comes down to because AP is not offered everywhere, and at some schools, AP classes are more difficult than [at] other schools. We're really relying here at the business school on undergraduate admissions and their expertise to evaluate the rigor of the course and the school and the level of academics in the AP classes before we even see them.
In terms of our team here at the business school, we're looking at it at a higher level. What's their ACT average, SAT average, and then I'm doing some checking on the end for quantitative strength, obviously, because grades are important and quantitative, especially in business, strength is a part of that. So if they had mostly A's, but C's in all of their quantitative courses, that might tell me that they may or may not do well in a quantitative course load.
Is there anything that students consistently write in their essays on why they want to come to Ross?
Students always say they're coming here because of the rankings. They write that everywhere. They tell us that. They e-mail us that. That's what they're looking at, for business, and they tell us that they know the average starting salary of our BBA graduates and they look at the list of companies that come to recruit.
So they're looking at the endgame. Those are certainly reasons to come and certainly the opportunities for career development [are] excellent. Another benefit is that our BBA courses are taught by the same world-class faculty who teach our MBA courses. Since the class size is fairly small, we have an excellent ratio of students to professors, so there's a lot of contact between the students and the professors.
Do you want to hear students talking about the rankings?
It's sort of like telling me your GPA. I know our rankings. You can mention it in passing, but some students may make the mistake of really laying out what we do to the admissions committee when what we really want to know is about the student and what makes them unique.