Doing Business with Maryland

Maryland's Smith School of Business seeks quality undergrads who are socially active and have leadership experience

Pat Cleveland has been associate dean of undergraduate programs for the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland for the past seven years. In this role, Cleveland reviews student applications to the Smith School. Before joining the Smith School, she was in charge of the University of Hawaii's MBA and undergraduate-business programs.

Applications to Smith have more than tripled over the last five years. In 2005, there were over 3,500 freshman applicants and about 860, or 25%, were accepted. Of the 390 who enrolled, the middle 50% had SAT scores between 1320 and 1400 and average high school GPAs of nearly 3.9.

But Cleveland says that being a strong leader with good grades is only half of what applicants need to get in. She seeks to fill each class with socially responsible students who have had diverse experiences. She recently spoke with BW Online project assistant Meredith Bodgas. An edited transcript of their conversation follows:

What's new at Smith?

We started our research fellows program this year. After faculty members received support for their proposed projects, students competed to participate. We matched 22 upperclassmen with professors, and they have done significant research work.

We'll be launching our freshman fellows program in the fall. All new freshmen will be divided into small groups in which they'll take our retooled 21st Century Business course, which focuses on some of the cutting-edge issues in business, like information systems, supply-chain management, ethics, and entrepreneurship. Students will participate in co-curricular programming specific to their groups.

What do accepted students have in common?

Besides astounding academic credentials, they're proficient in information systems. We had to change our requirements because they were too advanced for them. They're friendly and socially active with leadership experience.

How does applying work?

All applications go through the university's office of undergraduate admissions. Freshman applicants indicate that they would like to be considered for admission to one of our limited enrollment programs (LEP), like the Smith School.

Once a student is accepted to the university, a team from the LEP of their choice will review their application. It's possible to be accepted to the university without gaining admission to a LEP. Transfer students must complete a separate application.

What do you want to see in the essays?

We want to know what students' interests are in the world of business, but we understand that freshman applicants may not have deeply developed these yet. We also want to learn about their special accomplishments. Leadership capabilities are important, but so is the experience of being first chair in one's hometown symphony orchestra.

Students should be comprehensive in telling us about what they love to do, in what areas they excel, and how they contribute their time. That helps us determine if they'll fit into this competitive yet social environment.

What mistakes do applicants make?

The biggest mistake is omission. Even if it doesn't seem like your community or school activities are academic, they show that you have a broad range of interests that make you a whole person.

Also, we know you really, really, really want to be a business major, but telling us three times doesn't give us new information. Focus on what you can contribute to the program instead.

Lastly, talking about the hurdles you've had to leap to get where you are is relevant, but we get applicants who refer to being sick with mono as a major obstacle. They don't stand out because we also have applicants who write about fleeing Liberia and struggling through school in the U.S.

How can students with low SAT scores gain admittance?

We accept students with SAT scores below 1300 who have good grades and extraordinary leadership capabilities or other special accomplishments.

Students with scores below 1100 may fare better when applying to Smith as juniors.

Students who aren't admitted to Smith as freshmen, but are accepted to Maryland, take a set of gateway courses during their first two years at the university. When they reapply for admission to Smith, we look at their grades in certain classes, GPA, and overall portfolio. The SAT isn't part of the [second] decision at all. They will need to declare their majors by their junior year.

What else are you looking for in applicants?

We want mature students who aren't just smart but social, and who aren't just leaders but also involved with their communities. We're also looking for ethnic, racial, and geographic diversity. I would love to see more students from the West Coast and the Midwest. We also value international students.

Do you recruit in other countries?

We haven't yet, but we're working with our alumni to increase the number of international applicants. Through our partners in Smith School centers in Shanghai, Beijing, Zurich, and Tunisia, we hope to accelerate our recruitment of international students to our undergraduate program.

How do you attract underrepresented minorities?

We reach out to neighboring Prince George's and Montgomery counties, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore through a program called STARS, Smith Talent Acquisition & Referral System. For the past three years, Smith student-mentors have given presentations on topics like applying to college, how to choose a college that's right for you, and getting financial aid to large groups of high school students from these neighborhoods at their schools and on our campus.

We also bring in a Kaplan representative to provide these students with SAT success strategies. We then follow up with the students' teachers and look out for their applications. A number of our alumni and corporate partners, including Pepsi, have contributed funding to provide scholarships for incoming students who went through the STARS program and meet our admissions standards.

What other financial-aid opportunities are available?

Many Smith students get university scholarships. In the class entering in fall 2005, 210 out of the 390 freshmen had scholarships, and 11 of these students received Banneker/Key scholarships. These recipients get free room, board, tuition, and fees for all four years. Students being considered for this award are invited to campus to interview. The presidential and dean's scholarships are awarded to students from this same pool, and they range from $1,000 to a few thousand dollars per year. We also offer departmental scholarships.

What can students expect from Smith?

We will take good care of them, and we'll treat them as adults. We get to know our students well through our mandatory advising program, where we make our students aware of the many opportunities that are available.

There's something going on in the Smith School just about every night because of our rich club life. We sponsor 20 undergraduate student organizations, and students may propose new clubs.

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