ND's Touchdown Pass to Business School

At Notre Dame, qualified students get a chance to enter Mendoza College of Business after their freshman year

Dan Saracino, the assistant provost for enrollment at the University of Notre Dame, says its Mendoza College of Business is one of the most popular colleges on campus. It ranks as the second-largest in the university, after the College of Arts and Letters. And once you manage to get accepted into Notre Dame, you'll find applying to Mendoza as simple as declaring a major.

After graduating from the university in 1969, Saracino worked at its admissions office for eight years while earning his master's in educational administration. He then moved to the Bay Area, where he served as director of admissions, dean of admissions, and dean of enrollment at Santa Clara University during his 20 years there. He returned to Notre Dame in 1997. Saracino recently spoke with BusinessWeek reporter Helena Oh. Here is an edited excerpt of their conversation:

Should students indicate their interest in Mendoza when applying to Notre Dame?

On the application, we ask what area or areas of study they're currently interested in, but it doesn't play a role in the [admissions] decision. It helps with academic advising in the first year of study. For example, if a student indicates on the application that she wants to go into engineering and she has no physics background, we would still admit her to our first year of studies. But we will tell her that she needs to pick up physics. And a student interested in Mendoza would need a strong foundation in math.

What is the process for getting into Mendoza?

First, you come get your feet wet in the first year of studies. Everyone takes math and calculus, depending on individual strength or interest. Everyone takes a year of English seminar, and then either a science or a foreign language, followed by electives. Then, you indicate a college (one of five) as a sophomore. By the second semester of the sophomore year, you'll be choosing a major. There's no anxiety raised by us about your ability to enter business as a sophomore.

If students are in good academic standing at the university after their first year, there's no gate they have to go through to get into Mendoza. So a student doesn't have to get a 3.5 GPA to get in. If a solid student with C work or B work wants to go into the college of business, they're assured of admission.

What are the essay questions like?

The essays are not related to a major. We'll give them a quote from a philosopher, theologian, or poet and ask them to reflect on it. Or we'll give them an open-ended topic. We generally give them three choices from which they choose one. We look at essays as an opportunity to get to know students better, evaluate how well they write, and see how they present themselves. Is it grammatically correct, clean, neat, and coherent?

What other advice do you have for answering the questions?

Pick the topic in which you're interested. When addressing the topic, don't try to guess what we want to hear. Tell us what you want to say. You're presenting yourself to the admissions committee, after all. A well-written essay surely can't do anything but help you when applying for a selective university, because literally all students are going to be academically solid, and you want to distinguish yourself from the others.

And once you are 90% done with the essay, give it to your best friend. If she can read it and say, "That's you," then bingo, you've got it. Give it to someone who knows you well and can be honest with you.

Are there interviews?

They are not required or offered.

When do students meet with advisers and how do they help them choose a college?

In the [spring], all of the freshmen will be meeting with their academic advisers and tentatively selecting a college and fall semester courses. There is no paperwork at all. If you're in good academic standing, you're definitely going where you want to.

If a student has gotten a C or D in calculus during freshman year and indicates that he wants to go into accounting, he's going to get some serious counseling to make sure he knows what he's getting into. He may have to go to summer school to stay in the area of quantitative reasoning.

What's new at Mendoza?

We're providing opportunities for students to take courses in entrepreneurial studies in addition to courses in management, accounting, marketing, and finance.

Which concentrations within Mendoza are the most popular?

In terms of the number of students, accounting and finance are the most popular.

What advice do you give to students who are deciding between majoring in economics or business?

The economics program in business is more applied, and the program in the College of Arts and Letters is more theoretical. If a student is thinking of getting an MBA, we generally suggest he consider an undergraduate major in another area of study.

How easy is it to switch majors?

It's not difficult at all. It's one of the benefits [of coming to Notre Dame]. The first year of classes is general. You probably have a semester or two to decide on a major, and you can still graduate in four years, which 95% of our students do. Students normally choose a major during the spring semester of their sophomore year.

Can students from other colleges also take business courses?


Is it harder or easier for students with an undergraduate business degree to get accepted to Notre Dame's MBA program?

We don't even advise it. Students with an undergraduate business degree can get a master's in accountancy. They can get a law degree. But generally they don't go on to an MBA program. MBA schools are generally looking for students with a nonbusiness degree at the undergraduate level.

There's definitely a market and need for an undergraduate business program. Business at Notre Dame is thriving, and students are able to take a significant percentage of their courses outside of business, so they're getting a well-rounded education.

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