Admissions Q&A: Notre Dame

Brian Lohr, director of MBA admissions at Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business (Mendoza Full-Time MBA Profile), says Mendoza students are part of their own little grass roots movement.

Lohr, who has been on the Notre Dame admissions staff for nearly 14 years, gives the example of a recent community service trip to a home for adults with special needs. The one-year MBAs shared ice cream with the residents, then washed the vans used to help residents get around. They also agreed to help the organization develop a business plan to obtain greater funding, which they'll start working on in late summer or early fall. "It goes beyond cleaning some vans," Lohr says.

Mendoza alumni also seem to know a thing or two about giving back. Although the percentage of the class of 2011 that was offered jobs has not been finalized, Lohr says it is higher than in the preceding two years. Many of the graduates, Lohr says, took advantage of Mendoza's 274 alumni clubs, located in 42 countries.

What does it take to be accepted into Notre Dame's MBA program? reporter Victoria Taylor talked with Lohr about the Irish, ethics, and application essays to get a better picture of Mendoza and what it takes to be a Domer. What follows are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Does Notre Dame's "Go Irish" football culture affect the Mendoza culture?

I would say one of the things during our orientation is becoming Irish. I think it's very important for students looking at schools—and for those who ultimately attend—to know about the traditions of the place. One of the things we try to do is make sure that our freshly minted MBA candidates understand the culture and traditions of Notre Dame.

Mendoza's undergraduate program recently took the top spot in the ethics category in Bloomberg Businessweek's Best Undergraduate Business Schools by Specialty. How important is ethics for the graduate program?

We feel very strongly about that aspect of our school as a whole. We have over 100 professors who teach both graduate and undergrad courses. That emphasis on ethics is going to come through, no matter what level you are. It is a very strong aspect of the Mendoza community. It comes from the top. [Mendoza Dean] Carolyn Woo is an absolutely tremendous leader and she emphasized from summer 1997 to present day that we're not going to take any shortcuts and do anything that could be construed as unethical. Our MBAs do things the right way and we train them to do the right thing. We're not in the business of giving them the answer to every ethical question … we give them the framework and practice in how to handle those situations.

Does the school's Roman Catholic affiliation affect Mendoza?

We're certainly not going to be shy about the fact that we're the prime Catholic university in the country. The term Catholic actually means universal church of God … and we have a variety of faiths [within the program].

Do MBA applicants who went to Notre Dame as undergrads have an advantage?

I don't know that they're at an advantage or disadvantage. About 10 percent of the class was Notre Dame undergrads. Often times we will encourage Notre Dame undergrads to have a broader experience outside of the Notre Dame environment, but those Notre Dame undergrads that we do bring into the MBA program are typically strong leaders and typically embrace that role. There's only one thing better than a Domer and that's a double Domer.

Are you actively doing anything to encourage woman applicants?

We're a school that's established for a woman—the mother of God. If any school should be leading that pack, it should be us. We have been working very hard in the recruiting process to bring in more women. We're not pleased with where we are, but we're doing things to change that.

What is the most important component of the application?

I don't know that there's one specific component. They are all intertwined in one respect. We are looking for candidates who are academically qualified in what we call "consideration of others." Nearly every single Notre Dame MBA candidate is involved in community service prior to their arrival on our campus and while they're students. And that's a very important aspect of our school—to give back to those who are less fortunate.

Do you have any advice for the essay?

Choose a topic that you have an interest in. You want to jump right into the topic and take your stance from there. I can tell when people are fired up about a certain topic and I can also see people who have researched and written about it and have done a nice job, but don't have the passion.

What's the biggest mistake that applicants make?

I've been doing this job for about 14 years and I've seen many mistakes. Be true to yourself. Don't try to puff up who you are or what you're all about. I remember an essay that was written a number of years ago by a candidate from Massachusetts. We no longer ask this question, but we wanted to find out what you do for fun. And he described in great detail the friends that he hung out with and it was really interesting. It was really cool insight. Don't try to be something that you're not.

Is an undergraduate degree in a business-related field necessary for admission?

About one-third of our class will be from humanities, about one-third will be from math and science, and one-third were business undergrads. I think it would be really boring if everyone came in with a finance degree. We've got a young woman right now who was in the Peace Corps in Guatemala. It brings up great discussion and great interaction. It's not uncommon to have a professor introduce an idea to the classroom and then watch it unfold. I think it holds true to the mission that Father [John] Jenkins [Notre Dame's president] has given us to create a class that is representative of society.

Do you look at the social media pages of the applicants?

We do take a look at Facebook pages and just do some searches in that way. It's not formalized. The group that's coming in this fall [has] been out and about for a little bit. If there's anything that might be considered inappropriate, I think they're at the point when they will have removed that. Notre Dame attracts a certain type of candidate and I think that's why we haven't introduced a formal background evaluation.

What does a successful Mendoza student look like?

They are going to be qualified academically. They're going to be accountable and responsible for their actions. They're going to be ethical people. They're going to be leaders. I think if there's a common denominator amidst the MBA candidates it's that they want to make the world a better place. I love that about these students. They're just excited about making a difference in the world.

Is there anything specific about Mendoza that helps graduates get jobs?

We have arguably the strongest alumni network in the world. Our students tap into that regularly and are successful in doing so. The group that graduated in May has higher employment rates than the last two years. We've utilized [alumni] extensively to help our MBAs secure those positions.

What kinds of companies do Mendoza graduates work for? Are there any that stand out because they are different or unusual?

It's a real variety of companies that come to recruit at Notre Dame. We have folks with JPMorgan (JPM). We have people with PPG (PPG), with Whirlpool (WHR), with Barclays (BARC). If there's a message there, it's that when you have that Notre Dame MBA attached to your résumé, you can do whatever you want.

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