The Rundown on the Ross MBA Experience
The University of Michigan's Ross School of Business is a top-choice program for many MBA applicants. Today, we'll "Go Blue" and spill all the deets on the Ross School's curriculum, culture, and admissions practices that SBC consultant and Ross MBA alum Laura shared previously on the B-Schooled podcast.
Ross is located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which, according to Money magazine, often ranks as one of the best places to live in the U.S. thanks to its "flourishing arts scene, a growing number of breweries and wineries, a year-round farmers market and an active downtown full of locally-owned shops and restaurants."
Laura served on the admissions committee as a second-year student, and during that time, she evaluated applications and interviewed prospective applicants. Laura's been an admissions consultant for the past 14 years and has helped numerous candidates gain admission to Michigan Ross, among many other top programs.
Let's dive into why Laura—and B-Schooled's host Erika (a Ross BBA alum)—can't get enough of this Midwestern academic powerhouse.
What's unique about the Ross School of Business?
Laura: The number one thing that people notice about the Ross MBA is its action-based learning focus, specifically the MAP program. That's the Multidisciplinary Action Program. Additionally, Ross has well-rounded academic offerings across all the core business functions. There's also a strong culture of collaboration.
As a student there and since, I have found that the cohort is intelligent but humble and hardworking. Additionally, and importantly, the program has a robust alum network across the business school and the university at large. And a lot of grads find that advantageous.
And finally, Ann Arbor and the university are a real draw. Ann Arbor is a great place to live, and students love taking advantage of all the program offers.
Tell us more about MAP and some of the Ross MBA program's newer aspects.
Ross has done a fantastic job building on this promise of action-based or practical learning. This is all under the umbrella of what they call "real business experiences," and they break it down into four areas.
First, they have "Real Advice." That's the core pillar of the MAP program, where students consult with organizations on real business problems. This happens in the second half of the second semester, during the first year of the full-time program. Another aspect is "Real Start," where students develop, launch, and scale a business idea. "Real Invest" is where students manage an investment fund. And then finally, "Real Lead" is where students help operate an ongoing business unit with a corporate partner.
Ross also achieved STEM designation in recent years. That's important to some candidates, particularly international students who need sponsorship with a STEM program. The program has also added some concentrations recently, including design thinking and innovation.
What misconceptions do some MBA applicants have about Ross?
There's some natural hesitation among some candidates about spending two years in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It's not New York, San Francisco, or L.A., and that sometimes gives prospective students pause. It's also not the warmest climate and sometimes feels remote.
However, Ann Arbor is a short flight away from New York. And while it's a longer flight to the Bay area, where the alum network is extensive, it's only a four-hour drive to Chicago, which is easy.
It's true Ross isn't an M7 school, and some students feel it doesn't have the same level of prestige. But I think that actually helps set Ross students and alums apart. There's not a lot of hubris among the cohort, and companies love hiring Ross MBA interns and alums. I hear that all the time. So, if you're on the fence about the program, I recommend talking with current students and alumni to see if it's the right fit for you.
How do Ross MBA students have fun outside of class?
Like most MBA programs, the extracurricular offerings run the gamut from professional clubs across the core business functions like consulting club, marketing club, etc., to some of the more interest-based clubs like the cycling club or volunteer organizations.
Then there are the variety shows that feature skits and music, like Rock and Roll B-School and Follies, which are a lot of fun to attend. Obviously, football is a huge draw for sports enthusiasts. But you don't have to be a football fan to enjoy it. The business school hosts a tailgate every Saturday near Michigan Stadium, AKA The Big House, which is one of those places you must experience at least once.
If you're into other sports, the school has excellent teams in other areas, like basketball, baseball, gymnastics, you name it. There are also additional opportunities to enjoy your time within the greater university: art shows, musical performances, and many other things. Ann Arbor's just a great place to live, and there's always something to do and somewhere to eat year-round.
Turning to admissions now, what is Ross looking for overall?
Here are the key points the admissions committee is homing in on when evaluating prospective students. First, leadership, next, professional achievement, and then they're looking for a clear story and goals for the MBA program and beyond.
They're also looking for a track record of community involvement and want to understand that the candidate has a life outside of work. Finally, they like to see if candidates understand the Ross culture and how they will contribute to that culture and enhance student life.
What does the AdCom look for in the MBA essays?
The Ross essay questions are notoriously short. Sometimes, that gives applicants the impression that the application is easy, but it demands that the candidate be strategic and make the most of every opportunity with the short answer questions.
The admissions committee has developed these questions to learn more about the candidates' perspectives, personal experiences, professional strengths, and more.
Applicants often ask me which prompts are "better" choices than others. The best applications take a holistic view of the candidates' backgrounds and stories and map them to the most appropriate questions or prompts. So, candidates should take a strategic view of all the questions ahead of time rather than try to answer them individually.
Read more of SBC's expert advice for the 2023-2024 Ross MBA Essays
Candidates should first brainstorm the most important experiences to highlight and determine which prompts most closely match them. I've noticed that some stories can work just as well for one prompt as another.
In my experience as a consultant helping others with these Ross MBA questions, the best responses for the short answer essays draw from personal experiences. However, I'm okay with one of the responses reflecting on a professional experience. I would generally not recommend that candidates use professional experiences exclusively to answer these questions.
The career essay really dials into the short-term career goal and the candidate's suitability for it. What are the applicant's transferable skills, and how does this fit into their overall career arc? Note that it's not a "Why Ross" question. Mentions of the program should be minimal when responding to this question.
Without a Why Ross? question, how can candidates show they have researched the program thoroughly?
Ross, like other top programs, tracks student interactions with the program. So, attendance at info sessions and interactions with admissions committee members and ambassadors—that all matters. You should mention these interactions on the data form, but the most fruitful conversations about "Why Ross" tend to take place during the interview, where a candidate can make their case for the program.
What is the Ross School looking for during the interview?
Ross interviews candidates by invitation only. The admissions committee wants to ensure that candidates communicate verbally the same way as they do through their application materials. In other words, applicants need to relay a level of consistency across how they present themselves on paper and how they present themselves in an interview conversation.
During the interview, candidates should emphasize the same essential elements as in the application. They need to talk about leadership achievement and extracurricular involvement. Applicants should relay an understanding of the program offerings and culture and, of course, bring a few ideas on how they'll contribute to the experience of others in the cohort.
So much of one's success in the business world is based on how they communicate. The interview is crucial to demonstrate that candidates have what it takes to succeed. Remember, internship recruiting starts almost immediately after people land on campus. First-year students come to campus and are already telling their elevator pitch repeatedly. The interview is an excellent opportunity to prove that the candidate is ready for that experience and to make a connection with Ross.
Can you share the "secret sauce" for how the Ross admissions committee ultimately puts its class together?
Like most top programs, Ross wants to attract the brightest, most diverse, and interesting class possible. The people are the most defining aspect of the MBA experience for most students. So, the admissions committee ensures that everyone has something unique to bring and to add to the experience for others.
The admissions committee invests in several ways to market the program and attract top candidates. They travel across the globe and host events both virtually and in person. They're bringing prospective students on campus, and the student ambassadors and alums network are also great extensions of this marketing plan.
Finally, what advice would you give those applying to the Ross School soon?
I recommend anyone considering the program do their homework. Talk to students and alumni and visit campus if you can. Definitely attend info sessions. Virtually all these opportunities are essential touch points to understand what Ross has to offer, how the program can help your career, and whether it fits you culturally and for your career goals. That homework will pay off in spades when it's time to complete your application and interview.
And now, a few last words from Matt Ganderson, the new director of MBA admissions at Ross.
When asked to name some of the qualities, skill sets, and experiences the school values in applicants, here's what he said in a Q&A with MBA Insight.
"We are in search of well-rounded applicants who will excel at Ross. We assess applicants based on three key categories: academic potential, team and leadership skills, and program fit. When evaluating academic potential, we closely examine undergraduate (and graduate) academic performance, standardized test scores or evidence of academic readiness, and quantifiable career achievements.
"In assessing an applicant’s team and leadership abilities, we review their resume, interview responses, essays, and letters of recommendation. Lastly, we gauge fit by considering the applicant’s responses to our application criteria. We are looking for candidates who can enrich the program’s culture and diversity by both benefiting from and contributing to the learning environment."
Stacy Blackman Consulting is the only MBA admissions firm with a complete panel of former Admissions Officers from every M7 program and the elite European MBA programs. We offer multiple services to meet your MBA application needs, from our All-In Partnership to hourly help with essay editing, interview prep, and MBA resume review. Contact us today for a free 15-minute advising session to talk strategy with a Principal SBC consultant.