In a recent post to her Admissions Director Blog, Soojin Kwon, director of admissions at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, gave a glimpse into life at Ross before school had even started. She highlighted the Ross Impact Challenge that new students take part in during orientation and the MBA2-led MTreks that followed—taking members of the Class of 2019 everywhere from Iceland to Brazil, Croatia to South Africa.
But then Kwon got down to the business that will most interest current applicants, namely, fulfilling a promise she’d made in an earlier blog post to share how she would answer this year’s new Ross short answer essay prompts.
“If you haven’t read our new essay prompts for this year, take a minute to do that before continuing here,” she first advised. She then shared her process—which involved sitting down with a few co-workers and having them ask her the questions out loud.
Initially, she responded verbally with what came to mind first and then culled those responses down to the ones that felt most “authentically” her. “I’m not sure if I’d call this a ‘pro tip,’ but it may be helpful as a starting point,” she wrote. “If you’re like me, this may be an easier way to start the reflection process than staring at a blank screen.”
Then, she did just as she’d promised, sharing her own responses to the Ross short answer essay prompts “I made a difference when … ,” “I was out of my comfort zone when … ,” and “A valuable thing I have taught someone is … ”
At Clear Admit, we think it’s pretty cool that Kwon did this on several levels. First and foremost, she continues to be a true champion of demystifying the MBA admissions process. For years now, through blog post and short videos, she has helped distil each step of the application process into its critical components and provided very straightforward, no-nonsense explanations for why her team asks for certain information and how they use it. She stands out in our minds—along with others like Harvard Business School’s former long-time head of admissions, Deirdre Leopold, and Sara Neher, who until just recently led admissions at UVA’s Darden School of Business—for truly seeking to help make the MBA admissions process as transparent as it can be.
Kwon also shows absolute empathy for applicants by doing herself what she is asking them to do. And recognizing that the introduction of new essay prompts can leave applicants feeling anxious and unsure about how to approach them.
Then, of course, she provides some valuable clues in her responses to how applicants should strategically approach their own responses. Starting from the process she employed to conquer the intimidating blank screen and continuing into what she chose to write about and how she chose to write about it, she offers explicit and less obvious tips on how to give her team what they need from this part of the application.
In her post-application reflection, she shares candidly what was most difficult—which of course suggests to applicants what it might be wise that they focus on most.
“The hardest part of doing this wasn’t coming up with the ‘what.’ The hardest part was getting each word count down to 100 words,” she wrote. “It required boiling each response down to its core elements. Every word had to be critical to the story. It was like solving a puzzle to try to balance content with brevity.”
As both her essays and her post-essay reflection reveal, in answering each prompt she kept her focus on what she wants the Adcom to know about her. Equally important to the “what” answer she gave to a time she made a difference, was out of her comfort zone, or taught someone something valuable were the “what it revealed about her” answers. In Kwon’s case, her answers revealed that she is self-reflective, self-aware, willing to be honest about who she is—and gave concrete examples of the positive impact she has had on others.
“The purpose of an application is to show us the many sides of who you are—academically, professionally, personally—so we can get a sense for how you’d fit into the Ross community,” she wrote on her blog. She showed applicants the sides of herself that she would want to present to the Adcom if she herself were applying—which, of course, is not to say that every applicant should have the same things to share about themselves.
“Essays are an opportunity to share information and insights about things that aren’t visible through a transcript, resume, or rec letter,” she reminded applicants. “We hope you enjoy this self-reflection period, and the process of communicating who you are.”