Michigan’s Ross School of Business to Pilot Group Interviews… in China?

Recently Soojin Kwon, Director of Admissions of the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, announced that the school will pilot its first ever group admissions interviews for Round 2 applicants. This is not too surprising in and of itself… For the past year Wharton has been slowly but surely rolling out its own MBA group interview process, and the early feedback has been mostly positive. We figured that other top MBA programs would announce similar new initiatives to “break out of the essay box” and get to know applicants in new ways.

What surprised us was the fact that the school’s first group interviews won’t be in Ann Arbor, or anywhere else in the United States, for that matter. Ross will pilot its first group interviews with some Round 2 applicants in… in Beijing and Shanghai! Why would Ross fly halfway across the globe to conduct such an important experiment that could dramatically impact its MBA admissions process?

This is what Soojin Kwon had to say in her blog post:

The group interview, while not a requirement for admission, is highly recommended. Candidates who are invited to interview in those cities will still be required to conduct a standard, one-on-one interview with an alumni or current student interviewer.

Adding to the intrigue, knowing that this is so new and experimental (not to mention that Ross announced it after Round 2 applications had already been submitted), why would Ross make the new interview process “highly recommended?” Normally, when a business school introduces a pilot such as this, the school will go out of its way to let applicants know that it’s optional, and that participating or not participating will not have a significant impact on their admissions chances.

So what gives? The most likely explanation is that the Ross admissions team is looking for a new, better way to evaluate China-based applicants’ English skills. Some MBA programs rely on local alumni interviewers, and others rely on Skype for overseas applicants. These all work well for the most part, but what better way to evaluate these applicants’ communication skills and English fluency than to go to where they are, sit in a room with them, and hear how well they can participate in a discussion that could go in any number of directions?

The Ross admissions team has not made much of a point about Chinese applicants’ English skills being tested in these group interviews, we can’t help but think that this is a big reason (if not THE reason) why Ross will pilot this process starting in China. It will be interesting to see if this process expands to cover more Ross applicants next year.

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