In Conversation with Sherry Ford Wallace – Director of Full-time MBA Admissions at UNC Kenan-Flagler

UNC-Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler School of Business provides numerous programs to improve students’ application of key business knowledge. The institution is also known to be a leader in green business: the Center for Sustainable Enterprise – the first programs to promote environmentally friendly commerce, and it continues to pilot this field nationwide.

Sherry Wallace is Director of Full-time MBA Admissions at the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School.

Sherry Wallace is Director of Full-time MBA Admissions at the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School.

We have been getting a lot of questions from prospective students for the coming batch. In an interview with B-School.com,  Sherry Ford Wallace – Director of Full-time MBA Admissions at UNC Kenan-Flagler, talks about the program, its benefits and is kind enough to solve all our queries

 

The UNC Kenan-Flagler Culture

 1.       Ritu: UNC Kenan-Flagler places great emphasis on its learning culture and its effectiveness. What are the major parameters that comprise this learning culture? How do you ensure that this culture is not only maintained but also thrives?

 

Sherry: That’s absolutely right. Culture is a very important part of Kenan-Flagler education belief. I am a 1987 batch MBA from Kenan-Flagler. After that, I worked for 12 years in industry and then came back to join as Admissions Director. Though a lot of things had changed in so many years, cultural values were still the same. We take our culture very seriously. We have a culture where both students and the university can add value to each other. We believe in providing an environment where our students can thrive. When looking for ideal candidates to join our program, cultural fit is one of the most important aspects that we consider. This fit has to be mutual. Not only we believe in finding students who fit into our culture but we also want to fit as an ideal place of education for our students too. Then everyone can benefit.

Kenan-Flagler has 5 core values that are illustrative of our culture:

–          Community

–          Integrity

–          Team Work

–          Excellence

–          Leadership

Every year we ask our student community to nominate their colleagues who they think best personify these core values. Then based on these inputs, we award those students. This is to encourage and recognize the efforts of those students and to present examples to follow.

2.       Ritu: How would you define culture for UNC Kenan-Flagler?

 Sherry: “Balanced” is how I would define our culture in a single word. We value both the science and the heart of business. Kenan-Flagler students want to succeed working through and with others. We appreciate real and sustainable success. We want our student to be not just team leaders but also team players. Soft skills are as much important as hard skills. Our students are smart, curious, with analytical bent of mind, hungry and eager for success, driven by purpose and have an impeccable track record of producing results. Yet personal integrity comes above all. Our culture imbibes and fosters these values.

 

3.       Ritu: UNC Kenan-Flagler believes in maintaining both ‘The Bottom Line’ & ‘The Greater Good’. How does the program ensure a healthy balance between these two goals? How does it enable its students to achieve these goals in their individual career choices?

 Sherry: Kenan-Flagler believes in an environment towards understanding our social responsibilities; of doing good for society along with being good in one’s business. We try to build a climate of greater good than just financial gains. We’ve a special ‘Center for sustainable enterprise’ as an integral part of our program. At least 30-40% students are active with this center. We also offer a concentration course in Sustainable Social Enterprise.

A very popular initiative for students interested in exploring options in social sector, is the chance to earn a certificate in Nonprofit Leadership.  The Nonprofit Leadership Certificate Program draws upon the expertise of faculty from the University’s Schools of Social Work, Government, Law, and Information and Library Science and the Kenan-Flagler Business School, as well as other Schools and Departments that offer certificate electives. Students also have the opportunity to learn from area nonprofit leaders through guest lectures, course assignments, and networking events.

We believe this program helps our graduates to become more valuable board leaders  during their professional careers. They can add value to organizations in accessing non-profit financial help, achieving clarity, developing strategic marketing, fund raising, creating sustainable processes, managing and developing skilled staff.

 

We also support many Elective courses to support the holistic learning. There are various social wings, clubs and activities run by students on university campus.

There is also a Course of Independent Study – guided project with a professor. A student can work as a Research Assistant with a professor working in his area of interest; seek unpaid internships or even consulting projects in social sector.

 

Admission Process, Financial & other Aids and Loans

4.       Ritu: What are the main steps of the admission process? How much weight is provided to each of these steps? How students can prepare themselves to increase their chances for admission?

 Sherry: I love talking about admission process with students. It gives me immense pleasure and satisfaction to help realize their dreams of a good higher education. For securing the admission at Kenan-Flagler, the process is very simple. There are simply no gimmicks and no tricks. While applying, simply tell us who youareand what you are trying to achieve with the MBA. The most important aspect is to ensure that the admission and enrolment decision is a correct fit for both UNC and for the students.We do not want to enroll a student for whom we are not a good fit.

 

No single application is denied a chance of review. Three 3 admission committee members review each &every applicant thoroughly and independently. And applicants are also discussed in admission committee sessions.  The final decision is taken based on the applicant material provided while applying and the personal interview. To make the process thorough and transparent we sometimes bring in faculty members andcareer management staff to add to our discussion.

 

We see the MBA as a bridge between a candidates’s present and future. It’s important that we can see that investment in the MBA makes sense for the candidate’spath.  We love the career switchers as much as the people who are intending to stay in their current career function or industry.

 

There is no set formula by which we decide upon who makes the cut and who doesn’t. We consider some of these points while evaluating an applicant’s candidature:

–          Does it make sense for both us and the student? Does getting admission at UNC help the person achieving his/her personal goals?

–          We want people who know why they are doing this, why and how the MBA will prepare them for their intended career. Students shouldn’t do it just for credential. Do they really know what they want to do? Can Kenan-Flagler help them in achieving that? How can we help them?

–          Can they bring in a set of great values and get benefitfrom our program?

–          We also take letters of recommendations very seriously.

–          We also make sure that our students possess the required academic readiness. They must demonstrate that they can excel in our demanding curriculum that is heavily frontloaded with quantitative material.

–          The GMAT score is one of the ways we assess academic readiness.  It’s also one of the ways we can sort similarly qualified candidates. I would not say that a high GMAT score is not important. Because, it is.  Fortunately, for some candidates with lower scores, the GMAT is never the only decision factor.

Hence, we assess the candidature from many points of views including the work experience, their career and personal achievements, and what kind of people they are. We try to understand their background, the backdrop against which they have achieved their results thus far. We consider far more than ethnic or geographic background – we are looking at how they think, too.   Hence the best way students can make a strong case with us is by being as thorough and as honest as possible while applying and interacting with us.

5.       Ritu: UNC Kenan-Flagler organizes many admission events throughout the year to help the prospective students. Does attending these events play any part in the selection process? How can the global students, who can’t travel to attend these events for some reason, be benefitted from these events?

Sherry:  These events are simply to help us interact with our prospective students in person. They have no bearing on our admission decisions. There is no penalty for not attending. We understand that it’s not possible for all the students to attend these events across the globe, no matter what level of planning is done.

These events are more like informal gatherings where they can know better about us; get a greater sense of who we are; get a sense of Kenan-Flagler culture. It can help them in making an informed decision about their fit with us.

We get our alumni and representatives etc to interact with students at these events, to answer their queries. We believe that prospective students identify greatly with alumni from the respective country, and it helps when they can hear from alumni how UNC Kenan-Flagler helped them in shaping a great career. They get a sense of familiarity before making the final decision.

Our receptions for alumni and prospective applicants are only about 25% of formal presentations and about 75% of personal interaction.

 

6.       Ritu: Median years of work experience at UNC Kenan-Flagler are 5 years. How does UNC Kenan-Flagler look at candidates with extensive work experience (7+ years)? Similarly, how does UNC Kenan-Flagler look at candidates with lower or no work experience? Are they at any disadvantage?

Sherry:   While we believe that it’s important to have some real-world professional experience to fully leverage the MBA business education, merely the number of years of work experience is not a measure for us. Even lesser work experience, as low as 2 years with a stellar profile can be a very attractive candidate for some career intentions. We are not going to turn away a highly talented studentjust because of less (or more) number of years of work experience. We are going to look at how their experience and achievement to date, when combined with the MBA, positions them to achieve their expressed post-MBA career goal.

For some students with a very high work experience, we consider whether the student is likely to get the careerboost from this degree that he or she is expecting.  If we feel that the full-time MBA program is not going to add as much value as they are expecting, then that candidate may not be admitted. After all, it is a huge investment, both in terms of time-effort and finances. We want our students to gain adequately at every frontier due to the value provided by us. Typically our students are anywhere between 2 to 8 or even 9 years of work experience. Average is 5 years of professional experience. We want the best talent and a balanced class profile. Hence, many times we simply look at a class as a whole to find a fit, balance and diversity.

 7.       Ritu: UNC Kenan-Flagler provides an array of financial aids and scholarships to its students. International students often face many hassles for their foreign education loans process, especially in countries like India. Does UNC Kenan-Flagler provide any assistance with the loan process for international students?

Sherry: It’s important for us to get the best students from the world.  Top candidates expect a high return on investment.   Merit based scholarships help make our cost of enrollment and ROI very competitive for top students. We refer to scholarships as Fellowships. Approximately one-third of our students receive some level of fellowship support. The ratio is same for both US and international students. These fellowships are awarded based purely on the merit of their application and supporting material. Financial need is not a consideration in granting these fellowships since the typical MBA candidate has multiple years of work experience and is self-supporting.The smallest award would be around USD 10000 per year. Generally the fellowships are awarded in the range of USD 20000per year to the extent of full tuition fees. As a practice we try to inform our admitted applicants of their fellowship status within a week after the confirmation of admission. Timely information helps them to make final decision, to a great extent.

Recently one of our Indian alumni, Ajit Dayal donated funds for a fellowship aimed for Indian students.

http://blogs.kenan-flagler.unc.edu/impact/2013/08/27/paying-it-forward-ajit-dayal-invests-in-funds-people-and-the-arts/

8.     Ritu: Does UNC Kenan-Flagler provide any assistance with regards to the accommodation of students for both on-campus and off-campus options? What are the accommodation options for the students who wish to live with their families?

Sherry: The life in town revolves around UNC. Chapel Hill is a small town and the biggest thing here is the University and its medical center. The university apartments on our campus for students who wish to live with their families. If all the apartments are not filled by such students then they are opened for single students. Most of our students live off-campus in rented apartments or houses. All kinds of apartments are easily available. Being a small town everything is in proximity to the campus, in a walk-able or bike-able distance. The city and campus route buses are free.   That is a way of life around here.  Students can choose how they want to live, depending upon their choice, convenience and of course on budget.

Here is a video showing the city of Chapel Hill.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UaCrMbRidYY

 

Diversity at UNC Kenan-Flagler

9.       Ritu: The class profile of UNC Kenan-Flagler shows only 27% females and only 28% students from outside US. How does UNC Kenan-Flagler look at diversity in its class profile? Are there any plans or measures being taken to enhance the diversity of its class?

Sherry: Over the years, we’ve ranged from 28-32% international students in our batches. It varies depending on the applicant pool each year.   We like having a higher number of international students, but we don’t bring in people just for the sake of improving diversity.  The students and our program must be a mutual fit. We aim to enroll the balance of students that we can best help achieve their post-MBA career aspirations.

The percentage of women in the applicant pool mirrors the percentage of women enrolled in our class.  Fewer female applicants automatically reduce the women students’ intake. This number also varies year-on-year. We’ve 29% women in our 2nd yearclass while 27% in 1st year. Over the past five years, women percentage has ranged from 25-29%.

I just have to share this anecdote about the female students.  Though fewer in number, the women are quite visible and have established themselves as leaders.  First-year MBA students are divided into eight sections and each section of students elects one person to represent them.  Elections were held this week for the Class of 2015, and 5 of the 8 sections elected women!

10.   Ritu: UNC Kenan-Flagler has special diversity as Military Veterans. Is this open to the international students too, or is only for US citizens? What are the admission criteria and important benefits for these veterans?

Sherry: We’ve no different admission criteria for military personnel. We appreciate military candidates because they tend to come with enormous leadership skills, great sense of responsibility and maturity. They make for a good management students.

The US government and the University offers federally supported tuition benefits to some categories of U.S. veterans. 

The Military Veterans Club is an MBA student club that welcomes participation of students from outside the U.S.

 

Curriculum, Career and Placements

 

11.        Ritu: UNC Kenan-Flagler offers ‘Enrichment Concentrations for Entrepreneurship’. How the program at UNC Kenan-Flagler does foster the culture and initiatives for encouraging entrepreneurship? Is there any support – in terms of financial, incubation or other advisory support – provided for the students who want to explore entrepreneurship as career option?

Sherry: We have had a business-school based entrepreneurship program since 1997, and our Center for Entrepreneurial Studies has fostered a culture of entrepreneurship at UNC.

It’s the breadth of Kenan-Flagler’s entrepreneurship curriculum that makes us distinct among leading business schools.  We provide the analytical skills, training and experiential opportunities to support founders of new ventures, managers of high-growth entrepreneurial firms, those involved as investors in venture capital and private equity, and those who will advise entrepreneurial firms as service providers, consultants and as future board members.

Entrepreneurship is one of our enrichment concentrations.  It’s not a traditional career concentration where job placement is a core function of the concentration.  Instead, the key objective of our program is to establish the entrepreneurship curriculum and activitiesthat will prepare students for an entrepreneurial mindset in all professional settings and that will serve them throughout their professional development. Our program serves to prepare Kenan-Flagler students with the entrepreneurial mindset and skills to navigate and execute on new venture opportunities through:

§ Opportunity recognition

§ Market analysis and development

§ Product and process innovation

§ Business model generation

§ Management and implementation

§ Financial modeling

§ Financing strategy

12.   Ritu: UNC Kenan-Flagler presents many global learning opportunities for its students during the program. Does it also help the students to secure global career options during these learning sessions?

Sherry: Our career management center works with all students, on both job searches within the U.S. and outside the U.S.  Participation in the global learning opportunities can be helpful for students seeking to work in various global situations.

Students who go on anexchange to a school outside the U.S. will be able to utilize the career management resources at the exchange partner school while they are in resident there. Some of the students who served on a Global Business Project have landed employment offers from the clients they served.  Some of our shorter duration global opportunities like the Global Immersion Electives courses and the Doing Business In courses, may not present significant outlets for job-finding activities, but they do give the student experience in the culture and greater understanding of the business climate there.  We offer working language courses in Mandarin, Portuguese and Spanish which can be helpful to students seeking to work in locations or with firms where these language skills will be a plus.

13.   Ritu: UNC Kenan-Flagler places importance on a good RoI for its students. What are the parameters to comprise a good RoI? How do you ensure to maintain RoI for your students?

Sherry: We have several internal metrics and feedback mechanisms that we carefully track and manage.  Let me name a few of them:

  • Each semester, students complete a student satisfaction survey that covers all aspects of the student experience.  Things like accessibility of the faculty, efficiency of learning, quality of my fellow students, school’s leadership, upkeep of the facility, extracurricular opportunities, career management resources, attentiveness of staff, IT department’s responsiveness, and more.
  • Students complete course evaluations for every core course and every elective course they take.  They are able to rate and provide input on faculty teaching the course  and on the course content.
  • Each section of students elects a representative to serve as a liaison between students and the administration.  The section representatives work closely with the MBA Program office throughout the year, which ensures a continuous feedback loop on how students are experiencing the program.
  • We have student advisory boards where students work closely with school administrators to shape strategy and policy.  There is an admissions advisory board, a career management advisory board, a curriculum advisory board, and others.
  • Our deans’ offices and faculty offices are always open to students so feedback is constantly being shared.

14.   Ritu: UNC Kenan-Flagler offers MBA in General Management with options of elective courses and concentrations. Despite that, the placement figures are highly skewed towards financial sector closely followed by consulting. Are there any specific reasons or factors behind this?

Sherry: Kenan-Flagler job accepts are well balanced by function:  16-18% marketing, 15% general mgmt, 20% consulting, 6-8% real estate, 34% finance.  True, there’s a lot under the “finance” umbrella, but that label encompasses a diverse group of jobs –Investment Banking, Finance within a corporation, Investment Mgmt, Private Wealth Mgmt, etc.    The high number of students accepting finance jobs is driven:

(a) by student interest (Kenan-Flagler students and MBA students, in general) and

(b) by where the MBA jobs are.

 

If you’d like to meet UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School’s Associate Director of MBA Admissions in Delhi, Bangalore or Mumbai. Shandra Jones and several alumni will host information receptions in each of these three cities. These events are a great opportunity for you to get face-to-face answers to your questions about full-time MBA admissions and the UNC Kenan-Flagler full-time MBA program.

EVENT LOGISTICS:

DELHI:

DATE Sunday, September 22, 2013
TIME 12:00 – 2:00 p.m. IST
LOCATION Taj Palace
ADDRESS 2 Sardar Patel Marg, Diplomatic Enclave
RSVP http://bit.ly/16QU38c

BANGALORE:

DATE Monday, September 23, 2013
TIME 7:00 – 9:00 p.m. IST
LOCATION Vivanta by Taj
ADDRESS MG Road, 41/3, Mahatma Gadhi Road, Trinity Circle
RSVP http://bit.ly/16QU38c

MUMBAI:

DATE Wednesday, September 25, 2013
TIME 7:00 – 9:00 p.m. IST
LOCATION Taj Lands End
ADDRESS Byramjji Jeejeebhoy Rd., Bandra West
RSVP http://bit.ly/16QU38c

Associate Director Shandra Jones looks forward to connecting with you in Delhi, Bangalore or Mumbai!

You can reach MBA Admissions Office at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School on [email protected] or 919-962-3236 .

About Ritu Jhajharia

Ritu has completed her PGDM in Communication Management with a super specialization in Brand Management from MICA. She is currently working as an independent Communications Consultant. She is an aspiring writer, is writing her first novel which she hopes to get published someday.

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