Starting with this application season, the University of Michigan Ross School of Business will expand its three-year program to four years, meaning more freshmen than ever will be admitted to the university and the business school at the same time.
Business is the most popular major at Michigan. Last year, 9,000 applicants expressed interest in studying business if accepted, says Lynn Wooten, senior associate dean for student and academic excellence at Ross. Three-thousand of those applicants were accepted to the university, but only 260 were admitted to the Ross School of Business.
Wooten says both students and parents have inquired whether they will be able to study at Ross, as a contingency on whether to attend to Michigan.
“Undergraduate business is the most popular major in the country, so most schools are seeing increasing demand for undergrad business education,” Wooten says. “And the world of undergraduate business has changed. Now, there’s just so much you want to teach and do with the students. We think it’s time for a four-year program.”
‘IT’S NOT AN MBA’
Expanding the program to four years makes official a trend the school has been following for some time. The Ross BBA was originally a two-year program, which Wooten says was modeled off the MBA.
“But this is not an MBA,” she stresses. “The undergraduate business school experience is very different. You’re helping to shape someone’s transition from adolescence to adulthood.”
The program was expanded to three years in 2005, and gradually a growing number of students were admitted early through “preferred admission,” meaning they were admitted as freshmen, so they knew they would have the option to study at Ross if they chose to attend Michigan. Last year’s 260 students who were admitted as freshmen numbered about 100 more than were admitted through preferred admission five years earlier.
The new four-year model is similar, with some students admitted as freshmen and others as sophomores. But rather than having only a few early admits, 80% of each class — about 500 students — will now be accepted as freshmen. The remaining 125 will come in as transfers in their sophomore year.
“When we talked to upperclassmen, the students who were admitted as freshmen were glad that they were, and the students who were admitted later expressed that they would like to have been (admitted as freshmen),” says Paul Kirsch, managing director of the Ross BBA program.
THE APPLICATION PROCESS
With the majority being accepted to Ross before deciding to attend Michigan, the primary way to apply is also changing, Kirsch says. This year potential BBA students will submit a Ross-specific portfolio along with the Common App.
The portfolio will have two components. The first is an essay in which applicants will choose a current event or issue in their community and discuss the business implications, looking for solutions that incorporate business principles or practices.
The second component is not as business-focused. Instead, Kirsch says, it’s meant to allow applicants to show off what makes them unique. They can upload a document, video, or other artifact that represents something significant and shows “action-based learning.”
Action-based learning — as opposed to case study-focused learning — is considered Ross’s hallmark. It emphasizes learning through real-world experience. The Ross Multidisciplinary Action Project program, for example, sends MBA students into companies and institutions each spring to run and advise real businesses.
“So from debate team to mock trial, theater performances, sporting events — we really want to know who you are and what makes you unique,” Kirsch says.
WHAT WILL THE FRESHMEN DO?
Besides earlier acceptance, not much else will change from the three-year business curriculum currently in place, Wooten says. Ross BBA students are encouraged to take a variety of liberal arts classes during their first year, and this will stay the same, with business classes beginning in earnest during sophomore year.
Being part of the Ross community for an extra year — even without taking business classes — will still benefit the students, Wooten says. Among other experiences, they will take a Freshmen Experience Class together, she says, which aims to help them discover who they are as college students and what it means to be an undergraduate business major. They’ll also have access to Ross extracurriculars and resources, and will begin meeting with their academic advisers a year earlier than they might have.
“I think there’s a sense of identity that you’re a business school student,” Wooten says. “And it gives you extra time to plan your curriculum, plan to study abroad, and think about what you want to do career-wise.”