At Kelley, The Super Bowl Of Admit Days

Dean Idie Kesner with a prospective student and her mother at last night’s Hodge Hall reception

Idie Kesner makes it personal. Standing before a dense and jittery crowd of prospective undergrad students and parents, she shares her own experience as a mom who lived through the often nerve-wracking process of sending two children to college. Dean of Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, Kesner is a natural, with the self-confidence of a politican and the approachability of an attentive mom.

“I remember hounding them about their essays,” she says, “visiting the campuses, leafing through the pile of brochures. I was confused. I was stressed. It’s challenging going through this process— and I live this every day.”

Welcome to admit day. For high school seniors everywhere, admit days and weekends are a rite of passage, a chance to kick the tires of a college experience, glimpse a school’s culture, collect a few facts and figures on the program, and meet other often anxious and bewildered prospective students and their parents.

MORE THAN 3,000 GUESTS MIXING WITH MORE THAN 220 FACULTY, STAFFERS & STUDENTS

At the Kelley School, Direct Admit Day is the equivalent Super Bowl of the year—and this weekend is the largest ever since Kelley has been putting on this show for a dozen years. Some 915 admitted students have converged on the campus with their parents and siblings, more than 3,000 guests in total. The event requires hundreds of hours of planning and preparation, along with the involvement of 60 current students, 65 staff members, and more than 100 faculty.

And like the actual Super Bowl, the stakes are high for both the school and the families who have arrived from nearly every state and several corners of the world. The goal of the event, after all, is to put on a show that wins over would-be students, many of them with offers from rival business schools. When Kelley began holding admit days in 2005, admitted students typically had three offers. Today, with the common app making it easier to apply to a larger number of schools, the average prospective student has been admitted to eight schools.

‘WE HAVE TO BE CLOSERS, BUT WE’RE NOT GOING TO SELL YOU SOMETHING YOU CAN’T GET’

To those who come for this extravaganza of an event, Kelley is hoping to “close” the deal. “We’re not going to sell you something that you can’t get here,” says Thao Nelson, senior associate director of undergraduate career services at Kelley. “But we have to be closers. We have to listen to the customer and find out what’s holding them back.”

Nathan Lezon arrived with his dad from Chicago having applied to at least  five prominent undergraduate business programs. He already has acceptances from Kelley, Illinois and Minnesota and is waiting to hear from Wisconsin and Washington University in St. Louis. Evan Phillips, who lives in Seattle, is weighing offers from Kelley, the University of Michigan and Santa Clara University in California. Sean Geib, who flew in from Rochester, N.Y., also has competing options. Megan Ray, director of admissions for Kelley’s undergraduate program, tells both Phillips and Geib that so far the school has received more than 11,000 applications. “You’re really special standing here,” she says.

Though undergraduate enrollment in the business school has doubled in the past five years to 6,879 students, Kelley’s admission stats have become tougher than ever with high school GPAs of 3.92 and average SAT scores of 1387, up from 3.79 and 1355, respectively. Last year, the school received 13,116 applications, made 4,201 offers and enrolled an incoming freshman class of 1,479.

UNDERGRADUATE APPLICATIONS UP BY 26% AS OF JAN. 31

With applications already up by 26% as of Jan. 31 and deposits from admits up nearly 50%, the schol has already extended some 5,200 offers—about 1,000 more than last year’s full admissions cycle even though the final application deadline is seven weeks away on April 1. That’s why, in fact, Kelley held a smaller admit day in December which 230 admits and another 500 parents, brothers and sisters. DAD, as it is known on campus, is all about increasing yield—the percentage of admits who enroll in the program. Among the students who show up for admit day, 65% to 81% willl ultimately become Kelley students.

Direct Admit Day is a carefully choreographed event that unfolds into a parade of receptions, talks, panel presentations, breakout sessions, slick videos, and student-led tours. “The first one was mainly about the transfer of information from us to them,” says Ash Soni, executive associate dean for academic programs. “Dean Dan Smith came on and made a presentation and we only had student tours. That was it. It really has evolved over a period of time to become an art form.”

Indeed. Long before the actual event, each admitted student not only receives an invite along with a set of glossy program brochures in full color; there’s also a customized replica of what the student’s resume might look like four years from now when he or she is ready to graduate. The imaginary CV includes your estimated date of graduation, your GPA, your majors and a list of extracurriculars and honors. One example has a student with a 3.9 GPA, majoring in entrepreneurship and corporate innovation, having gone to Milan, Italy for a smester abroad, and having served as president of the undergraduate finance club, a member of the investment club, and a vice president of the marketing club, with an internship at a Fortune 500 company where the student “participated in meetings with upper-level management and offered my ideas and suggestions.”

‘ARE YOU GOING TO GET MY KID OUT IN FOUR YEARS?’

The resume concludes with a bit of italicized promotional flair: “The Kelley School of Business can help this dream resume become a reality. The wide selection of majors, activities, and experiences at Kelley will help you reach your goals and prepare you for a successful future.”

Explains Lukas Leftwich, director of Kelley’s undergraduate program: “We want everyone to understand that at a big school like this you are not a number, that we can customize your experience to who you are and who you want to be. So for every admitted student, we create a resume based on what we’ve heard from their recommenders and guidance counselors.”

When students and parents show up, the most common questions, according to Josh Perry, chair of the undergraduate program, can be surprisingly direct and motivated by bottom line concerns. He quickly rattles off the top three:

“Give me the reason why I should come across the Ohio or Illinois border.”

“What are you going to do with my kid? Are you going to get him out in four years?

“This school has given my son this much money. What are you going to do?”

“A lot of parents wonder if it is really worth the cost if they are from out-of-state,” adds Perry. “The students want a sense that they are not only going to find a job after they come, but that they are going to find a purpose here. This is a phenomenal opportunity but we want the students to find the right fit.”

About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.