A Q&A With Villanova’s Gatekeeper

Villanova School of Business. School courtesy photo

If you’re thinking of applying to the undergraduate program at the Villanova School of Business (VSB), there’s one thing you should know. According to Michael Gaynor, director of university admission, community is an action word on this suburban Philadelphia campus and it will be a key factor in how he and the rest of the admissions staff view your application materials.

Community service is terrific as Gaynor says he’s certainly interested in these and other ways that applicants spend their time outside of academics. However, your demonstration of community will be sought in other, much more detailed ways. In addition to a standard essay, the school inserts essay topics reflective of its Catholic Augustinian heritage. For instance, how might you contribute to the university’s commitment to diversity? Or describe a time when you needed help and what you’ve taken away from that experience.

“There isn’t a right or wrong answer,” Gaynor tells Poets&Quants. “But it’s an opportunity for us to communicate a little bit about the ethos of who we are and what makes us distinctive so the candidate can know more about the school they’re applying to. In return, we can gain keener insights into the individual applying to us.”

In addition to being community-centric, the top factor that will get you into the business school at Villanova is classroom performance. The school looks for students who are proactively challenging themselves within the context of their high school’s academic offerings and the business school particularly seeks students who are taking the most challenging mathematics options placed before them.

In the interview that follows, Gaynor shares more of the characteristics that make a student stand out and just how competitive it is to get into Villanova’s business school these days.

P&Q: How does admission into VSB work?

Michael Gaynor has been the director of admissions at Villanova University for 18 years. School courtesy photo

Gaynor: We’re a Common Application school. There’s over 800 of us and we just launched our applications last week. Students are required to complete the common application and there are additional Villanova Augustinian-centric essay topics that we ask.

When they apply, they apply specifically to a college such as the business school or Arts & Sciences and sometimes even to a major. For our conversation here, students only apply to the business school and then they have some time to discern which direction they’d like to go in terms of a major.

We provide a holistic review of the candidate first and then subsequently they will compete only with other business candidates. The last thing we do is look at everyone one more time in the context of their secondary schools.

P&Q: Can you describe the Augustinian-centric topics that students may be asked to address on their application essay?

Gaynor: We believe all members should be committed to diversity. How would you contribute to this at Villanova? St. Augustine believed in the essential connection between mind and heart. Tell us about a time yours were in conflict and how that was resolved. Each of us has strengths that resonate deeply in our community. One aspect is that Villanovans rely on each other. Share a situation where you needed help and what you’ve taken away from that experience.

There isn’t a right or wrong answer, but it’s an opportunity for us to communicate a little bit about the ethos of who we are and what makes us distinctive so the candidate can know more about the school they’re applying to. In return, we can gain keener insights into the individual applying to us.

P&Q: What is the collaboration between university admissions and the business school when it comes to students getting into VSB?

Gaynor: Eventually, during the process when we come to the point where we’ve holistically reviewed all of the candidates, we convene with our colleagues in VSB for final round committee work. There’s representation from the business school and university admissions on that committee. It’s very holistic so we’re looking at everything.

It’s a collaboration where all members of the committee are on same page as far as performance in the classroom being the number one predictor for success.

P&Q: What does the university and VSB look for in business school applicants?

Gaynor: Number one is always classroom performance. Standardized testing is certainly a part of that review, but we are also not rewarding potential and we’re not rewarding someone who has a great Saturday morning taking a test. There were a handful of students this year with perfect scores who were not admitted because it’s not the first criterion that we evaluate.

Truthfully and selfishly, we’re looking for well-rounded individuals who will contribute to the community. Community is like a verb here so we’re looking at what they’re doing productively with themselves outside the classroom. We’re reading their common application essay, their Villanova essay, we’re reading their high school counselor recommendation, and we require one teacher recommendation.

In the context of opportunity, if three AP courses are offered at a school and a student has taken all three, we can’t compare that to someone who has taken more because more were offered. We’re always looking at context for opportunity. We’re really looking at everything submitted on behalf of that candidate.

Each college is looking for something special as you can imagine. In the business school, they’re looking for academically high-achieving students, very well-rounded, and taking the most challenging mathematics including calculus.

P&Q: What happens if a student is admitted into the university, but not the business school?

Gaynor: When applying to Villanova and VSB, students are either in or out or waitlisted. There are admissible students who should not be denied, but competition is so strong they were not admitted and put on our waiting list.

Once students are here, they can apply to the business school to be an internal transfer, but I do know that it’s competitive. We’re transparent and forthcoming letting students know that transferring into business is not something that’s easy. However, there is a business minor here and a wonderful summer business institute where students can earn a minor. But again, we are very sure to let people know that if they apply and want to transfer in, we never say it’s an easy process. If you want business, you should apply for it up front.

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