After the first-round deadline, admissions director Brian Lohr says application volume at Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business is up by a third over last year, a possible sign that the MBA program's new curriculum is resonating with applicants. Or perhaps it's a reflection of a promising season for Fighting Irish football. (MBA students are guaranteed a ticket to every home game.)
Lohr spoke recently with BusinessWeek.com reporter Kerry Miller about the type of student he's looking for at Mendoza. An edited portion of their conversation follows.
Mendoza has recently implemented a new curriculum. Would you explain it?
It's been on the books for about a year now, and essentially the way it works is we've got a seven-week module broken up by two weeks and then an additional seven weeks, and that gives us a lot of flexibility in what we do. One of the things it allows us to do is put together a program we call Inter-term Intensives. The intensives allow students to use the skills that they learned during that first module and put them to practical use.
It's a great way for students to try things out.We have case studies where companies like Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and Boeing have come in and given our students real-life problems and sent them off. They then come back and our students make a presentation on what they feel the solutions would be.
They also have a chance to pursue other academic initiatives—Six Sigma training, supply chain management training, Excel training, introduction to communications, those types of things.
Also during those inter-term breaks, many of our one-year and second-year students will pursue a study abroad opportunity in Brussels, Belgium, in China, or in Santiago, Chile. Essentially, you're taking four classes per module and those classes are 100 minutes in duration, so they're longer than what they were traditionally, which was a little over an hour.
The contact time equals out to be a little bit more than what it was under the semester setup, where they would take four to five classes for the entire semester. Essentially they are taking the same amount of core courses, but it gets them into the elective courses more quickly so they have more choices in the process.
A lot of students who responded to BusinessWeek's survey noted that there's a big focus on ethics at Mendoza. How are ethics integrated into the program?
We have an inter-term course called Values and Decision-Making, and then we have an ethics elective in the the spring semester of the second year. Then during the very first module, they have a course called Conceptual Foundations of Business Ethics.
And really, every single class that you're involved in has the potential, and I think does incorporate ethics into the discussion. So whether you're talking about accounting or marketing, the topics can cross over to ethical dilemmas that are faced in every single field. The nice thing about being a private school and a religious-based school is that we can talk about these tough problems and not have to worry about it, so that our students can think through difficult situations now prior to heading out into the workforce for real.
Who is the ideal Mendoza student?
There are five characteristics that we look for in a candidate. The most important are a commitment to ethical behavior and a commitment to academic excellence—those two are givens. They're part of the ethos of Notre Dame, they're part of the company culture of this place, and consequently those are two things that we focus on very, very closely.
A third item would be the candidate's character development, that they are ready and able to move to the next level of their career, and that they understand that the MBA and the skill set that the MBA brings, in the network that the MBA brings, is going to help them achieve their goals.
I think a fourth item would be giving back to the community, that if there's one common denominator about our MBAs, it's that they're good people—genuinely good people. I think 99% of our MBAs give back in the form of community service at some point during their experience here, and not because of a requirement by the university.
They do it because they want to do it. And it doesn't necessarily take the form of soup kitchens or food banks or those types of things. Sometimes it's when they've used their MBA training for tax assistance programs, through helping small businesses, those types of things, where they can take MBA skills and apply them to practical use.
Lastly, we look for candidates who have a sense of physical wellness, that have balance in their life. Our program is rigorous, and we want candidates who can step away from the MBA experience from time to time and recharge the batteries and prepare themselves for future rigors.
So balance in their life is extremely important. Our students are very active in intramurals here on campus. I'm happy to say that the MBAs have won the intramural football championship in Notre Dame stadium the last couple of years. So it doesn't necessarily mean they're all marathoners or extreme bicyclists, but it does mean that they have an understanding of the importance of having balance in one's life, now and in the future.
Do you require an interview?
It's strongly recommended. We don't require it, but I can tell you that every person who is in the program right now did go through an interview process, whether it was on campus or through our alumni network.
One of the questions that we get frequently is: What do I do about the interview? Should I schedule that, are you guys going to call me, what can I do with that? And we always say: If you would like to interview, we would love to have you, and we'll make that happen, and we'll talk to you, whether it's on-campus or off-campus.
So if they're interested and at a point where they want to sit down and talk with us and have the formal interview, by all means, give us a shout and we'll facilitate that. We'll get that scheduled for them.
We've actually doubled the number of interviews this year, and I think that's a very, very good sign—that's a signpost that could say good things are on their way from an application standpoint. So we're excited about this year. It's going to be a great year.
How is the one-year MBA different from the two-year program?
Designed for business undergrads, the one-year MBA starts up at the end of May and finishes up the following May. So essentially you're in the program for about 11 months, and it's 46 total credit hours, 20 core courses, and then 26 free electives.
First they'll go through a 10-week summer session that is very rigorous—basically a review of the courses that they've taken as an undergrad with a little bit of a twist. It's essentially the first year of the two-year program compressed into 10 weeks, and the only way we can do that is if the candidates come in with certain prerequisites. Then that group folds into the group that returns in August for their second year.
Can people apply to the one-year program directly from undergrad, or do they have work experience?
They have work experience, yes. All of our MBAs are coming in with about four, four and a half years of work experience. And in fact, the one-year group historically has had a little bit more because they typically aren't making a huge job transition change. So essentially they know what they need to move to the next level of their MBA, they may be a little bit older, they may be a little bit more experienced in their work.
What do you say to a prospective student who says: "I don't think I want to stay in the Midwest. Am I only going to have access to recruiters in the Midwest?"
I tell them this, that there is no other school in the country that has the brand recognition that Notre Dame has, and that 50% of the world loves us, 50% of the world hates our guts, but 100% of the world will watch us and know us. And that is a great thing to have on your résumé. I can tell stories about being in downtown Tokyo with my Notre Dame hat on and Japanese people coming up to me, "Oh, do you know Notre Dame?"
We're in the middle of the heartland in the Midwest. We're only 90 minutes from downtown Chicago, but the bottom line is, that Notre Dame name travels, and it travels all over the world with relative ease.
So when candidates say that, I encourage them to go home and list the schools that they're considering with family and friends and watch the reaction and oftentimes they'll come back and say, you know what? You were right. I got a lot of response when I was talking about Notre Dame.
From a recruiter's standpoint, it's really not difficult to get recruiters into South Bend, particularly on football weekends. This upcoming weekend, we have folks from GE and BearingPoint and Bank of New York and JP Morgan and Boeing.
Right off the top of my head, those are five companies that are coming in, actually on Thursday, and they will interview and present Thursday and Friday, and then we will host them to a Mendoza tailgate and then they'll actually attend the ballgame. While it's football, a lot of business takes place during those football weekends, and a lot of networking takes place, so that's a real advantage for our MBAs.
What would you say are the upsides and downsides of being in the Midwest?
The upside would be the cost of living is very low compared to major metropolitan areas. The folks that come to us from California or New York typically will come in, look at the apartment prices here in town and go, 'O.K., I'll take two.' They're excited.
Another benefit would be that there are fewer overall distractions to their experience, and they can focus on what they're here for, and that is to gain an education and earn a skill set that's going to help them in their career. I think that a negative would be that you can't find a restaurant that serves Upper Mongolian at midnight. It's a typical Midwestern city.
Do MBAs get special access to football tickets?
Yes. Every student at Notre Dame can get a ticket to every single home game, if they want it. So they're guaranteed that. Obviously they have to pay for that. And the married students get two, one for their spouse and one for them. So there's a lot of incentive for our single MBAs to get married. They're tracking on that pretty quickly.
Speaking of significant others, what opportunities do you offer for them?
We have the Family Life Committee, and I'm actually the faculty adviser to the committee—my wife and I are—and it's run this year by a second-year student out of the New Orleans area. Essentially what we do is create a supportive network for spouses and significant others that allows them to search for jobs, to gain access to child care, to do all the things that families need to keep a lid on during their experience.
Formally, we have a representative in the HR department here at Notre Dame that will help spouses transition to jobs here on campus. We also have several URLs that we offer to candidates and their spouses that allow them to post résumés and essentially be recruited by companies that are located here in South Bend.
Are there any misconceptions or stereotypes about Notre Dame and Mendoza you'd like to clear up?
Often, because of our traditions here, we're looked at as male, stale, and pale. And that couldn't be further from the truth. About 30% of our group here is international, and there's a tremendous amount of diversity within the program.
Often people say, "Well, gosh, I bet half your group is Notre Dame undergrads," but actually, less than 6% of our MBAs earn their undergraduate degree at Notre Dame. We have 100 different institutions represented inside the MBA program. So the diversity of this place and the rigor of the MBA program is very strong.