MBA - Application Process

You’re (I’m) Not an “Admissions Mistake”

Managing Director, MBA Admissions and Student Experience, University of Michigan (Ross School of Business)

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to read a letter from your 18-year-old self, 35 years later? My favorite high school teacher (who taught English and Humanities) gave me a chance to find out. I received a handwritten letter from her today at work (I would recognize her handwriting anywhere; she was always generous with thoughtful feedback). What an impact a teacher can have. She inspired us to be curious about the world, to be reflective, to love reading, writing, thinking, learning.

In addition to her own letter was an envelope with a four-page handwritten letter I had snail mailed to her in my first month as a freshman at Yale (in the original envelope with the postmark on it; no internet or email back then). What fascinated her, and me, reading it 35 years later, is that I had an affliction that so many students have now — there wasn’t a term for it then — impostor syndrome. I wrote that I was “so afraid that I was the one mistake that the admissions board made.” I was an immigrant girl from a large public high school in a small town in the Midwest who had to take on a work-study job on top of loans. How would I be able to keep up with private and boarding school kids from the coasts?

Turns out, the admissions board didn’t make a mistake. I graduated with honors and went on to earn two graduate degrees.

It was serendipitous to get my own letter as a college freshman on the eve of my youngest son about to start his own college journey. He is so ready to claim his independence and make his own decisions about who he wants to be, without me gently (and sometimes not so gently) guiding him. Perhaps I will read my letter to him (at least parts of it), so he knows that I truly can empathize with him, even though I seem like a dinosaur to him.

It was serendipitous, also, because in three days, I will be welcoming 400 students to the Ross MBA Class of 2023 — the 17th class I will have ushered in. As every year, I’m sure there will be students in the auditorium wondering if they are the “admissions mistake.” My message to them will be, “You earned your place here. You were admitted because you demonstrated to the admissions board that you had the potential to succeed here. Believe in yourself, believe in the people who admitted you, and ‘give it your very best,’ as one Brazilian MBA student promised me she would.”

Wishing all the students out there a safe and exciting year of learning, growing, and growing in your belief in yourself.

This article was originally published Aug. 13, 2021 on LinkedIn and reprinted with permission from Soojin Kwon.

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