Katie Wolberg returned to campus after winter break filled with anticipation. As a second-semester LSA freshman, she resolved to explore her developing interest in consulting, excited by the prospect of what joining a firm offered her: a network, a group of friends and a community at the University of Michigan. Despite Katie’s interest in data analytics and consulting, her anticipation quickly turned into disappointment when she was met with rejection at some of the top consulting clubs on campus, cutting short her opportunity to engage in this new atmosphere.
“I’m planning on transferring to the School of Information,” Wolberg said. “I’m interested in maybe consulting in the future, or doing something in the tech industry, and I thought [joining a club] would be a really good opportunity to meet new people and expand my network … and then it fell through and now I’m like, ‘Do I need to rethink what I’m doing?’”
Campus clubs and organizations are an integral part of the college experience. With more than 1,600 clubs at the University, students are afforded the opportunity to engage in a myriad of activities. But many pre-professional organizations require intensive application processes that make membership extremely exclusive. Competitive admissions are especially prevalent in business-oriented, pre-professional organizations, including consulting groups, investment firms and business fraternities. Applications often require written supplements, interviews and multiple rounds of “cuts,” yielding an extensive process of new member selection.
A growing sentiment of frustration has developed among portions of the student body due to the highly selective nature of these clubs, which reject a majority of initial applicants before welcoming new members.
LSA junior Andrew Levey discussed how his own experience with rejection from a campus consulting firm led him to create Alliance Consulting Group, an organization dedicated to providing all students with an opportunity to learn about consulting.
“I tried to become interested in the consulting industry in the beginning of my sophomore year,” Levey said. “I applied to a lot of the Ross consulting clubs to see if I could learn about the industry and get some real-world experience doing so, and I found that these clubs are really, really hard to get into if you don’t know anything about what’s called a case interview.”
In a case interview, an applicant is presented with a hypothetical business scenario that the interviewee must assess and propose a solution to. Consulting clubs often utilize this interview style to assess potential members.
Levey went on to discuss how Alliance Consulting combats a culture of exclusivity by focusing on new member education and developing skills for consulting, including how to complete a successful case interview.
“I thought it was unfair that people who don’t know about an industry are assessed on a learned skill they don’t know,” Levey said. “I felt that there needed to be a club on campus for students who, even if they don’t know what consulting is, if they want to become interested in it, they can have the opportunity to do so.”
Business junior Thejas Suvarna, president of APEX Consulting Group, one of the most selective consulting groups, stated that in an effort to provide all students with an equal opportunity to succeed in the recruitment process, case interview workshops are held to explain what they are and provide applicants with examples of how to approach problems. APEX Consulting Group focuses on offering pro-bono consulting for local Ann Arbor businesses and is known to have selective membership.
“At the end of the day, we really emphasize that while there’s a formal name to this case interview, really it’s just a way to gauge your thought process and see how you break down a problem, and those are inherent traits people will have,” Suvarna said.
“We do so much work with clients and we have to manage those relationships,” Suvarna said. “Clients give us their personal information. We have to make sure that we’re respecting their privacy and serving them a purpose and doing a good job, and it’s not feasible for us to do that well with a club that’s too big for us to manage.”
Suvarna went on to discuss the firm’s applicant selection process is based on anonymity to ensure a more holistic process at large.
“Our application process is completely anonymous,” Suvarna said. “We go through and read the responses to our essays because, for us, what is most important is, ‘Did these people do their homework and learn about what APEX has to offer? Is there a legitimate reason that they want to be in APEX, to contribute to the community rather than to just use it as a step to the next thing?’ That all comes first.”
Ed Huebner, assistant director of Counseling and Psychological Services, noted the positive aspects of selective clubs, as they instill a strong sense of community among members within a large campus.
“I think the idea goes back to connection and feeling a sense of belonging — and that could be belonging to a group, a club, an organization or a department,” Huebner said. “There’s a sense of identity that can come from feeling like, ‘This is my group, this is my connection, these are my people, and from that there’s a closeness that we feel.’”
Huebner discussed how the feeling of belonging contributes to the mental health of students on campus, both positively and negatively.
“For a lot of our students that come in, this can be a very big place,” Huebner said. “So that idea of, ‘Who can I connect with and feel belonging with?’ on campus ends up being a really big factor when it comes to their mental health.”
Norm Bishara, the associate dean for undergraduate programs at the Ross School of Business, provided an email statement on behalf of the Business School discussing how success on a college campus goes beyond admission to any one organization.
“The clubs provide benefits to students by creating opportunities for leadership and real-world experiences, offering fellowship and a like-minded community, and creating positive impact,” Bishara wrote in the email. “… We recognize that the student leaders of some clubs have implemented competitive application processes. While clubs and student organizations are an important part of the Michigan Ross experience, student success is independent of participation in any single club or activity on campus.”
Business junior Jack Geiger, vice president of clubs for the Bachelor of Business Administration Council, said the competitive nature of business-oriented clubs is appropriate, given the rigorous work students participate in once admitted.
“I think for the most part it’s justified, based on the fact that a lot of these clubs are operating as businesses in a way,” Geiger said. “A lot have clients and will be managing funds where it definitely makes sense to have a merit-based application process.”
Geiger went on to discuss how a small club environment is beneficial to students, as it resembles the competitiveness of the professional world and prepares students for the future.
“Business school in general is a pretty competitive environment and I think the point of that is to prepare you for the real world, which is the next step in everyone’s process,” Geiger said. “So, as we recruit for jobs or are applying for internships, it’s obviously very selective. … I think having a mini-environment when joining clubs is beneficial because it prepares you for what you can expect in the real world.”