Using Kira to Gain a Deeper Understanding of Applicants at UCD Smurfit

The UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School is a Financial Times top 100 business school offering a unique Irish experience. In addition to the Smurfit MBA, the Business School offers more than twenty specialized master’s programs including an MSc in Finance.

Year over year, this program attracts a diverse group of domestic and international applicants for the admissions team to review. “We’re looking for future leaders,” says Admissions Manager Richard Murphy. “We’re looking for the top students who are going to strive to be in an incredibly high place in five years.”

The Missing Piece in a Holistic Review: Effectively Assessing Fit

Murphy and his colleague Colm Small, Senior Manager of Student Recruitment and Admissions, are part of a rather small admissions team at UCD Smurfit but they don’t let their size stop them from conducting holistic review.

Their team considers multiple factors beyond grades and transcripts when making admissions decisions. For example, given that international students account for 60% of the MSc Finance program, English language assessments such as the TOEFL and IELTS are utilized. However, as Murphy and Small explain, these assessments don’t show whether an applicant would be a good culture fit.

Related: Navigating the Landscape of Communication & Language Skills Assessments

And while many applicants come from strong quantitative backgrounds, they can lack the soft skills needed to succeed in the classroom and beyond.

“We can see what qualifications someone has on paper, but are they going to be a good fit?”

Smurfit’s admissions team loved the idea of meeting with each and every applicant to get those missing insights. But given the high number of applicants relative to the size of their team, they realized it simply wasn’t possible. They needed to find an effective middle ground.

Using Kira to Gain a Deeper Understanding of Applicants

In 2017, Murphy and Small saw Kira Talent as a unique product that didn’t exist elsewhere. After speaking with multiple peer schools who were already using Kira as part of their holistic admissions process, Murphy and Small felt confident the platform would help solve their challenges.

Working closely with their Client Success Manager at Kira, the team developed a plan to find and evaluate their best-fit students through a series of timed written and timed video questions. Leveraging an integration with their CRM, Smurfit was able to send Kira assessments to every student who applied to the MSc Finance program.

Headshot of Richard Murphy, Admissions Manager

“Our team has found Kira very useful. There’s no other way of saying it — it’s exactly what we thought it would be. It adds a whole new layer to understanding an applicant’s motivations.”   – Richard Murphy

A Well-Received Addition to Admissions at UCD Smurfit

The MSc Finance program recently finished its second full admissions cycle using Kira. Since implementing the assessments, Murphy and Small have received positive feedback from the academic director, the teaching faculty, and the students themselves. In addition, Kira has helped the Business School:

1. Assess fit among increasing applications

Over the past two cycles, the MSc Finance program has seen a 27% increase in applications. As Murphy notes, all applicants are invited to the Kira assessment and their applications can only be submitted for review once the assessment is complete. As a result, Smurfit’s team has created an efficient process that’s resulted in considerable timed saved.

2. Screen in more of their best-fit students

In that same timespan, the MSc Finance program has seen a 6.5% increase in offers to applicants and an 8.2% increase in acceptances. As one element of Smurfit’s holistic admissions process, Kira has enabled their team to gain a deeper understanding of who their applicants are and how they might fit into the program.

Students sitting in the courtyard during summer at UCD Smurfit
Students socializing on the campus courtyard gives a glimpse into the Smurfit experience.

Murphy explains that based on traditional admission criteria, it may have been a ‘no’ for some applicants — but once they complete a Kira assessment and hit it out of the park, a whole other side to them is shown.

“Kira gives them an opportunity to lay down their motivations and share why they maybe didn’t do so well academically. You won’t get that in a written essay, CV, or transcript,” he adds.

3. Identify areas for growth and improvement beyond admissions

For Small, seeing applicants through Kira has helped shed light on which of their soft skills need strengthening. He’s then able to reflect on how the program can work with them to polish those skills further and transform them into strong business leaders.

By identifying these areas for growth, Smurfit’s team is able to ensure their students get the help they need to stay engaged and graduate on time.

“It’s more than an admissions tool. It’s a developmental tool for the school,” Small concludes.


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