The Incredible Shrinking MBA App

by John A. Byrne on

The University of Michigan’s Ross School has said it is putting more weight on admission interviews due to concerns that the essays it is receiving may not be fully reflective of an applicant’s ability. The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School has told MBA candidates that it is adding an in-person, team-based discussion exercise as part of its application process this year—another wrinkle that would minimize a consultant’s influence over an application. Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business last year began asking candidates on its online application whether they used an admissions consultant to help them with their application.

“Schools have been bashing admission consultants for a long time, but you have to distinguish between essay writing services and consultants who coach applicants through the process,” says Jana Blanchette, president and founder of San Diego-based Inside MBA Admissions. “It’s pretty obvious they’re trying to find ways to push back on admission consultants, but it’s a much more complex picture.

“The irony is that the more they try to screen us out, the more they are really screening us back in.” She reasons that while many schools have cutback on required essays, they also are asking more introspective questions. “It’s hard to get someone in their early to mid-20s to be introspective alone,” adds Blanchette. “They need help.”

ESSAY CUTBACKS ALSO FREE UP ADMISSIONS STAFF

There may well be very pragmatic reasons for the cutbacks. Reducing the workload on an admissions staff allows a school to focus more resources on outreach and applicant recruitment efforts. At a time when most schools have reported declines in applications for the past couple of years, it also lowers the hurdle rate for future applicants, making it more likely that a school could reverse the fall in applications. “It reduces their costs and will increase their applications,” predicts Abraham of Accepted.com.

Abraham believes that the trend could potentially compromise what she considers the more comprehensive review that business schools do on their applicants. “The MBA application process has been the most holistic of all the graduate schools, says Abraham, whose consulting firm also assists applicants to both law and medical schools. “At the risk of sounding self-interested, the truth is it would be a shame if that were no longer true.”

Not everyone thinks the trend is a bad thing. “I think the lower word count will actually help candidates focus,” says Betsy Massar, founder of Master Admissions. “In the application process as well as real life, MBA students need to get to the point quickly and succinctly. So the application now requires a higher level of communication skill. Aspiring MBAs will need to work smarter to get their messaging across, and that will be helpful in the classroom, in the job search, and in their roles as leaders.”

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  • PaulSBodine

    To me, it’s ironic and disingenuous for Dee Leopold to say that HBS reduced essay requirements to reduce “applicant anxiety.” Leopold says that essays are needed less now because HBS now interviews all *admitted* applicants. But if HBS really wanted to justify cutting back on essays it would interview *all* applicants, which it’s not likely to do. How does HBS decide who to interview if not through essays?  The universal response I’ve heard from clients is that the HBS application process is now more of a beauty contest. The only applicants whose anxiety is reduced are perhaps ‘usual-suspect’ well-branded applicants, who now probably have more of an advantage than they ever did. 

    Paul S. Bodine, http://www.paulsbodine.com, Great Applications for Business School

  • Dreamer

    I think this also discourages people who thought they could get in through their story, which I think is good and bad. One thing that this website has done is to help people understand that no one gets in because of their personal story alone and pedigree and brand trumps everything.  There is a reason why the Ivy League and the top usual companies are the top feeders. 

    I think my concern is that there are people (not myself) who have done amazing things with the limited resources that they were given. GSB and HBS want the first-generation Ivy legaue student who works at Bain. But that candidate could have had parents who owned a business and where very successful and thus provided him every advantage (including money to pay fr a consultant). By cutting their essays, they might miss the first generation student who paid himself through state college, supported his family and work at a small firm. They both are very similar at the surface but both are impressive in their own right and arguably one did more with his resources than the other and I will say merits the admission letter as much as the other guy.

    Would be interested in hearing any thoughts

  • guest

     Exactly – Big GMAT with a good undergrad track record gets their attention.  Just don’t write the essays in crayon, and you’re good.

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