Imagine if instead of churning out several admissions essays, you could sell yourself as the perfect fit for your top-choice school in a 140-character tweet. Or better yet, why not link to your personal blog where you detail the launch of a micro-enterprise and your backpacking trip through Peru?
Prospective MBAs aren’t the only ones who find a blog post, tweet or Facebook status more palatable than a dense, and often dull, admissions essay. Admissions officials at top B-schools across the country are now offering alternatives to the traditional application.
For many B-schools, the flourishing admissions consultants industry makes it increasingly difficult to separate the real candidate from a carefully groomed application. To help get around the gloss of a high-priced coaching package, institutions are experimenting with ways to meet candidates in their personal worlds – primarily via social media.
Earlier this month, the University of Iowa’s Tippie School of Management introduced a SlideShare option. Candidates applying before the July 14 deadline have the choice of submitting a SlideShare presentation (think PowerPoint on steroids with a social media component) in place of two admissions essays.
Tippie is an old hand in the innovative application space. The school made headlines two years ago when it piloted the application tweet, where candidates made their case for admittance in 140 characters or fewer. “We just felt like essays were getting kind of stale, and we wanted something that was current and in a place where our applicants would want to be found,” says Jodi Schafer, the director of admissions for Tippie’s full-time MBA program.
Aspiring MBAs were all for it. Nearly every single applicant during the summer of 2011 opted for the tweet ‘essay’ instead of the traditional one. Tippie kept the program around for the next academic year, and Schafer estimates the majority of applicants chose the tweet option. However, the school scrapped this alternative during last year’s admissions cycle. Many prospective students fell back on the tweet as an easy, copout. Instead of pithy posts with embedded links to blogs, videos and personal websites, the admissions committee received sparse statements and had to dig further during the interviews. “That defeated the whole purpose,” Schafer says.
Last year they introduced a mandatory image essay, where students submitted a picture or collage and explained in 350 words why it was meaningful. But the single image still didn’t provide a well-rounded portrait of the applicant. So at the urging of a student focus group, Tippie introduced the SlideShare option, which taps into social media and provides admissions officials with a more thorough picture of perspective students.
While Tippie may have nixed the Twitter essay, other schools are now adopting it. Both Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business and Arizona State’s W.P. Carey School of Business have an application ‘essay’ that must be answered in 140 characters or fewer – essentially a tweet. For Shari Hubert, Georgetown’s associate deal of MBA admissions, the brevity of a tweet is a bonus. “It’s about the applicant being succinct and being pithy and explaining what’s really appealing to them about Georgetown,” she says. “It gives us the bird’s-eye view of what they think about Georgetown.” It’s also an opportunity for candidates to standout – those with the initiative and creativity to link to other resources can really set their applications apart. Plus, it’s fun. “After reading essay, after essay, after essay you want to look at something fun, different and short,” she adds.