With round two deadlines just about to pop and thousands of MBA applicants sweating over their essays, it might be a good time to ask a rather pointed question: Which application questions are the most annoying and unfair, the most incomprehensible and pointless?
So that’s exactly what we did. We asked ten highly prominent MBA admissions consultants to identify the business school essay prompts to hate in this 2014-2015 admissions cycle. We expected the consultants to name a wide variety of schools and questions. Sure enough, there was no shortage of essay prompts from a fairly large sample of top business schools. In all, nine different MBA programs were named.
The University of Virginia’s Darden School and IMD in Lausanne, Switzerland, were singled out by a couple of consultants, while such institutions as UC-Berkeley’s Haas School, Duke, Kellogg, and Wharton also drew criticism.
HANDS DOWN, MIT WINS FOR HAVING THE MOST ANNOYING QUESTION OF ALL
But there also was a clear winner for the most annoying and pointless question of the year: MIT’s directive to applicants to write a recommendation letter on their behalf. More than 60% of the consultants who responded to our question named MIT as the school with the dumbest question. “It’s a classic case of people sitting in a room and dreaming up an idea, with no consideration of the actual value,” says Adam Hoff of Amerasia Consulting Group. “It is such an absurd question.”
Jeremy Shinewald, founder and president of mbaMission, piles on, saying his entire consulting crew thinks the MIT question is nothing less than bizarre. “The consultants on our team are nearly universal in their agreement,” he says. “The MIT ‘recommendation letter’ essay is an irritant to applicants and is almost bizarre from our admissions perspective. It gives applicants practice at doing exactly what admissions committees don’t want them to do – write their own letters! It forces applicants to ‘humble-brag’ which is unfair to them and it is a challenge to avoid redundancy, because an applicant doesn’t know what their boss has/will say. I would be surprised if this essay were back next year.”
Sandy Kreisberg of HBSGuru.com finds fault not only with that one question but with the entire MIT application this year. Opines Kreisberg: “Because the questions are both odd and nearly incomprehensible, it is Xmas for consultants, as confused internationals, head-scratching Americans, and even office managers at consulting firms call up to say, ‘Whaaaaaaa.’ There are two very odd essays and a recommendation form that is now non-standard (compared to H/S/W) and annoying.”
‘A ROBOT UPCHUCK OF GENERIC BUSINESS JARGON AND DO-GOODER BANALITIES’
After stating that the mission of the MIT Sloan School of Management is to develop principled, innovative leaders who improve the world and to generate ideas that advance management practice, the school asks applicants to discuss how they will contribute toward advancing the mission based on examples of past work and activities.
“The first question is one I have to read over each time to remind myself of exactly what is being asked,” says Kreisberg. “Just a robot upchuck of generic business jargon and do-gooder banalities totally unrelated to what the really great things about Sloan are: that is cool, inventive, quirky, techy, smart, off-beat and fun. No, Santa, the mission of Sloan is NOT to ‘to develop principled, innovative leaders who improve the world and to generate ideas that advance management practice.’ No one but this question has ever said that is the mission of Sloan. That is the mission of the Harvard Philosophy Department and Boston College Divinity School. The mission of Sloan is to do cool stuff, invent great shit, and have fun doing it. The mission of Sloan is also to use semi-hard math to make a lot of money.
“I realize you cannot say that in an application, but you can ask a question which gets applicants to think in that general direction. And also find out more about Sloan, and get excited. But if you have not read the actual question in full, it is worth reprinting, because its like Snapchat, the actual directions, that is, the question the writer is supposed to answer, grammatically disappears every time you finish getting through it.”
‘THE ESSAY REQUIRES POETIC LICENSE THAT WOULD CHALLENGE EVERYONE’
Dan Bauer, founder and CEO of The MBA Exchange, has a similar point of view. “We call this as the ‘Back to the Future’ essay,” he says. ” That is, Sloan asks the applicant to revisit the past (work & activities) and tie it to Sloan’s vision for the future (improving the world and advancing management practice). What about the present? Preparing this essay requires poetic license that would challenge an experienced author let alone an MBA applicant who typically lacks access to a ‘flux capacitor.'”
Even so, Kreisberg really seems irritated by the MIT recommendation essay. As he puts it, “There is another question, a so-called “cool” question which is like no other in the catalog of B-school applications. You are supposed to write your own rec. And as bad and unoriginal and uninspiring as that is, the way the actually state the instructions makes it worse. If you are unfamilar with this one, as they say over there in Central Square, ‘brace yourself Waldo.'”
“It is more robo-jargon upchuck mixed in with actual down-to-earth confusion. I really appreciate how the subject of the question changes, without warning, from the first and second sentence, the first one addressed to the poor kid reading it, and the second one to the imaginary and oh-so-clever reviewer. This is made worse by the fact that most applicants will be getting a REAL recommendation from their most recent supervisor, the very person they are supposed to be imagining writing the rec below. Clever, crazy, fun, helpful, revealing–no, no, no, no and no. Stupid, lazy, dashed-off, confusing and annoying?”
THE ACTUAL MIT RECOMMENDATION QUESTION IS EVEN POSED ANNOYINGLY
Here is how MIT asks the second essay question:
We are interested in specific examples of intellectual and professional achievement and how they might relate to graduate study in management and in a career as a manager or business leader. In addition, we are very interested in the character of the applicant and will be helped by any information in that regard. Write a professional letter of recommendation on behalf of yourself. Answer the following questions as if you were your most recent supervisor recommending yourself for admission to the MIT Sloan MBA Program: (750 words or fewer)
How long and in what capacity have you known the applicant?
How does the applicant stand out from others in a similar capacity?
Please give an example of the applicant’s impact on a person, group, or organization.
Please give a representative example of how the applicant interacts with other people.
Which of the applicant’s personal or professional characteristics would you change?
Please tell us anything else you think we should know about this applicant.
LET US KNOW WHAT YOU THINK AS AN APPLICANT: TELL US WHICH APPLICATIONS YOU FOUND THE MOST ANNOYING AND POINTLESS IN THE COMMENT SECTION BELOW