Stanford GSB | Mr. 750
GMAT 750, GPA 3.43
Columbia | Ms. Cybersecurity
GRE 322, GPA 3.7
Wharton | Mr. Global Perspective
GMAT 750, GPA 3.6
Harvard | Ms. JMZ
GMAT 750, GPA 3.47
Harvard | Mr. Bangladeshi Analyst
GMAT 690, GPA 3.31
MIT Sloan | Mr. International Impact
GRE 326, GPA 3.5
IU Kelley | Mr. Businessman Engineer
GMAT 690, GPA 7.26/10
MIT Sloan | Mr. Surgery to MBB
GMAT 750, GPA 3.4
Ross | Mr. NCAA to MBB
GMAT 710, GPA 3.2
Kellogg | Mr. Multinational Strategy
GRE 305, GPA 3.80
Duke Fuqua | Mr. National Security Advisor
GMAT 670, GPA 3.3
Darden | Ms. Teaching-To-Tech
GRE 326, GPA 3.47
Wharton | Mr. Data Scientist
GMAT 740, GPA 7.76/10
IU Kelley | Ms. Marketing Manager
GRE 294, GPA 2.5
McCombs School of Business | Mr. Consulting Analyst
GMAT 700, GPA 7.7/10
Stanford GSB | Mr. FinTech Engineer
GMAT 760, GPA 3.8
MIT Sloan | Mr. Hopeful CXO
GMAT 750, GPA 3.56
Stanford GSB | Mr. Deferred MBA
GMAT 760, GPA 3.82
SDA Bocconi | Mr. Hotel International
GMAT 570, GPA 2.8
Harvard | Mr. Renewable Energy Investing
GMAT 740, GPA 4.0
Foster School of Business | Mr. CPG Tech
GMAT 770, GPA 2.9
Berkeley Haas | Ms. Midwest Startup
GRE 328, GPA 3.51
Yale | Mr. Fencer
GMAT 740, GPA 3.48
INSEAD | Mr. Indian In Cambodia
GMAT 730, GPA 3.33
Tuck | Mr. South African FinTech
GMAT 730, GPA 3.08
London Business School | Mr. Indian Electric Tech
GMAT 620, GPA 3.5
MIT Sloan | Mr. Semiconductor Engineer
GMAT 750, GPA 3.68

The Incredible Shrinking MBA App

It started with Harvard Business School’s decision in May to cut in half the number of essays required of MBA applicants. Then, Stanford’s Graduate School of Business dropped an essay requirement, going from four essays to just three. MIT Sloan scrapped one of three required essays for this year. And only last week, Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management cut by nearly a third the total word limit on its essays to 1,525 words from 2,200 last year.

One of Kellogg’s essays—“What one interesting or fun fact would you want your future Kellogg classmates to know about you?”—now has a limit of just 25 words! One potential applicant quipped that the day will soon be here when business schools reduce their essays to a mere 140-character tweet. In fact, the University of Iowa’s Tippie School last year awarded a free scholarship to an applicant who submitted a winning tweet as part of his MBA application.

‘SOMETHING IS BEING LOST’

“Almost every school has either reduced the number of questions or shortened its word limits this year,” says Linda Abraham, founder and president of Accepted.com, a prominent admissions consulting firm. “I don’t think anyone wants to write the American novel here, but something is being lost. The knee jerk response from some applicants is, ‘Great. I can write less.’ But it means that a school won’t get to know its applicants as well and applicants will find it more difficult to express the nuances in their applications that can improve their chances of getting in.”

What’s behind the incredible shrinking MBA application? Dee Leopold, Harvard Business School’s managing director of MBA admissions and financial aid, has long believed that the essay portion of the application had become too large a part of the admissions process. “I’ve been saying that admissions is not an essay writing contest and that is where a lot of the anxiety (among applicants) is,” Leopold said. “When we never met anyone, essays were the only way we had for applicants to get some form of personalization of the application. But since the Class of 2004, we’ve been interviewing all admitted applicants. The interviews are a big investment of our time, money and assessment energy, so I think it’s time to have a corresponding reduction in that initial (essay) hurdle.”

Indeed, when the changes by Harvard were first announced on May 22, the school said that applicants who were invited to an admissions interview would then have to submit a third essay–a reflection on the interview itself–within 24 hours. Since then, however, Leopold has even scaled this requirement back to little more than an email with no word limits. “Think of this as an email you might write after a meeting,” she wrote on her blog. “We will be much more generous in our reaction to typos and grammatical errors than we will be with pre-packaged responses.”

Leopold’s change of heart also clearly signaled the school’s desire that applicants not use MBA admission consultants to draft or polish the response. “Emails that give any indication that they were produced BEFORE you had the interview will raise a flag for us. We do not expect you to solicit or receive any outside assistance with this exercise,” she added.

IS A CONSULTING BACKLASH TO BLAME FOR THE CUTBACKS?

Some admission consultants now believe the cutbacks reflect something of a backlash to their increasing involvement in the application process. To the top ten schools, some consultants now estimate that eight of every ten international applicants are using their services and as many as half of all domestic applicants. Reducing the number of essays required and shortening the word limit ostensibly gives applicants less reason to employ a consultant. Asked by Poets&Quants how Leopold believes consultants would react to Harvard’s changes, she had said, “It’s going to be disruptive to admission consultants who write essays.”

About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.