The Shrinking MBA Application

MBA Admissions: A Contest?

I also hear another increasingly common complaint — a cliché really — the lament that the application process has morphed into an “essay-writing contest.”

Would anyone prefer a GMAT contest? A GPA contest? Or perhaps a beauty contest?

The admissions process isn’t a contest at all. Or at least it shouldn’t be.

Yes it’s true not all applicants will be accepted to their dream school, and those who don’t may not initially feel like winners. But the GMAC’s MBA alumni satisfaction surveys reveal incredibly happy, overwhelmingly satisfied graduates. In fact 95 percent of alumni who graduated between 2000-2011 rated the value of their MBA degree as “good, excellent, or outstanding.” And it doesn’t seem to matter ten years later if the alumni got into their first-choice school or not.

The application process is a matching process. Kind of like dating. Schools and applicants initially try to attract the others’ attention.  Ultimately both have to agree they’re a match, or the relationship is over.

In order to match, the parties have to get to know each other. Schools put out brochures, web sites, videos. They host receptions, get-togethers, and admit weekends, and they attend fairs and multi-school events.  Clearly schools try to present themselves as attractively as possible to as many applicants as possible. Applicants present themselves through every interaction with a school, but the formal application clearly is the most significant element.

What’s REALLY Changed

Here is what really has changed as a result of forums, blogs, and yes the growth of the admissions consulting industry: the schools are no longer the sole source of information. It’s high time the schools adjust to this reality without blaming forums, blogs or even admissions consultants. This genie isn’t going back in the bottle.

Admissions directors: As representatives of institutions that value innovation and excellence, proudly proclaim that you are innovating because you are seeking the best way to get to know applicants and thereby create the ultimate in diverse, stimulating classrooms and communities. You don’t need to blame or credit blogs, forums, me, or anything else for the pursuit of excellence and a commitment to innovation.

But are the schools, with their shrunken applications, really getting to know the applicant? They can evaluate applications and decide who is qualified without any essays, interviews, or alternative presentations; they really just need transcripts, test scores, and a resume for that.  Do they have enough qualitative material to make informed, holistic choices when they get to the selection part of the decision process?

Stay tuned. I’ll explore that question in a separate post.

By Linda  Abraham, president and founder of, co-founder and past president of the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants, and author of MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools.