Though she has been gone from Wharton for four years, Hodara follows the school closely. She believes that this past year’s team-based discussion requirement for MBA applicants is a positive move. “They were working on this when I was at Wharton. but if took a couple of years to roll out,” she says. “It also shook up the way candidates were thinking about themselves. When you throw five or six people in a room, what you planned on saying may not be what you say. And it really mirrors the experience at Wharton which is so engaged and collaborative.”
She is less enthusiastic about Harvard Business School’s more recent change in asking for one essay and making even that optional. “I’m all for experimenting, whether with fresh questions, video or team-based interviews as Wharton did last year, Powerpoint slides, or tweets, but it remains to be seen whether this is a step in the right direction,” she says.
FEW HARVARD APPLICANTS WILL PASS ON THE ESSAY FOR FEAR OF COMING OFF AS ARROGANT
“As an advocate for MBA applicants, what on the surface makes the admissions process ‘easier’ will in fact made the process far more unsettling for the applicants. The way that this one essay question is framed is deliberately open-ended, and I think this will be a particular challenge for some international and non-traditional applicants, and those who are not comfortable or have little experience with essay writing. Less direction in the question will make it even more complex for them.”
She predicts that few HBS applicants will pass on the essay this coming year, for fear of coming off as arrogant, or insufficiently motivated. And for all those that do, I think many will feel an added pressure to come up with something personal, distinct and meaningful. They can’t afford to digress, or over-reach, or cram in too much material, which might be their first instinct.”
“I would be disappointed to see business schools going down the path of the law schools, and removing this personal voice from the application,” she adds. “It means that HBS is rejecting 7,500 applicants (over 80% of this applying) on the basis of their résumé, transcripts, test scores, and recommendations. I feel the essays do have merit, despite the much-repeated argument about the business school application not being an essay-writing competition. At Wharton I truly learned things about applicants from what they wrote about themselves: both good and bad. When used in combination with the interview, as a reader you can tell whether there is real ownership of the content of these essays.”
Though she once sat in judgment of thousands of applicants to Wharton, Hodara has an uncanny appreciation for how grueling the process of getting into an elite school can be. “It’s a hard process and it takes at least nine months. It is gut wrenching. But win or lose, it’s so important they feel good about it.”