Ross Cuts MBA App Essays By A Third

Photo of Soojin Kwon Koh, director of admissions at Michigan's Ross School of Business.

Soojin Kwon Koh, director of admissions at Michigan’s Ross School of Business

The University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business joined a growing number of top business schools in cutting back on the required essays and recommendation letters to apply for admission to its full-time MBA program. The Ross application process for the coming year will require two essays instead of three with a word count of 800 compared with 950 last year.

The school also said it will need only a single letter of recommendation this year and will ask recommenders two common questions that several other highly selective schools have adopted from Harvard and Stanford. This follows a report by Poets&Quants that many top schools are moving toward a common recommendation system to reduce the burden on many recommenders and lead to more honest appraisals of candidates.

So far, both Stanford and Dartmouth have eliminated one essay question each this year to make it easier for prospective students to apply to their schools. Ever since Harvard Business School started the trend two years ago, one school after another has followed suit, lowering required word counts, chopping essays, and even letters of recommendation. Stanford this year went to two recommendations from three.


“We’re changing it up this year,” said Soojin Kwon, director of admissions, in a blog post. The school recently told The Wall Street Journal that its applications are down 7.7% up until this time compared to last year. Ross said it received 2,443 applications for the Class of 2016 versus 2,647 a year earlier. It was the single biggest decline reported by any of the top U.S. schools that gave data to the Journal.

The two questions that Ross will ask applicants to answer, both at 400 words or less:

• What are you most proud of professionally and why? What did you learn from that experience?

• What are you most proud of personally and why? How does it shape who you are today?


“Our goal with these new questions is that we’ll get a sense of who you are, how you think about yourself and how you process your experiences,” wrote Kwon. “The range of responses can be quite wide – from an accomplishment to a challenge or difficult situation that you overcame or a characteristic about yourself. There isn’t a ‘right’ or ‘preferred’ type of response. Applicants often ask how they can differentiate themselves. The essays are the best way to do it. Your undergraduate school and major may be similar to another applicant’s. Your career path and goals may be similar to another applicant’s. But your experiences and what you take away from them will be unique.”

Kwon said the one rec letter “should be from a current direct or immediate past supervisor. To keep the process simple for applicants and recommenders, our questions are the same as those of many other schools:”

• How do the candidate’s performance, potential, or personal qualities compare to those of other well-qualified individuals in similar roles? Please provide specific examples. (300 words)

• Please describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicants. Please detail the circumstances and the applicant’s response. (250 words)

She also said the Ross application process will go live by July 15 and set a round one deadline of Oct. 6 with notifications going out by Dec. 19. The second round deadline is Jan. 5, with a decision by March 13. The third and final deadline is March 23, with notification by May 15.