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Matt Symonds

Matt Symonds

Should Applying to Business School Be Easy?

“There are no shortcuts to any place worth going. Securing a place in one of the world’s top MBA programs is not easy. Nor should it be. To stand out in such a highly competitive applicant pool you have to demonstrate a level of intellectual vitality, personal character, professional competence, and thoughtful self-awareness to convince the admissions office that you will thrive and contribute to the business school community. In the process you have a wonderful opportunity to learn a lot about yourself, and the confidence that your future classmates have risen to the same challenge.”

These inspirational words read like they were pulled from a Rocky screenplay. In reality, they come from Matt Symonds, the co-director of Fortuna Admissions. In his latest Forbes column, Symonds makes an intriguing (and counterintuitive) point: While there are less involved in applying to business school, applicants may actually be shortchanging themselves with fewer and shorter essays.

Say what?

For applicants, this trend has seemingly been a Godsend. This year alone, programs like Wharton,

Northwestern Kellogg, and Georgetown McDonough have shaved an essay off their requirements. This saves time, while requiring candidates to be more succinct and punchy in their remaining essay(s). At the same time, however, Symonds believes something is being lost by lowering entry requirements at business schools.

“Unlike many other graduate programs,” he writes, “the MBA typically attracts individuals who have 3 or more years of professional experience. How you have developed your talents and outlook on life is as important as what you have accomplished, and a resume does not easily capture what you made of an experience, versus the experience itself. While law schools may emphasize academic excellence in their application, business schools and their case discussions are all the richer for the diversity of backgrounds, value systems and personal motivations in the MBA classroom.”

In other words, MBAs should know exactly who they are and what they want before enrolling. And essays and recommendation letters force potential students to really wrestle with those issues. By diluting that process, applicants may not be fully conveying their accomplishments, values, experience, goals, personality, and potential.

There is a writing axiom that it is easier to write a sonnet than a haiku. To put it another way, it is harder to compress an experience into 17 perfectly-calibrated syllables than it is to depict it in 14 lines. Diarte Edwards, a former INSEAD Admissions Director who now holds the same role at Fortuna, expresses the issue this way: “I see plenty of candidates sweating over how to convey their story in the condensed format of the new generation of short business school applications. Many of my clients, especially those who have rich and varied past professional or life experiences, actually find the longer application formats easier to handle.”

Call it a tradeoff. Students can churn out applications faster, while adcoms can spend more time interviewing and researching. That said, the margin for error shrinks for both applicants and gatekeepers. And only time will tell if these changes really made any difference.


Source: Forbes

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