How The MBA Admissions Game Is Changing
Call it the law of unintended consequences. In recent years, MBA applicants have been breathing a sigh of relief. Once upon a time, Harvard Business School applicants would write essays for a half dozen questions. Now, that’s been stripped down to one.
But, as The Financial Times reports, there’s been a tradeoff. A decade ago, everything was much more predictible. You submitted your application, with essays, recommendations, and GMAT score. You visited campus for an interview. And you’d wait patiently for a reply. Back then, your background and aspirations spoke for themselves. Now, you’re never sure what to expect. Forget prepping for the ‘strengths and weaknesses’ and ‘why are your interested in this program’ questions. Now, how you present yourself is as important is as important as what you say.
Take the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business for example. Here, applicants have the option of producing a PowerPoint presentation to answer its latest essay question. And that’s by design, says Kurt Ahlm, Booth’s associate dean for recruitment and admissions. “The people applying to business school come more and more prepared thanks to the ability to search the internet for tips and the growth in application coaching consultants and mentors, says Kurt Ahlm, Booth’s associate dean for recruitment and admissions, in a recent interview with The Financial Times. “It then becomes a challenge to create the type of process that will enable applicants to be authentic and honest.”
Make no mistake: The traditional essay is still alive-and-well. Virginie Fougea, assistant director of MBA admissions at INSEAD’s Fontainebleau campus, regards the essay to be a tool for “self-reflection.” And Caroline Diarte Edwards, former admissions director at INSEAD, adds that essays offer a good introduction to a candidate. “They provide useful context for the facts and figures of the candidate’s résumé, and some valuable insights into the candidate’s personality and motivations,” she tells The Financial Times.
However, business schools are increasingly looking at essays like a cover letter – an introduction that can help adcoms determine which candidates make the “first cut” in the words of Harvard Business School Admissions Director Dee Leopold, who adds that admissions is “not a writing competition.”
Indeed, graduate school applicants are notorious for saying what they think decision-makers want to hear. As a result, business schools are seeking authenticity. And there’s no better way than seeing potential students in action. That’s the reasoning behind Wharton’s team-based projects, where students complete a task and present their findings. For Maryellen Lamb, Wharton’s deputy vice dean for admissions and career management, the approach has been a boon. “We realised what we were getting from one-to-one interviews was not very meaningful,” she tells The Financial Times. “Moving to a team-based interview would at least give us something tangible in working out how people work in teams.”
And this new approach offers a benefit to adcoms as well. Matt Symonds, co-director of Fortuna Admissions, notes that the number of applications has surged among top schools. As a result, business school gatekeepers simply lack the time to read through all of the essays. “Wading through thousands of essays where people pour their hearts out on paper has been a Tolstoyan process,” Symonds tells The Financial Times. With schools increasingly viewing students as a long-term investment, they want to be certain that they choose candidates who fit with the culture – and can produce greater exposure and dividends (i.e. gifts) down the road. “The school is going to have this person for two years,” Bhavik Trivedi, managing partner of Critical Square, tells The Financial Times. “Hopefully, they are going to make a huge impact on the organisation, so they want to get to know the person, like a courtship.”
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Source: Financial Times