Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: Changes in MBA Application Essays


Today’s guest post is from Nicole Lindsay, who holds a JD/MBA from University of Virginia and is a former MBA admissions officer at Yale School of Management. Nicole Lindsay is the Founder of DiversityMBAPrep.com, an online community that supports women and minorities in applying to MBA programs.

 


 

Earlier this summer, a few MBA programs sent admissions insiders into a tizzy when they decided to revamp their application essay questions. Who knew that a move from four required essays to two could be so disruptive!

Business schools experiment with their applications every year and receive little notice from national media.  This year is different because the changes came from the “Big Three” (Harvard, Wharton, Stanford). Application shifts also came from Kellogg, UVA Darden, Columbia, MIT Sloan, and Iowa (which seems to experiment every year.  Last year the school got national publicity when one essay question sought a 140-word tweet response). Ultimately, all MBA programs are looking for better ways to get the most pertinent information with as few hurdles to applicants as possible.  Business schools want to receive more applications so a lot of thought goes into their application process. Many pundits speculated that this year’s application changes were an attempt to outsmart admissions consultants.  I disagree – the formula for gaining admission to business school is no different than in years past.

MBA applications are trending toward reduced essay requirements, either by requiring fewer essays or lowering maximum word count. These changes signal to me that schools are adapting their application components to more closely align with the real weight that each is given in the admissions decision. Transcripts and GMAT directly tie to a candidate’s academic readiness so they are given significant weight. In the same manner, the resume (work experience) and recommendations link to career and leadership potential, which are critical admissions elements. Over the years, essays have become a catch-all without a specific connection to the factors that drive the admissions decision. Going forward, expect that schools will use essays to (a) learn about your career goals (some will ask this in the application form as a short-answer question) and (b) assess your school fit (examples: questions around teamwork, ethics or exploring a statement or video).

Here’s how I suggest that you approach your MBA applications:

  1. Schools want you to submit strong applications so understand what each question is really asking you. On school and other websites, look for tips and suggestions from the Admissions Committee on the application components, particularly the essays. Feel free to get the opinions of others, but remember, they are simply speculating, while Admissions Committee members actually know.
  2. Take a holistic approach to the application –most of this year’s application changes have come in the essay component. Most schools are opting for shorter essays – this just means you need to get to the point faster. Essays are just one of several parts of an application; you must use every inch of the application to communicate your story. If you are afforded fewer words in a career goal essay to discuss your background, use your resume to highlight accomplishments that relate to your future aspirations.
  3. Don’t sweat new application changes – all applicants are required to complete the same application for admission, so don’t worry about what previous applicants had to do. Nothing has really changed in the admissions process – business schools admit candidates that are academically prepared, with tremendous career and leadership potential and are a fit for their MBA programs.

Good luck with your applications!

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