Many aspects of the admissions process remain exactly the same today as they were back in 1996 when The MBA Exchange began advising applicants. However, we have observed several noteworthy changes impacting individuals and business schools, such as the following three:
1. Elite brands “Harvard” and “Stanford” have ever-increasing appeal.
Applicants have traditionally focused on the top 10-15 MBA programs as ranked by BusinessWeek and US News. And there’s always been a special attraction for the perennial top 2, highly selective Harvard Business School and Stanford Graduate School of Business. However, more than in previous years, the prestige of these two icons is more pronounced, with many applicants deciding that attending any other MBA program is simply not worth trying. Even the famed Wharton MBA program has lost some attraction compared to HBS and GSB.
2. Fewer, shorter admissions essays challenge “imperfect” candidates while benefitting “superstars.”
In a major trend initiated by Harvard Business School, and quickly followed by other programs in the top tier, MBA applicants no longer have 4-6 essays of up to 1,000 words to convey their strengths and passions. Several leading schools now allow only 1 or 2 essays, some with only 400-500 word limits. While this change reduces the administrative burden on the admissions committee that previously had to read towering stacks of essays, at the same time having fewer, shorter essays constrains applicants who would have used those stories to explain and mitigate academic or professional blemishes. So those fortunate applicants with higher grades, superior test scores and more impressive job titles gain a competitive edge.
3. Video essays and group discussions foster greater “authenticity.”
While many business schools have reduced the written essay component of the application, some have introduced new ways for applicants to present their candidacies. Several programs now feature a video essay that is produced by the applicant. The focus is either an impromptu question posed by the school or an optional topic chosen by the candidate. In either case, the video provides an “authentic” sense of the individual behind the application. And with today’s MBA applicants being charter members of the “YouTube” generation, they are surprisingly comfortable in capturing their 15 minutes of fame. For those who could benefit from some professional guidance and support, engaging a video coach can be a very wise investment.
Another new wrinkle is an in-person, real-time discussion among 5-6 applicants on a topic introduced by the admissions staff; participants are graded based on both content and collaboration. Given the vital importance of “teamwork” in the MBA classroom and the modern workplace, the b-schools consider these team-based sessions as an ideal way to assess how applicants will interact during and after their MBA education.
While changes like these make life more difficult for many of today’s b-school applicants, the value of a top MBA education remains compelling. Therefore, the benefit of having the personalized guidance and support of an experienced, dedicated admissions consultant like The MBA Exchange has never been stronger. To continue to the 2nd part of this 2-part series, click here.