It's no secret that MBA admissions are becoming increasingly competitive with each year that passes, but not just for the applicants! The top programs are having to look through a growing number of applicants to find the top talent that will fit perfectly at their school. We don't envy them their jobs one bit! But they have a few tricks up their sleeves and as the applications for the class of 2016 are unveiled, we're starting to see what some of them are! Let’s be honest – they’ve caused us all to raise a collective eyebrow. For example, applicants to University of Michigan (Ross) now only have 950 words across three essays to create a compelling case for themselves. Oh, by the way, Ross will also be using a large number of team based interviews this year instead of the traditional one on one interview. Meanwhile, Harvard has just recently announced that their application will only have one essay instead of two – and now it is optional with no word limit. Also, they’ve cut the recommendations from three to two.
Are the application changes at Ross and HBS a precursor of additional, dramatic changes in the application processes at other schools in the near future? The answer will likely be yes. Why? Because the growing number of highly qualified applicants applying each year makes it difficult for admissions committees to identify the top candidates. By adding new twists that force applicants to express themselves in unique ways, admissions committees can focus more on analyzing the personality traits of an applicant versus the standard “what are you short and long term goals and why do you want to get an MBA here”. More often than not, that is the deciding factor when having to choose between applicants with very similar profiles and experiences.
At Ross, it’s clear why they would move to a team based interview. The program is built upon collaboration and team dynamics so the admissions committee wants to see how an applicant will perform in group situations. Of course, applicants can capture examples of teamwork and collaboration in their essays and recommendations, and there is no doubt that most applicants provide sufficient evidence to indicate that they can work well in a team. However it is the team based interview that will provide the admissions committee true insight into how an individual acts and performs in real life. Interviews have always been the deciding factor later in the game and Ross is looking to creative solutions to identify the applicants who will thrive.
What about HBS? Think about their optional essay with no word limit. Probably more than one of you groaned and rolled your eyes when you saw the change. But what would cause one of the most well known programs to explore this avenue? They want to see candidates that can excel under ambiguity and have the self-awareness to confidently express themselves in a manner that is fitting for Harvard’s standards! It’s very difficult to capture this additional color in areas like recommendations, transcripts, resumes, and essays with targeted topics.
As schools find ways to throw new curveballs each year, unprepared applicants will find themselves blindly swinging and missing the pitch. Just like in sports, there are the lucky few that are naturally gifted or placed in situations where the odds are in their favor to succeed. For the rest of us, it takes hard work and coaching to get us to where we want to go.
As you go through the process just know you’re not alone. Forums such as GMAT Club are a great way to connect with other applicants and get expert advice. If you ever find yourself in a spot where you don’t quite know which path to follow or what the best answer might be, let us know! Set up some time with us and we’ll be happy to talk through whatever is on your mind. Having the right partner by your side can make all the difference.
We remember the process and we want to see you be successful. We hope to speak with you soon!
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