Okay, here's my debrief:
We heard from:
• The Wharton School
• Columbia Business School
• Yale School of Management
• UT Austin McCombs School of Business
• Kenan-Flagler Business School and MBA&UNC
• Georgetown McDonough School of Business
• University of Toronto Rotman School of Management
• NYU Stern School of Business
And had representation from these firms present - to name a few:
• MBA Exchange
• Stratus Prep
• Fortuna Admissions
• Dominate the GMAT
• Clear Admit
• Manhattan Prep
• The Practice MBA Summer Forum
• Vince Prep
• Anna Ivey
Most of the attendees were founders, CEOs, etc. It was a veritable whos-who of the admissions consulting and GMAT prep world.
And it was the twilight zone. It was as if the school’s forgot their talking points memo left in the trunk of the car. The level of candor in the room coming from the schools was jaw dropping. Some played things a bit closer to the chest of course, but in general it was an exceptionally open conversation. Imagine standing up and asking an adcom how they really feel about a 500 GMAT score and the answer isn't some trite discussion about the holistic nature of applications.
In no particular order, some tidbits of interest:
• Many of the schools openly discussed how the essays are equally assessed on the relative merits of the stated goal with the school vs the thoughtfulness of the inquiry. Put differently, you are assessed not only on how much (and how well) you've through through your goals, but also on whether those goals are actually achievable given your background. I don’t know that this is earth shattering to anyone (clearly, part of doing your homework and being thoughtful is actually knowing what an MBA can get you), but I was nevertheless quite struck by one admissions director who referred to the "dreaded double switcher"; namely, function AND industry. One career services director shared, and this one is quite the bombshell, that they actually had right of first refusal on all admissions, and did, on occasion exercise that right. That’s quite a revelation I think.
• Now, because you are going to ask, yes, I asked Wharton's Admissions Director if they had this as well. She shared that they did not (and I think danced around my question a wee bit), but did say that having "thoughtfulness without viability is probably not a good thing." (I'm paraphrasing slightly here, but that was the gist). I walked away from these conversations with the distinct impression that it wasn't 80% thoughtfulness vs 20% viability, but closer to 50/50. That was a balance that I personally found surprising (and judging by some of the follow up questions the room asked, I think others also pressed on that issue).
• Another admission consultant asked, quite pointedly, "I hear from a lot of candidates really interested in entrepreneurship that they worried about saying that because the admissions directors will see that and assume that as entrepreneurs they will make less money and donate less to the school, is that true?”. Wharton seemed to both flatly reject the statement while also actually dance around it somewhat. Pressed on it, they seemed to fall on the “that’s just not true” camp. I found the whole premise absurd, but given the pretty stellar reputation of the admissions consultant who asked it, I wonder if it’s actually somewhat true.
• Wharton shared that they see the interview as a two way street: “"We view the interview as a marketing tool; we are working on boosting training for interviewers”. No surprise there.
• Wharton got feedback from folks on the group interview; particularly because of the interview slot issues for international candidates – doesn’t sound like this is going to change this year, but the gist was international candidates hate that they only have a 2 week window to book interview times.
• On the topic of the group interview, the Wharton Adcom shared that "We are looking at what you specifically say, and more about your thoughtfulness behind the statement.” They also said "The question doesn’t matter; your reflections on the prompt do" . If you don’t know about the group interview….. Google it.
• Again on the topic of group interviews,: "What if there is one exceptionally dominant person in the group?" Wharton replied: "Part of it is seeing how that situation gets resolved. It’s a valid concern, as with any piece of this process, we are taking the context of this entire group and other participants into consideration. "
• Wharton wouldn’t share statistics about average /median GRE – but said that if you used the ETS mapping tool “that’s a good heuristic”. They also shared that they “have no preference, genuinely”.
• Wharton stat: 27% of people wanted to go into PE, 11% did ; pretty exceptional result in their mind. (I'd agree)
• Wharton also shared a bunch of stats about JD/MBA / Lauder program – but the most interesting thing was that the school has funds earmarked to make the cost of the incremental MA zero for the student. They pointed this out at least 3 or 4 times, I got the impression they felt that students weren’t applying to the program as much because of the potential increased cost of 1 additional year, so they really wanted the admissions consultants to make sure their candidates knew that this was a non-issue.
• Another interesting JD/MBA factoid – they wouldn’t share specific admit %, but they said they got “3 to 4 applicants per student”, partly driven however by self-selection. The cheeky cynical guy in me says those are pretty good odds.
• Cornell launching a new technology focused MBA program in NYC at new facilities. Construction to being this fall.
• Cornell considering a 'video introduction' as part of this year’s app.
• Interestingly enough, other schools shared the opposite perspective: they worried that a video introduction biased against shy folks, and/or wasn’t as ‘blind’ as an app.
• Georgetown shared that for their ‘tweet’ essay they would accept a URL.
• I missed who made the comment (Sorry) but that they were shortening essay length on a goals question this year from 200 words to 100 because, apparently, people feel compelled to fill all 200 words when really they are looking for a pithy statement of goal.
• We also spent about 3 hours on the topic of recommendation letters and specifically how pervasive the LOTR self-written issue is. They polled the admissions consultants in the room, as well as shared results of a survey (n=306) – 38% said they wrote their own, 50% of internationals did, Japan reported 61% and India 34%
• Men more likely to have been asked to write their own recs. I have no idea why.
• Almost all of the schools liked the suggestion (I think Georgetown threw it out) – that if your recommender doesn’t speak English; have them write in the native tongue, and then pay for a professional translation. Just have the letter say that it was written in another language.
• One adcom shared “"We can tell when it’s written by the applicant. It’s a big negative.". No surprise there.
• Tuck says they will contact the applicant if they feel something is amiss, but writing one’s own rec is generally perceived "EXTREMELY negatively" (quote). Encourage people to find an alternative. Georgetown suggested you can send in a copy of your performance reviews if you can’t get your boss to do it.
• Some of the admissions consultants shared they had been contacted by HBS and Stanford because of concerns people were writing their own recommendations.
• In general, the schools seemed shocked at the numbers being presented; they all knew it happened but thought it was infrequent. Many of the admissions consultants who worked primarily abroad shared that they were running into it more and more, especially as schools have moved towards “digital” recs that require the recommender to input data directly into a form.
• CEIBS (I believe it was them, I need better handwriting) shared that in general, 80% of recommendations are nearly identical, it’s really the outliers that matter.
• For reasons I don’t know, the adcoms all felt that and admissions consultant working with a student was OK but an admissions consultant reviewing a recommender’s letter somehow crossed a line. I’ll admit I’m not sure I see the distinction myself.
• One school said they would consider reducing the # of recommendation letters this year in recognition of the problem that students face.
• Many admissions consultants pleaded for a common form for recommenders – at one point even soliciting applause from the group; I’ll spare you the discussion but short version: it aint gonna happen.
Theres more of course, but this was the more interesting tidbits.