Want to Get Into Business School? Write Less, Talk More

Want to Get Into Business School? Write Less, Talk More Business schools want to know more about their applicants. So, they're asking them to do less.

Some elite M.B.A. programs have been cutting the number of required essays for admission, while others have trimmed or streamlined requirements for recommendation letters.

Paring down requirements can help pump up applicant volumes and ease the burdens on admissions staff, B-school consultants say. But schools also say the changes reflect a renewed focus on interviews, videos and other live interactions to get a sense of how applicants really think—and not what admissions officers want to hear.

Babson College and the business school at University of Michigan are both eliminating one essay this year, while in the past few years the University of California at Los Angeles' Anderson School of Management, the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business and Harvard Business School have done the same. Even recommendation letters, which students solicit from mentors and managers, are streamlining, with some schools cooperating on common recommendation questions.


Harvard's Sassy New Business-School Application
Soojin Kwon, the admissions director at Michigan's Ross School of Business, said the three required essays turned up limited insight for application readers. Current applicants must write two short essays, for a total of 800 words.

"Applicants increasingly tell us what they think we want to hear," Ms. Kwon said. "They have become quite cookie-cutter."

Ross is also asking applicants to provide one recommendation letter, instead of two. Ms. Kwon said the additional letter often didn't yield new, worthwhile information. Meanwhile, she said Ross will shift its emphasis to one-on-one interviews and team exercises in their evaluation of candidates.

Harvard Business School last year asked applicants to provide only one essay, and even made that optional. Dee Leopold, managing director of admissions and financial aid at HBS, said the changes made the application more "sensible" for both officials and applicants. Fewer than a dozen applicants chose to skip the essay; one of those was accepted, she said.

Harvard Business School asked applicants to provide only one essay, and even made that optional. ENLARGE
Harvard Business School asked applicants to provide only one essay, and even made that optional. RICK FRIEDMAN/CORBIS
In 2004, the school asked applicants to complete six essay questions. Since then, said Ms. Leopold, one-on-one interviews have given officials a better sense of whether applicants are Harvard material. They're not totally off the hook, however: applicants who win interviews must write a short essay, reflecting on the interview conversation, to be completed within 24 hours.

The exercise showcases applicants' ability to think quickly, which Ms. Leopold said is "more appropriate than having months to craft responses to personal essays," and more in line with the type of deadlines M.B.A.s will face in the classroom and in their careers.

Some schools just want to keep applicants' focus on them. Sara Neher, assistant dean for M.B.A. admissions at Darden, said the school cut down to a single essay three years ago from two essays because, she found, applicants were writing one essay specifically for Darden and then recycling essays from their applications to other schools.

And others seek straight answers. Columbia Business School now asks applicants to summarize their "immediate post-M.B.A. professional goal" in 75 or fewer characters—about half the length of a tweet.

At Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, applicants must write two essays and then respond to two different questions, with a one-minute video for each question recorded via webcam.

The videos allow the school to meet applicants "face-to-face" before the interview process, said Kate Smith, the school's assistant dean of admissions and financial aid.

Shortened applications may also entice more people to apply to M.B.A. programs. Travis Morgan, director of admissions consulting at test-preparation firm Veritas Prep, said that a bigger applicant pool can make a program look more selective.

UCLA's Anderson School of Management has seen a 60% increase in full-time M.B.A. applications over the past four years, in part due to its simplified application, an admissions official said.

Abby Speicher, 23 years old, a rising second year M.B.A. at Babson College, estimated that her Babson application took two months to prepare, so she didn't end up applying anywhere else. While she spent less time preparing for her interview, she said the session was a better demonstration of her skills and personality.

"I absolutely think that someone being able to think on their feet and being able to be asked a tough question and come out with a well-thought-out answer is much more indicative of whether they're a good candidate," Ms. Speicher said.

New York University's Stern School of Business, which dropped one required essay last year, has no immediate plans to cut the remaining two essays. Applicants, however, can submit a non-written answer like a video or piece of art, in lieu of writing in response to one of two question options for the second required essay.

Because most B-school applicants come from the working world, the personal statements help admissions officers understand why a candidate is pursuing a particular path, said Isser Gallogly, Stern's assistant dean of M.B.A. admissions.

"I don't think that asking someone to write two essays for each of the schools they want to go to is terribly arduous," Mr. Gallogly said.

Read full story: Wall Street Journal

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