Are Schools Reducing Their Number of Admissions Essays?

Applying to Stanford GSB? Check out our Stanford application essay tips!

Is Stanford a trendsetter?

Elite schools like Yale, Wharton, and Stanford looked like they were starting a trend in cutting the number of required admissions essays for applicants, but according to Kaplan Test Prep’s 2014 business school admissions officers survey, most U.S. MBA programs haven’t followed their lead. The survey indicates that just 13% of the participating 204 business schools say they reduced the number of essays for this admissions cycle, compared to last year. Only 3% of schools plan on further reducing the number of required essays for the next application cycle.

According to Kaplan Test Prep’s executive director of pre-business and pre-graduate programs, Brian Carlidge, “Our survey finds that the overwhelming number of MBA programs continue to see value in applicants submitting more information about themselves. From what we’ve seen, the business schools that have cut their number of admissions essays are doing so to streamline the process, believing they can get what they need from applicants through fewer, more focused essays. While it may sound counter-intuitive, some applicants may find fewer essays and lower word counts difficult as it forces them to be more succinct. We encourage all aspiring MBAs to put effort into their essays, no matter the number or word count, as this piece of the application gives them the opportunity to show admissions officers why they’d be a good fit for the school in a way that their GMAT score, undergraduate GPA and work experience cannot.”

Analysis.

I certainly agree with Kaplan that MBA applicants need to put serious effort into their essays regardless of how many there are, but I found the disconnect between the highly publicized drop in essays for top-ranked programs vs. the relatively constant number of essays for lower ranked programs curious.

I’m going to indulge in speculating about the causes of this discrepancy:

The competition among the elite programs is intense. Application volume is a factor in rankings and also in perception of a school’s panache. Since more application work essentially raises the cost of applying, more essays could mean fewer applicants for these highly competitive programs. And they don’t want the hit to their application volume.

Perhaps lower ranked programs are more concerned about yield than about application volume. They want to accept people who put a little more effort into their applications. That effort implies the applicants are more invested in the application and are signaling more strongly that they really are interested in attending the programs they are applying to.

Finally another thought that really calls into question the validity of the Kaplan conclusions: While the Kaplan survey asks specifically about essays, it doesn’t discuss information being collected in short-answer responses and in boxes in the application. Many schools, notably HBS, have moved much of the information gathering to these boxes and short-form answers as opposed to the essays of a few years ago.

It’s a mistake to assume that those short-form answers are any less important than the essays.

Linda AbrahamBy Linda Abraham, president and founder of Accepted.com and co-author of the definitive book on MBA admissions, MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools.

Related Resources:

School-Specific MBA Application Essay Tips
MBA Rankings: What You Need to Know
How to Answer “Mini” MBA Essay Questions

GMAT’s New Enhanced Score Report

Check out our GMAT 101 page for great tips and info!

New tool to help GMAT-takers plan for a retest.

Starting in February 2015, GMAC will be launching its new Enhanced Score Report as a way of helping test takers better understand their GMAT performance and potentially strategize and plan for a retest.  With this new tool, test takers will be able to see how much time they spent on each question, identify their skill strengths and weaknesses, and benchmark their performance against test takers from the last three years. The customized summary report will help test takers prepare for future study and test taking.

The AWA score is not included in the ESR since the report only uses data generated from unofficial scores (and this does not include the AWA). There is also no sub-section feedback given on the IR section since that section is too small to provide an adequate sample.

Test takers may purchase their GMAT Enhanced Score Report here for $24.95 and then have access to their report for five years. You can purchase your ESR for GMAT exams taken as far back as October 2013. ESRs become available up to 48 hours after you’ve completed your GMAT exam. Applicants who purchase the ESR also receive two additional practice exams and nearly 100 additional practice questions.

Starting last year in June 2014, GMAC gave test takers the option of cancelling their scores within a few minutes of completing the exam. The ESR authentication code can be applied to those cancelled exams, but not towards a GMAT exam for which a score was revoked due to a policy violation.

My thoughts:

This information should be valuable to those who aren’t satisfied with their GMAT score and want to know where to focus their studies. For those people the data is worth the fee. And in the context of the cost of the MBA, it is pocket change.

At the same time, this new revenue source for GMAC represents another competitive advantage for the GRE, which is less expensive than the GMAT to begin with.

Furthermore ETS, the entity behind the GRE, already provides the GRE Diagnostic Service at no additional cost to its test takers, and that service is similar to GMAT’s Enhanced Score Report. According to the ETS website:

“The GRE® Diagnostic Service provides insight into your performance on the test questions in the Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning sections of the GRE® revised General Test. This FREE service includes a description of the types of questions you answered right and wrong as well as the difficulty level and time spent on each question.”

Unlike the GMAC’s ESR, the Diagnostic Service does not provide practice exams or questions.

My sense is that the $25 fee will be resented by affluent test takers, but if they need the information they will (and should) pay for it. It will be yet one more hurdle for applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds. And for those unsure of which of the two tests to take, the price of the ESR just adds a little weight to the side of the scale that says “GRE.”

Watch the webinar!

Linda AbrahamBy Linda Abraham, president and founder of Accepted.com and co-author of the definitive book on MBA admissions, MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools.

Related Resources:

• That GMAT Score: Implications for Your MBA Application
• Should You Retake the GMAT Exam?
• GRE vs. GMAT: Trends

Open Letter to 2016 MBA Applicants

Dear 2016 MBA Applicant,

I would like to have heart-to-heart with you. Yes. That means YOU. If you are hoping to have an application ready for round 1 of the next application cycle, but have not yet thought about why you want an MBA, taken the GMAT/GRE, researched schools, or evaluated your qualifications, have a seat. Let’s talk. (You can respond via the comments below. That way we can have a real conversation. Just you and me.)

I’ve been thinking about sending you this letter since the last two weeks of December. That’s when our phones started ringing off the hook with calls from frantic MBA applicants trying to prepare their applications for this year’s round 2 deadlines. They had holiday parties, family gatherings, gifts to buy or return, and sales to take advantage of. Some even had to work; some were off.

Deadlines loomed.

In any case, I’m writing this letter now, because I would like to help you avoid the harried hassle and diminished quality that those who start their applications in the weeks leading up to the deadlines experience. Instead follow the example of those many applicants who started their applications months before the deadline and worked steadily to complete them by those deadline dates circled in red on the calendar.

I don’t have stats for you, and know you love numbers, but my twenty years in this business tell me that those who start the application process 9-12 months before they actually apply:

• Get into more and “better” schools;

• Are more likely to get scholarships; and

• Are more prepared for b-school when they arrive on campus.

They simply fare better in the MBA application process than those who wait until the eleventh hour to get themselves in gear.

Those better prepared applicants – they are your real competition.

“How can I compete with them in the admissions marathon?” you ask.

Good question. Begin now. Not tomorrow. Not next week or next month or next quarter. Now.

Start Your GMAT or GRE Prep

Once you determine that you have a goal that requires an MBA, start preparing for the GMAT or GRE. Don’t wait for the summer or for “later.” Your test score is a critical element in your application. Choosing schools without knowing what that number is leads to all kinds of heartache and unpleasant surprises.

For example in mid-December “Stormers” wrote on this blog that he was anticipating a GRE of 325 (Q162, V163). On January 4th he wrote that he “belly flopped on [the] GRE and scored a 315.” He then asked if he should retake the exam or wait for Round 3.

Lower than expected test scores can throw a major monkey wrench in your plans when you take the test within two months of your target deadlines. However if you “belly flop” in the spring, you still have months to prepare again and retake the exam before the deadlines.

Where to Apply: Dartboard vs. Intent

And then there are the applicants who don’t understand the importance of fit in the application process. They just know they want an MBA from a “top N-ranked school.” They may or may not have a purpose, and for all the shallowness of their thinking, they could just as easily be throwing darts at a list of schools to determine where to invest their time and money.

Or maybe they just started too late to do the research and reflection that they could’ve and should’ve done had they started earlier. Like now.

In any case, this superficial approach in and of itself could lead to rejection, a very expensive mistake, or to a less than optimal MBA experience.

Apply purposefully to specific programs that support your goals and where you are competitive. Don’t apply to rankings. You won’t attend them.

Writing is Rewriting and Requires Time

Some of you know why you want an MBA, have good reasons for selecting the school you will apply to, and will get the GMAT or GRE that you want the first time you take the exam so you won’t be in Stormer’s shoes. Great. However, if you are too close to deadlines, you will end up rushing the writing process for your essays, short answers, and resume.

Not a good idea.

Writing – whether long essays, short essays, or resumes and activity descriptions — benefits from time. Temporal distance between revisions improves critical analysis and editing. In contrast, scrambling to slap something together leads to sloppy thinking and writing.

Taking these three key steps early will improve your chances of acceptance, but they still aren’t what I would truly like to see from you. I want to propose something more comprehensive and effective than just getting the GMAT or GRE out of the way, thinking profoundly about fit, and starting your essays early.

A Holistic, Purposeful MBA Application Timeline

Proceed purposefully, methodically, and thoughtfully so that you submit a superior MBA application to the most appropriate schools at the most desirable deadline for you.

Make that highlighted line above the 2015 resolution that you stick to. And really do stick to it.

I’m going to help you fulfill this resolution by laying out the process holistically from January through September so that you can present a superior application. It’s not just the test score or the GPA or the years of work experience or solid extracurriculars. It’s all of the above. And we mapped out the process for you here.

Check out the Smart Timeline for 2016 MBA Applicants!

If you are aiming for the Round 1 deadlines, you can download and print out the above PDF and post it on your mirror, wall, fridge, or anywhere else where you’ll see it, be inspired, and allow it to guide you. Alternatively we have created a public Google doc that you can copy and paste to your own Google account and modify to suit your needs. Then using the timeline as a guide, add these tasks to your calendar. And do them.

If you follow this MBA timeline, your MBA dreams will not be a mad, breathless sprint to the finish line, but a long, steady jog that allows you to successfully complete the MBA application marathon. You will be able to give appropriate attention to academic, professional, and extracurricular factors while allowing time for the self-reflection, research, writing, and editing that will produce an application that presents you at your best.

What do you think? Are you starting now? Please let me know below.

Best,

Linda

Linda AbrahamBy Linda Abraham, president and founder of Accepted.com and co-author of the definitive book on MBA admissions, MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools.

Click here to download the free MBA Action Plan guide!

Financial Times Global MBA Rankings 2015

The MBA Rankings: What You Need to KnowFinancial Times 2015 global MBA rankings  were released this morning. Let’s see how our top schools fared this year…

Top 25 2015 Global MBA Programs (last year’s rank in parentheses)

1. Harvard Business School, USA (1)
2. London Business School, UK (3)
3. UPenn Wharton, USA (4)
4. Stanford GSB, USA (2)
5. INSEAD, France/Singapore (5)
6. Columbia Business School, USA (5)
7. IESE, Spain (7)
8. MIT Sloan, USA (8)
9. Chicago Booth, USA (9)
10. UC Berkeley Haas, USA (11)
11. CEIBS, China (17)
12. IE Business School, Spain (13)
13. Cambridge Judge, UK (16)
14. HKUST, China (14)
15. Northwestern Kellogg, USA (15)
16. HEC Paris, France (21)
17. Yale SOM, USA (10)
18. NYU Stern, USA (17)
19. ESADE Business School, Spain (22)
20. IMD, Switzerland (12)
21. Duke Fuqua, USA (17)
22. Oxford Saïd, UK (23)
23. Dartmouth Tuck, USA (20)
24. Michigan Ross, USA (23)
25. UCLA Anderson, USA (26)

The big news is how little the top 10 changed. More significant movement occurred outside the top 10, as is typical of most rankings. Here are some highlights:

• New to the top 10 in 2015 is UC Berkeley Haas which climbed one spot from 11th place last year to 10th place this year.

• Yale SOM, on the other hand, lost its top-10 berth and fell 7 places from 10th place last year to 17th place this year.

• Big jumpers in the top 25 include HEC Paris which moved from 21st place in 2014 to 16th place in 2015, and CEIBS which jumped from 17th place last year to 11th this year.

• IMD fell 8 slots this year from 12th place to 20th place. For possible reasons behind the drop, please see “5 Key IMD Officials Resign.”

• 7 of the top 10 business schools in 2015 are programs in the USA, which is the same number as last year.

• This is the third year in a row that Harvard Business School snagged the first place position.

• Further down the rankings (top 50), we see more big jumpers, including Imperial College Business School (UK) which jumped from 49th place in 2014 to 34th place this year; Manchester Business School (UK) which went from 43rd to 35th place; The Lisbon MBA (Portugal) which jumped from 52nd to 36th place; and Lancaster University Management School (UK) which jumped from 77th place to 50th place.

• The school that fell the most in the top 50 was Warwick Business School (UK) which fell from 25th place in 2014 to 38th place in 2015.

• Overall the FT rankings reflect the growing strength of Asian and European business schools.

The Financial Times rankings measure average salaries of alumni along with several other factors. Its lead article on the rankings notes that “the financial returns from completing a full-time MBA have fallen over the past three years and while a graduate can still expect to nearly double their salary, the average boost to earnings is down by almost a third from the qualification’s heyday.” It continues to explain that this is particularly true among b-schools in the U.S. (which account for 50 of the top 100 global programs). For an excellent critique of the FT methodology, please see P&Q’s analysis.

Here are some additional highlights from that article:

• In 2015, MBAs who were three years post-MBA reported salary increases of 92%. This is compared to 110% in 2012 and 153% in 2002 and 2003.

• In 2003, b-school alumni from 82% of programs ranked saw salary increases of more than 120% over 4-5 years post-MBA. This year, only 7% saw the equivalent increase.

• A factor contributing to this trend is the drop in MBAs heading into finance and banking (25% in 2015 compared to 29% in 2005). Survey respondents from the finance sector reported an average salary of $152,000 compared to the overall average salary of respondents of $133,000.

My take:

In terms of the flaws in the FT rankings, I suggest you see Poets & Quants excellent critique.

I also suggest you read “Boost to earning from MBAs falls.” The article reflects on the decline in earnings increase from the MBA as well as the weakness in the graduate business education market outside the top tier.

The two are related. Grads from the top business schools by definition snag the highest salaries and sometimes the biggest increase in salaries. The lower ranked schools are struggling to compete, keep themselves affordable, and provide an ROI. Consequently several traditional two-year programs have closed – notably Thunderbird and Wake Forest. One-year programs and specialized masters are increasingly popular and experiencing increasing recruiter demand along with ROI.

For you as a prospective student, you need to focus not on the overall trend in salary increase for MBAs, and not even your ROI today vs what it maybe could have been 13 years ago when you were middle school, but your anticipated return on investment today and which degree is most likely to maximize it.

Frankly 92% increase in salary can be a phenomenal increase depending on where you start at and what you paid for it. And it’s the gift that keeps on giving since the increased salary continues and usually climbs annually for the rest of your career.

Are You Misusing the B-School Rankings?
Linda AbrahamBy Linda Abraham, president and founder of Accepted.com and co-author of the definitive book on MBA admissions, MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools.

 

Related Resources:

MBA Rankings: What You Need to Know
2014 BusinessWeek Rankings
The Benefits of an MBA According to John Byrn

Got Dinged? You Can Handle It!

Rejected from your top-choice school?It may or may not be fair, but many of you are going to get at least a few rejections. What are you going to do about them?

First and foremost—if you’ve gotten dinged at your top choice school, that doesn’t mean that you’re never going to get in. It doesn’t even mean that you won’t be going to school next year.

And so my first point is: DON’T GIVE UP.

However, you do need to respond constructively. For the Four Reasons for Rejection and tips on how to do exactly that, please see this video.

For more admissions-specific reapplication advice, check-out:

For all of you, if you don’t know why you were rejected or would you like expert advice on improving your next application, please consider an application review:

Subscribe to the Accepted Admissions Blog!

Linda AbrahamBy Linda Abraham, president and founder of Accepted.com and co-author of the definitive book on MBA admissions, MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools.

Related Resources:

5 Fatal Flaws to Avoid
• Help! I’ve Been Waitlisted!
5 Ways to Clean Up & Optimize Your Online Presence Before You Apply