Top MBA Programs Using Shared Letter of Recommendation Questions

Looking for application essay tips? Click here!

A Shared LOR = Good News for Applicants, Recommenders, and B-Schools

The number of top-ranked MBA programs now asking the exact same questions for the letters of recommendation is growing, which is good news both for recommenders and for candidates. LORs are very important to an applicant’s case, providing an objective assessment from a supervisor, former manager, or other professional that helps affirm (or not) what the applicant has stated about her own skills, traits and abilities. But different questions with different word limits were onerous for both applicants, who had to ask the same people to write varying assessments for their multiple applications, as well as the recommenders.

This year, Harvard, Darden, Yale, Stanford, Columbia and Wharton are asking these questions:

 • How do the candidate’s performance, potential, or personal qualities compare to those of other well-qualified individuals in similar roles? Please provide specific examples. 

 • Please describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicant. Please detail the circumstances and the applicant’s response.

Harvard, Wharton, and Yale have word limits for both questions, though the other programs do not. Not all schools had released their LOR questions for the 2015 application season as of this writing, so this list is not comprehensive, and other schools may be added to the list. Stanford has a helpful link to a transcript of a podcast on what elements make for successful and effective LORs. This advice is certainly applicable to LORs for any other MBA program as well.

Some schools also ask recommenders to fill out a personal qualities and skills grid form, evaluating applicants in a variety of areas. Currently, there is no unity among the schools on the use of a grid, so carefully check each school’s requirements.

Graduate school admissions consultants have lobbied to streamline this LOR process for years, and this convergence around shared questions is a direct outgrowth of those efforts. Last year, at the annual conference of the Association of International Graduate School Consultants (AIGAC), the topic of LORs became unexpectedly lively, with school admissions directors expressing concern over the integrity of what they were reading in LORs, and AIGAC members arguing that using shared questions would enhance the integrity of the process because it would take pressure off both applicant and recommender.

Anna Ivey, president of AIGAC, is pleased with the development of more schools converging around shared LOR questions. “Applicants have for years found themselves in quite a pickle because they have had to dump so much work on their recommenders. In some cases, their recommenders have had to write more words than the applicants do in their essays. That has created all kinds of distortions, despite good intentions.

“As AIGAC’s MBA Applicant Survey has shown since its inception, a sizable minority of recommenders ask applicants to write their own letters, and we suspect that’s because there’s only so much bandwidth they can dedicate to someone else’s application, let alone for multiple people for whom they might be writing letters. That multiplier effect makes for a daunting amount of work. Any convergence around common recommendation questions not only makes the application process easier for applicants and their recommenders, but also helps preserve the integrity of those recommendations and the application process. Cutting down on the duplication and extra work for recommenders will make it more likely that recommenders write their letters themselves, and that’s a great outcome.”

Register for our webinar: Get Accepted to the Wharton School

Judy Gruen By , MBA admissions consultant since 1996 and author (with Linda Abraham) of MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools.

Columbia Business School Hosts AIGAC!

Applying to Columbia GSB? Click here to check out our 2015 application essay tips!

Clearly, character is as important as smarts in Columbia’s equation.

On May 30, Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants (AIGAC) conference attendees had the privilege and pleasure of learning firsthand from Columbia Business School admissions officials, professors, students, and administrators about latest developments at CBS.

One big takeaway for me – CBS admissions has become friendlier, more welcoming.  And more transparent.  (“More” relative not just to the past but to MBA adcoms generally.)

These changes reflect the idea that, ultimately, constructive success in business (and life) comes down to people, human beings.  It was reflected during the conference in multiple ways: the warm reception we received from the adcom members, plus their openness and frankness during discussions; the heightened emphasis in the program elements (structure, curriculum, extracurriculars, etc.) on developing individual students into responsive, responsible leaders; and the student representatives’ frequent and enthusiastic references to their supportive community.

This is not to say that Columbia doesn’t still require academic rigor.  Or is softening its high admission standard.  Or that math and analytics are out the window… They’re just important in a broader context.

The adcom reps report that they seek applicants who:

• Are or have the capacity and character to be knowledge creators
• Demonstrate strong commitment
• Go out and have an impact

Clearly, character is as important as smarts in Columbia’s equation.

And character is addressed immediately for incoming students.  A scintillating presentation by Kathy Phillips, Paul Calello Professor of Leadership and Ethics, gave us a taste of her 6-day LEAD block leadership course, People, Teams, Organizations.   This course heightens students’ self-awareness through activities and dialogue to become leaders who “elicit high commitment and productivity from people and groups.”  Professor Phillips notes that this course ends up influencing students’ subsequent course selections and perspectives.

Additional points of note:

• The January entry is not just for people with family businesses, but also for people who have solid enough networks and/or networking skills in their industry that they don’t need the summer internship.

• The career services – ACE – feature three dimensions: Advisors, Coaches, and Executives-in-residence.

• Many current students volunteer to email with prospective applicants to share their experiences and answer questions – use this resource to gain a student’s-eye-view of the program!  You can sign up on the Columbia website.

• Some things remain the same in Columbia admissions, e.g., in the goals essay, specific is good.  And they want to see applicants convey fit.  The adcom now has so many resources on the web that it’s easier to research Columbia Business School from a distance than previously.

• As someone who works with many applicants to top EMBA programs, I asked what the EMBA adcom learns from the GMAT – since some other top EMBA programs no longer require a standardized test and since the GMAT score need not be super-high (indeed, I’ve had Columbia EMBA applicants admitted who had GMATs in low to mid 600s). Their answer:  willingness to take this step shows proper mindset, commitment.  So if you’re interested in applying but are put off by this requirement, perhaps go ahead.

• The acceptance rate for Early Decision applicants and for Regular Decision applicants who apply early (i.e. before approximately December 15) is the same. However, the acceptance rate for Regular Decision applicants generally goes down with the passage of time and the approach of CBS’ April 15 deadline.

Applying to Columbia Business School? Check out our Columbia Business School 2015 Application Essay Tips!

Cindy Tokumitsu By , co-author of The Finance Professional’s Guide to MBA Admissions Success, and author of numerous ebooks, articles, and special reports. Cindy has advised hundreds of successful applicants in her last fifteen years with Accepted.

Columbia Business School 2015 MBA Essay Tips & Deadlines

Check out our Columbia Business School Zone to learn more!Columbia tweaked last year’s questions for this year. Relatively minor changes only. Specifically:

• Its short-answer question about your immediate post-MBA goal has gone from 100 to 75 characters. Yes, that was  characters, not words.
• For question 2, there is a new video to watch and the question itself is more succinct with a different focus. 

Other than cutting 25 characters from the goals question, CBS has not cut essays or essay length. Still, you will need to make every word, indeed every character, count to really allow your essays to effectively and compellingly present your qualifications.

My tips are in blue below.

Applicants must complete one short answer question and three essays.

Short Answer Question:

What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? (75 characters maximum)

Note the character limit. Your response must be less than a tweet. What do you want to do professionally and in which industry immediately after earning your MBA? You may want to provide a geographic location if it is important to your MBA goal. According to CBS, here are examples of possible responses:

“Work in business development for a media company.”
“Join a consulting firm specializing in renewable energy.”
“Work for an investment firm that focuses on real estate.”

Warning: This question is not asking about intended area of study while in business school or a non-professional goal or even a long-term goal. And the subject is assumed to be you. No need to waste characters by including “I.”

Essays:

Essay 1. Given your individual background and goals, why are you pursuing a Columbia MBA at this time? (Maximum 500 words)

What aspects of your background are motivating you to pursue your MBA at Columbia now?  Keep in mind that the MBA is a bridge between your past and desired future. Show Columbia why its program is the right bridge for you and now is the right time for you to be traverse this bridge.  

To answer this question well,  you will need to really know the Columbia program thoroughly along with why you want a CBS MBA at this point in your career. The essay that shines will do a great job of showing both fit and self-awareness.

Essay 2.

Please view the video below:
The Center
How will you take advantage of being “at the very center of business”? (Maximum 250 words)

The video is different from the videos last year. Last year’s videos and question focused almost exclusively on the impact of Columbia’s New York City location. This year’s video incorporates that Manhattan location, but it’s more about Columbia as a center of business than NYC being the center of business. So your answer can incorporate the benefits of being at Columbia University as well as being in Manhattan.   Just don’t repeat your answer to #1; this question asks you to take  a  broader perspective.

After watching the video, think about how you intend to take advantage of the infinite opportunities and energy that reside at Columbia University and in New York City. How will you take advantage of the entrepreneurial eco-system in New York and Columbia University? The ties to bio science and pharma? Not to mention the practitioners who lead Wall Street and teach at Columbia.  Or will you explore the cultural riches of NYC and take advantage of the incredible business opportunities present in the arts and media?

Be careful not to speak of those opportunities in the generalities that I have. If you are interested in luxury goods marketing, as stated in your short answer, then write here about how you will take advantage of Madison and 5th Avenues as well as Columbia’s offerings. If you are interested in finance or consulting, Manhattan and all the businesses in it are at your feet. How will you benefit from this incredible location as well as the practitioners teaching at CBS? 

Essay 3. What will the people in your Cluster be pleasantly surprised to learn about you? (Maximum 250 words)

Make sure you understand Columbia’s Cluster System.

You only have 250 words here. I would use them to bring out something fun that you like to do. Would you try to get your cluster to train for a marathon? Set up a karaoke night? Plan a ski trip? Explore New York’s museums?  How have you contributed to social groups in the past? Relate you plans to a past successful initiative, and you will enhance your answer to this question.

Or perhaps you would take a slightly more serious approach to this question and discuss a challenge overcome. Show that you are a survivor, not a victim and far stronger as a result of this experience. If you take this approach, don’t make it too heavy or too personal. No TMI. You will have barely met these people. 

Optional Essay. An optional fourth essay will allow you to discuss any issues that do not fall within the purview of the required essays.

Clearly you can use this optional essay question to address a weakness in your profile or qualifications, but in my mind, this question is also open-ended enough to allow you to discuss a diversity element in your personal background or simply some unique area of interest. Also, tucking a weakness explanation somewhere else would allow you to end the application with a strength and not a flaw.

Don’t use this essay as a grand finale or wrap up. And definitely don’t use it to rehash your reasons for wanting to attend Columbia; those reasons should be perfectly clear from the required essays. If you decide to respond to this essay, use it to educate the reader about another talent, interest, or commitment of yours. As always try to show leadership and impact. In short, give them more reasons to admit you.

Knight-Bagehot Fellows. Rather than answer Essay 1, Part A above, current Knight-Bagehot Fellows applying to Columbia Business School should use the space allocated to the first essay (500 words) to complete the Wiegers Fellowship application essay.

Wiegers Fellowship Essay Question. What are your career goals? How has the Knight-Bagehot Fellowship affected these goals? How will an MBA help you achieve these goals? (500 words maximum)

If you would like professional guidance with your Columbia Business School MBA application, please consider Accepted’s MBA essay editing and MBA admissions consulting or our  MBA Application Packages, which include advising, editing, interview coaching, and a resume edit for the CBS MBA application.

Columbia Business School 2015 Application Deadlines:

January 2015 Entry:

October 8, 2014

August 2015 Entry:

Early Decision: October 8, 2014
Merit Fellowship Consideration: January 7, 2015
Regular Decision: April 15, 2015

*All deadlines are 11:59 p.m. New York Time on the date listed.

Click here to download your free copy of "Why MBA?": Learn how to create a compelling MBA goals essay.

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

The Economist’s Top 20 North American MBA Programs

How much do MBA rankings matter? Click here for the short answer. Below you’ll find The Economist’s top 20 American business schools, with a rank on the left (ranking the top 20 in the U.S. and Canada) and a rank on the right (the school’s place in the top 100 global rankings). As you’ll see, the American programs listed are all located at the top or very close to the top of the top global programs. The Economist article highlights the legacy of American programs – their size, their history, their all-star faculties (all of Wharton’s 245 professors have PhDs), and their financial magnitude.

As always when looking at rankings, you need to understand the methodology behind them. The Economist’s methodology is a weighted average going back to 2011 of some fairly quirky factors including “Diversity of recruiters,” “Number of languages taught,” and “Number of overseas countries with an official alumni branch.” If those and other factors considered by the Economist are not important to you, then this ranking probably isn’t that useful to you.

There are 16 schools on the global rankings that have an average GMAT score over 700; 14 of them are American (with Stanford GSB taking the cake with an average of 729).For opening up doors career-wise, the top 5 schools in the global rankings were all Americans – Chicago Booth, Dartmouth Tuck, UVA Darden, and Columbia. Interestingly, even with the top marks for job opportunities, graduates from American programs tend to earn less than those from European and Australian programs – the Economist article claims that this is likely due to the limited pre-MBA work experience of those accepted at American programs. (Even Stanford’s grads, who in America boast the highest average salary of around $130,000, earn less than grads from less prestigious programs like IMD in Switzerland and University of Queensland in Australia.)

In terms of cost, the American schools certainly rank at the top of the chart. A Harvard MBA will run students $112,000. A degree from Wharton costs $130,000.

How much do rankings really matter? Click here to view our 2-min answer.

Download our free special report: Best MBA Programs

Accepted.com

GRE vs. GMAT: Trends

A recent Poets & Quants article highlights some of the current data surrounding the decision applicants make in choosing between the GRE and GMAT. According to the Educational Testing Service, almost 10% of MBA applicants took the GRE instead of the GMAT in the 2012-2013 testing year, a 38% increase since last year’s testing period.

One factor responsible for this shift is the fact that some major MBA players (mainly Chicago Booth, UC Berkeley Haas, and Georgetown McDonough) finally decided to accept the GRE.

Here are some additional stats:

• 29% of b-schools surveyed by Kaplan Test Prep said that at least 10% of their applicants were GRE test takers. 18% of schools said that their GRE pool was at 18%. 6% of respondents said that their applicant pool was made up of half GRE test takers and half GMAT test takers.

• At Yale SOM, 21% of applicants submitted GRE scores last year, an increase of 18% since the previous year.

• 25% of Notre Dame Mendoza prospective students submitted a GRE score last year, up from 12% previously.

• At UCLA Anderson, only 3% of applicants submitted GRE scores.

• 5% of Columbia Business School applicants took the GRE last year, compared to 2% the year before.

• At Emory Goizueta, 8% of last year’s prospective students took the GMAT, up from the previous year’s 3%.

• Washington Olin’s GRE pool dropped 7% from 31% in 2012 to 24% last year (which is still high).

• Texas McCombs also took a slight dip, from 13% in 2012 to 11% last year.

• In India, the number of GRE test takers increased 68% last year, from 52,792 in 2012 to 88,884 last year. In the U.S., the increase in test takers over that same period was just 5.3%, from 401,286 test takers in 2012 to 422.668 this past year.

Reasons for the Growth in GRE

• Versatility of the GRE. Rob Weiler, UCLA Anderson’s associate dean, points out that many students are submitting scores from GRE tests they took up to a few years ago. “It’s clear that they had graduate school in mind when they took the test but were still considering the best avenue to take for their career,” he says. “Once it became clear that business school was their choice, they used their GRE score to apply.”

• Price. The GMAT is priced at $250, while the GRE costs only $195.

• Rankings and willingness to accept lower scores. The P&Q article states that admissions consultants are suggesting that applicants take the GRE over the GMAT because of the way official rankings take the GMAT into consideration. “So an admissions office might be overly sensitive to a low GMAT score, but might pass on a lower GRE,” states the article, which then goes on to compare GREs and GMATs of accepted students at Yale – the former being lower than the latter. (Using ETS’ comparative tool, the equivalent GMAT score based on the GRE scores accepted at Yale would be 660; the average GMAT score at Yale is 714. A similar phenomenon is found with other programs, with a 91 point gap at Cornell Johnson, a 126 point gap at Washington Olin, and a 118 point gap at Vanderbilt Owen.)

• The ScoreSelect option. This allows test takers to retake the exam and send only their best score to their target schools.

The following chart comes from the P&Q article and shows the percentage of 2012-2013 applicants who submitted GRE scores, as well as the GRE-GMAT differences.

Check out our GMAT 101 Page!

Source: Business schools reporting to U.S. News & World Report

My thoughts

On one hand, the focus on the comparator tool may be misplaced. When I have spoken to admissions committee members about the GRE we spoke in terms of percentile scores. I would love to see this data and the comparison between the GMAT and the GRE comparing percentile scores. I think that would be more worthwhile. I suspect it would still show similar results, but perhaps with smaller gaps.

Regardless of the validity of the comparator tool, this article suggests that the GRE may not only be cheaper, it may in a way take your score out of the public eye. And if you don’t need a high GMAT to snag an interview at an elite bank or consulting firm, and you’re struggling with the GMAT, the GRE may be a better test for you.

Although I can’t locate the blog post, soon after schools started accepting the GRE in greater numbers, I suggested that those of you with other evidence of academic ability who are struggling with the GMAT should contemplate applying with the GRE. I felt that because the GRE is not reflected in the published GMAT averages that applicants, alumni, and employers use as a quick-and-dirty reflection of student “quality,” submitting a GRE score instead of the GMAT would give admissions officers wiggle room to focus on other aspects of your application. It would allow them to consider your application without worrying about a hit to their GMAT average.

On the other hand if you can do well on the GMAT, go for it. Schools want GMAT bragging rights.

Got GMAT Questions? Visit GMAT 101 for advice.

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