Tips for Video MBA Essay Questions

Get more MBA video essay tips!

The Kellogg School of Management

Rotman led the charge with a video essay question and last year Yale and Kellogg followed.

Worried about being literally on stage? Here are my tips if you need to respond to a question in a short 1-2-minute video.

First, realize that these video essays, like the written ones, are attempts to get to know you. Unlike the written word, however, the schools are seeking to see how you present yourself visually and with little time to prepare or polish answers. They are testing articulation and presence in a way that essays can’t and at much less expense than interviews. In that sense, these videos are a pre-interview screening device in addition to a way to learn more about your likes and dislikes, achievements, dreams, goals, and challenges.

And while you may not be able to prepare for a specific question, you definitely can and should prepare.

Learn how video essays came about, how they work, & how to ace them!

You need to practice for the experience of talking to a video camera with no responses from another human being. No body language. No facial expressions. No audience energy. Zero feedback. It’s just a dumb machine. Having created videos for Accepted, I found the experience very unnatural, but I think/hope I’ve gotten better with practice. You can too.

Until the questions become known, practice answering different essay questions in the announced time limit and then view the video. Here are a few sample questions to get you started, but I may update this list as we get more information from the schools:

• What do you do for fun?
• What are your passions, interests, and hobbies?
• If you could travel across the United States in a car with anyone, whom would you choose to travel with and why?
• What would you do on a rainy Sunday afternoon?
• How have you handled a difficult interaction? What did you learn from it?
• Describe a difficult professional decision you had to make.  What were the consequences, and what, if anything, did you learn?

If you are really nervous about the video exercise or about speaking in public, consider joining Toastmasters and forcing yourself to speak publicly. You will improve your “presence” and gain confidence. Both will help you with your video interview, any admissions interview, job interviews, and required public speaking.

So beyond preparing and simply getting comfortable with the format or anticipated questions, when it comes time for the real thing, do the following:

1. Dress neatly. Follow any dress guidelines the school provides. Women, put on make-up and jewelry lightly. If you wonder if your attire is too revealing, it is.  Men, have a hair-cut and shave. Make sure beard or mustache, if you have, are trimmed and neat.

2. It should go without saying, but keep your language clean — no profanity.

3. Think for a few seconds before you reply and then minimize pauses that we tend to fill with “ums” and “uhs.” They don’t contribute to “presence.”

4. If you tend to perspire, put on the air conditioning so the room is cool.

5. Sit up straight and lean a little bit forward.

6. Remember to smile. I put a smiley face next to the camera.

And two final points:

1. Schools want to accept students who reflect well on them.
2. You’ll do great!

If you would like help with your video essay, Accepted’s experienced MBA admissions experts, who have been prepping and critiquing MBA applicants for almost twenty years, are more than happy to help you.

Learn how video essays came about, how they work, & how to ace them!

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.

Related Resources:

Yale SOM 2015 MBA Essay Tips & Deadlines

Check out the rest of our 2015 MBA application essay tips!Yale is down to one essay this year from two last year. 500 words max. What does this shrinkage imply? You need to make the most of that single essay, but you also need to take the time to make every box in the application a home run.  They are not after-thoughts. Your job descriptions and activity history are increasing in importance. Write and edit them carefully. Focus on achievements. Quantify when possible and keep in mind Yale’s commitment to “educating leaders for business and society.”

My tips are in blue. 

Essay Question:

The Yale School of Management educates individuals who will have deep and lasting impact on the organizations they lead. Describe how you have positively influenced an organization—as an employee, a member, or an outside constituent. (500 words maximum)

This essay would do really well with an anecdotal response telling the story of how you positively affected your department, team, club, company, client or any entity that benefited from your contribution.  You can start with a moment of challenge or triumph. Then go back, provide context, and tell your story of contribution, hurdles overcome, and complexity handled. If your impact has lasted, say so.

Video Questions:

As part of your application, you will be asked to answer three video questions. These questions are intended to give you another opportunity to tell us about yourself. These questions are not meant to be difficult and should not require extensive preparation or special knowledge to answer. After hearing each video question, you will have 20 seconds to formulate a response, followed by up to 60 seconds to respond.

After August 15th, you will see a link in your applicant status page checklist that will allow you to complete the video questions once you have submitted your application and fee. To answer the questions, you simply need an internet connection and a webcam. These questions will take roughly 15 minutes to complete, and you will have the opportunity to test your connection and respond to a sample question before answering the questions. Once you have completed the questions, your responses will be added to your application and we will begin the review process.

To prepare for your webcam session, you need to practice for the experience of talking to a video camera with no responses from another human being. It is a weird experience. For tips on how to prepare and behave during the webcam session, please see: Tips for Video MBA Essay Questions.

Optional Information:

If any aspect of your candidacy needs further explanation (unexplained gaps in work experience, choice of recommenders, academic performance, promotions or recognitions, etc.), please provide a brief description here. (200 words maximum)

You can use the optional essay to explain or provide context as Yale SOM suggests or you can use your optional essay to highlight something in your experiences, background, personal or professional life that didn’t fit into the required essay and that you want the admissions committee to know about. Consider relating a diversity element, a unique area of interest or an accomplishment that you don’t feel is adequately described elsewhere.

Don’t use this optional essay as a grand summary of your application or reasons for wanting to attend Yale. Make sure the optional adds value.

Required for Reapplicants Only: 

Since your last application, please discuss any updates to your candidacy, including changes in your personal or professional life, additional coursework, or extracurricular/volunteer activities. (200 words maximum)

If you would like professional guidance with your Yale SOM 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 Yale MBA application.  

Yale SOM 2015 Deadlines:

Round 1
September 18, 2014
Decision: December 8, 2014
Round 2
January 8, 2015
Decision: March 27, 2015
Round 3
April 23, 2015
Decision: May 25, 2015

How can you show the adcom that you will be a leader in the future? Click here to find out!

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.

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.

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

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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.

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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.