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.”
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.
By 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.