We watched an adcom presentation at a top school recently and we were honestly a little turned off. It seemed like every single point that the admissions director made included the comment of “We’re the only one who has this.” or “No other school does that.”
First of all, in almost every case, it simply wasn’t true. There are not any business schools that are completely and totally unique. There just aren’t. All of them have qualities and features of their programs that are shared by other schools, at least in part. Yes, there’s one school – Yale – that has a unique approach to their curricular design, and sure, there are plenty of schools that were the first to implement such-and-such an initiative or program, like being first to offer a flexible curriculum, or being first to do field-based projects, or being first to require an international experience, or being first to offer lifetime education opportunities to alumni. But so what? Just because you were the first to do something does not mean that others aren’t doing it now, or that yours is automatically better.
We have been struck in different info sessions over the years by this tendency of admissions folks to make claims about how their school is different, and, well, it’s almost never the case that it is. We mentioned this back in 2013 when we wrote this “We don’t think it’s as big as you say it is” post about the size of, err, a top bschool’s alumni network. We talked about it even longer ago, in 2012, when Harvard’s then-new Dean Nohria claimed that their FIELD initiative was the first-ever at any top bschool. Oh hey dude, you mean except for like Michigan Ross? Or are you saying that Ross is not worthy of a comparison?
Where are these admissions people getting their information? Sure, we know that some schools pay attention to the market of MBA providers – meaning, they watch what other business schools are doing. They look at other schools’ essay questions and application requirements. They check out new initiatives being launched. They’re also frequently friends (or at least, friendly) with the admissions people at other schools. They all know each other.
The real reason we’re writing this post is not that, though. The real reason is just how distasteful this behavior is.
These are schools that say that they value the culture and community. That talk about collaboration and teamwork. And yet their main representative – the face of the school to the applicant community – is basically giving us a puffed-out chest and a whole series of braggadocio claims about how they’re “the best.” The not-so-subtle implication is that any other bschool out that is clearly second-rate because they aren’t as forward-thinking and innovative and all-knowing and profoundly awesome as WE are.
Or at least, that the admissions person thinks that.
Now, we acknowledge that yes, different schools have different combinations of features, and DEFINITELY they are different from one another in terms of culture and who they attract and what they specialize in and which type of student is going to thrive. But there’s also plenty of overlap. We’re not trying to say that an admissions person should be meek or pretend that these differences do not exist. But there’s also a way to present them that’s not quite so boastful.
Look at it this way, oh ye admissions folk out there: If you ran across an essay from a Brave Supplicant who was touting their qualities in this compare-and-contrast way, talking about how they’re the “only” applicant who has XYZ, not only would you say “Bullsh!t” when you read it, but also you’d more than likely be at least slightly turned off by the attitude.
To the BSers reading this: When you write about the reasons you want to go to School X in your essays or talk about it in your interview, it’s totally appropriate to talk about how you’re attracted to the features and elements of that school’s program. But it’s not necessary to use these compare-and-contrast statements to do so. Instead, mention the thing you’re attracted to, and say WHY it’s important or valuable.
And when you’re listening to a pitch from a school, and the admissions person tells you, “Our model is different in this way” or “We have this unique feature that nobody else does”, then please examine that claim, and make sure that the thing they’re talking about is even worth something. Who cares if this school is the only one to have some type of program if nobody uses it or it’s not worthwhile? Like, wouldn’t ALL the schools adopt that program if it were so great?
It’s a competitive marketplace. You have to be a sophisticated consumer when looking at advertising. Don’t fall for the spiel just because it’s coming from an adcom person who is in a position of authority. What they’re saying may be absolutely pertinent and meaningful to you and your goals for the MBA – or not. Make sure you evaluate it for yourself.