Not really sure why we do this every year but here we go again: Which schools will be changing the torture devices they put BSers through this year? AKA, which schools are likely to go in a different direction with their essays?
Here’s our prognostications for what you might be seeing with the application requirements for the MBA Class of 2020:
1. The easy one is Columbia — not that they’re going to be changing their actual essay questions much, but that they will be taking away the silly sliding scale they’ve offered for how long an essay can be. For the Class of 2019 essays, they gave you a range where you could choose how long to go in answer to the prompt. For their first essay, which is essentially a career goals question, they allowed you from 100 to 750 words to answer. But hello? Did ANYBODY write only 100 words? Or even 200 words? Or 500?!? NO! Everyone wrote **800 words** because Columbia was just being so darned generous!
Is an 800-word essay better than a 750-word essay? NO!!!!!! (in fact, it turns out that a 500 word essay is best, based on how they changed things for the Class of 2020!)
Prediction: At minimum, Columbia will decrease the upper limit of acceptable words for Essay 1, but more likely, we believe they’ll ditch the word count range entirely and go back to the standard max word count per essay as other schools do.
- UPDATE 5/11/17: WE WERE RIGHT! Columbia has not only standardized the word counts with 500 words for essay 1 and 250 words for essays 2 and 3, but they’ve radically simplified what they’re asking for, too, while still staying completely in sync with the questions they’ve asked before.
2. Next we’ll do Harvard, where we’re going out on a limb and predicting that Chad Losee will switch things up with the application. Our bet is they’ll keep the unlimited-length essay but they’ll change the prompt. We keep going back and forth on how: Will they make it a much more structured question, where they’ll ask you to paint within the lines? Or will they find another open-ended question to use, which tests how applicants deal with ambiguity? Probably the latter — maybe something like, “What will you bring to the case method as practiced at Harvard Business School?” — but it’s hard to say.
Prediction: Harvard will stick to one unlimited-length essay with a new prompt.
- UPDATE 5/18/17: Well, we were HALF-RIGHT! HBS kept everything the same! It’s still an unlimited-length essay but they kept the original question they asked last year.
3. We believe that Tuck will make some bigger changes. Tuck tends to change essay questions at least marginally every year, however this next season in particular, we’re betting that they
fix change the wording for their first essay on career goals. The question about becoming “a leader with global impact” really tripped people up this season and caused many applicants to hype up their career goals on the world stage in a way that took them far from authenticity. That being said, Tuck will likely still keep the “international” angle on their second question and may even keep the existing prompt for essay 2 intact. As an academic, Dean Slaughter studied government policy and globalization and it’s very possible that these angles may be reflected in the school’s admissions requirements.
Prediction: Tuck will go back to basics with a simpler essay 1 while maintaining the emphasis on global business that’s part of their current branding.
4. Berkeley-Haas will make some tweaks to Essay 3 on career goals – not that their current wording is awful, but it was better in past years. We believe that they’re still getting healthy app volumes despite the fact that they have three essays, compared to only two at many schools, so it’s unlikely they’ll be deviating from that too much. The main way that we believe the Haas essays might change? Right now, the questions themselves don’t deal head-on with the Defining Principles. Dean Lyons, and UC-Berkeley as a whole, have a tradition of focusing on values. In the face of the changing winds of the American climate, we suspect that Berkeley might be a school that asks candidates to directly discuss ethics.
Prediction: Berkeley will keep three essays with some changes, with one question to focus more overtly on principles.
5. What about Stanford and Wharton and Booth? Pretty sure that all three will largely keep status quo, though the GSB is the wildcard, given that they too have had a changing of the guard in admissions. Stanford Essay A – “What matters most?” – has been around for-ev-er. While we don’t see any reason for Stanford to want to change it, given how effective that question has been in allowing them to learn about their applicants, it’s also pretty much a legacy question. Legacies always eventually need to give way to the new. So, maybe not this year, but probably soon, we do expect that bulwark of an essay to be replaced.
Booth will most likely have a set of new photos to choose from, using the same device as they’ve used for a few years now. Wharton seems to have finally found the right combination of number of essays and clearly worded questions so we’re hoping (fingers crossed) that they don’t muff that up all over again.
We often end up with egg on the face when we make these forecasts, so we’ll have to see how it goes this time! Hopefully we’ll do better than political pundits have fared with predictions on elections in the past year.
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