We inadvertently have created a pseudo-tradition around here where we lay out some forecasts and predictions of what is going to change in the admissions process at specific schools in the coming season. We’ve got a half-way decent record of accuracy, as you can see if you’re curious:
(Apparently we’ve been doing this for awhile.)
So, what do we think is going to happen with MBA applications for the Class of 2021?
1. We predict changes to the essay questions at
Harvard [ETA: DOH! 0 for 1 already – HBS question will stay the same this year as announced on the director’s blog today! we’ll have to see if they make any other substantive changes in the app UPDATE #2: As of mid-May, HBS has in fact made changes — they’ve ditched Round 3!! EssaySnark should get at least a half-point for this category of prediction!! We’ll see if anything else comes down the pike from here] and Stanford — and possibly Duke. Harvard and Stanford both have relatively new-ish leadership in their admissions function and those new directors have now been on the job for one full season each. It’s not hard to predict that they may want to make changes to their apps at this time, particularly in the case of Stanford where the essay questions have been static for a very long time. That’s true at Duke, too, which is why we’re feeling like it may be time for a shift there. The reason these specific schools have had stable app requirements for so long is because their essay prompts have been very effective — so for that reason alone, it’s possible that Duke may hold tight with those prompts for yet another season.
2. You can also assume that essay questions will change at Ross [YES!], Berkeley [YES!], Darden [YES!], Columbia [YES!], Tuck [BIG YES!], Kellogg [NO 🙁 ]. There are a number of schools that tend to change their questions every single year so it’s not really a “prediction” to name those, since it’s how they typically manage their processes. However, all these schools will remain generally consistent in terms of what they are looking for — which can be summed up as candidates with strong stories of leadership, impact, and teamwork. The one school on this list that’s likely to have a larger change to their essay prompt is Darden. For the others, it’s much more likely to be an adjustment or refinement to the same types of questions that they’re currently already asking (though Tuck too is signalling that perhaps there may be larger changes on the horizon for them as well).
3. We believe that probably Yale will change its question (though we’re on the fence on this one; the current question in use for the last two seasons is quite good and “very Yale” [AND TURNS OUT THEY KEPT IT!]) and we believe that NYU may tweak the way it’s phrasing their second essay question, or possibly combine it with essay 1, though we’re less certain of this so we’ve placed them in a different bucket than the list of schools named in #2 above. [THEY DID AWAY WITH QUESTION 2 COMPLETELY!! SO WE WERE RIGHT ABOUT THIS ONE] MIT also is likely to continue to innovate through changes and modifications to their questions, as they have being doing more of this in their admissions process than almost any other school lately. [AND OH BOY DID THEY! MIT HAS THEIR NEW ORG CHART REQUIREMENT]
4. Wharton [YES! NEW ESSAY 2 BUT MAIN ESSAY THE SAME], Booth and UCLA [YES! NEW SHORT-ANSWER PROMPT BUT MAIN ESSAY THE SAME] may make small fine-tuned changes (for example, Booth will publish a new set of photos that they want applicants to respond to [WE GOT THIS ONE WRONG BIGLY – BOOTH DITCHED THE PHOTO THING COMPLETELY!] but we don’t expect anything wholesale to be different at these programs.
What are the implications to you as a Brave Supplicant who’s planning on applying in the Fall?
The most important advice is to simply sit on your hands and wait at least in regards to essays. There are some eager-beaver types out there every year who get all gung-ho and fired up about applying that they start writing essays now. While it’s fine to take a gander at what the adcoms ask in their applications for the just-closed season (Class of 2020), it doesn’t make any sense to actually start writing any essays yet. There is value in reading through the questions that they have posted and doing some thinking on how you might try to answer them, in theory — as in, think up a possible project or scenario or situation from your life that you would use in support of your answer to the question they have posed.
But don’t start actually writing anything.f Not yet. The probability that a school will change its questions is quite high, and you’ll end up having to start over. Or, worst case scenario, you may get attached to the direction you’ve started to go, and be unwilling to relinquish that as your topical strategy once the real questions for the Class of 2021 come out. Sometimes an adcom may tweak its phrasing, and sometimes BSers assume that the question is the same, but that can really trip you up if you’re overlooking the nuances or not appreciating how the question changes require a different approach in your answer.
So don’t get ahead of yourself. Understanding the themes that a school tends to focus on and starting to dig through the examples from your own life that may be relevant can surely be helpful, as it gets you thinking on these hard topics and reflecting on the questions of who you are and what have you done with your life to this point. By that same token, picking up the SnarkStrategies Guide for one or two of your schools of interest can’t hurt now, even though those are all published for the past season. They will give you an in-depth introduction to what the school focuses on, though, so if you’re new to everything then that may be an advantage, to help you focus your research efforts and understand the direction your strategy should be going in later. The actual writing? It can wait.
What else might change?
In reaction to the suppression of apps from international candidates and the overall trend for simplification in the admissions process, more schools are likely to ditch the requirement for a TOEFL score. Already, MIT, Yale and Duke have dropped it (or never had it). We’ve gotten word that Columbia may be making this change for the upcoming admissions cycle as well [
to be confirmed UPDATE: THIS CHANGE IS CONFIRMED FOR THE 2018 APP].
Will a school like HBS ditch the TOEFL? Hard to say. They’d be a natural choice to remove the English language requirement, partly because Harvard likes to lead the way in big changes to admissions that then percolate through the whole industry (HBS was the first bschool to begin to reduce both word count and quantity of essays in its app, back in like 2012, which generated a whole trend of other schools racing to simplify their apps). Also, and much more saliently, Harvard’s admissions team does all the interviewing, so they have a direct interaction with any applicant before they admit them. This adcom-interview system is the key reason why MIT has not seen the need for a separate TOEFL exam. The Sloan admissions people can see for themselves what your grasp of English is. This also would indicate that perhaps NYU will drop the TOEFL but they are a school much more committed to doing things their own way; if their admissions team continues to see value in a TOEFL then they’ll keep asking for a TOEFL.
Schools like Berkeley-Haas and UCLA have their hands tied; the TOEFL is a university-wide requirement at these places and so we would be quite surprised if they even loosen their requirements for this proficiency test. Currently, Anderson and Haas have the most restrictive policies of any top bschool. They’re on the opposite end of the spectrum. Since we doubt that Berkeley especially has seen any significant drop-off even in international apps this year, based on the pull of Silicon Valley that attracts so much interest among BSers from everywhere, they are unlikely to see the need for a change, particularly when Dean Lyons is on his way out. We expect a bit more of the status quo at Berkeley until they have new leadership ensconced. For a similar reason, we don’t expect many changes to come out of Cornell for the time being, as they have had too much tumult in their leadership function. Sticking to what’s been in place already is the safe bet at Johnson for now.
Will any top school begin to waive the GMAT/GRE?
Highly unlikely. This may happen at some point down the road but we’re skeptical — at least, not any Top 15 school. The less competitive / lower ranked programs may indeed start to experiment with a test-optional policy but we’re not expecting to see this at a school like HBS anytime soon. That being said, Stanford University has recently rolled back its campus-wide graduate admission requirement for the GRE and now it’s up to individual schools and departments if they require any test at all with admissions. So things are changing but it’s early days still, and we don’t expect any top MBA program to waive their GMAT/GRE requirement for full-time admissions (not anytime soon). The only reason we mention this is because there’s now a trend with college admissions to go test-optional for the SAT and ACT; in June 2018, the University of Chicago announced that they won’t require a test to apply. This is to try and even the playing field and remove the advantage that well-off students have in the seemingly unlimited resources they can tap for test prep. Test-optional has taken hold in undergrad admissions but we don’t see it coming up for MBA at least not in the current admissions environment.
Will any top school start accepting the Executive Assessment for its full-time program?
Again, not likely. Perhaps someday — but if they do, then they’ve got a perception problem to deal with first, based on how the test has been named and the purpose for which it was created. For any lower-ranked bschool that begins exploring test-optional policies, we can see how they might allow you to submit the GMAT or the GRE or the EA, or potentially no test at all if certain parameters are met (such as, having graduated from college within the last X years, from a STEM or business major, with a GPA of x.x or above). If you’re an Executive MBA candidate then you can check out our overview of the Executive Assessment here.
Will it be more competitive this year?
We’ve got some ideas on this that are bouncing around; we’ll offer them up on these pages as we have more confidence in how we think things may go. [Update: there’s a note at the bottom of this post from the end of June about this.]
Remember, predictions and forecasts are fairly meaningless when it comes down to what your application strategy should be. If now is the time for you to try for an MBA, then none of this matters. Your strategy will need to be your own, and nobody can realistically predict your chances based on the aggregate.
Of course — Shameless Plug! — that’s where our Comprehensive Profile Review comes in! We can predict chances based on your specifics. Hit us up if you have questions!!