Our annual Radcom Award goes to…. Harvard Business School?!?
This is wholly unexpected! Harvard has not exactly been tops for applicant friendliness.
But this past season, they did two major things that we believe were significant:
2. They moved out their Round 2 date, albeit only by a couple days, but still. Any admissions team that acknowledges the stress of applicants in trying to hit those ridiculous first-of-January dates can be commended (even though our bet is that HBS only did it to make THEIR OWN jobs easier, since it’s probably loads of no-fun to come back into the office after a long holiday break and be faced with the stressbucket monsters that panicking applicants turn into when their apps are due that day and they’ve been waiting for ages to get an answer to their questions about how to answer some question in the app dataset).
They also gave very helpful admissions tips on their site — which is not exactly an earth-shaking innovation, since schools like MIT and Yale and Tuck have done so for years. But hey, for Harvard? It was a big deal.
About halfway through the season, we really wanted to give Harvard our award.
But…. we’re just having trouble following through now.
Because if you think about it, are these two things REALLY all that significant?
Probably we’d been enamored with the mere reality that HBS implemented ANY changes. They’d been toeing the status quo line for awhile now. Many years back, it was Harvard who could be counted on to mix things up in the realm of MBA admissions. They were the school that first started with changes to essays (did you know that Harvard used to require four essays of 500 words each??!?) and they were the ones to implement the mid-cycle release, where let rejected candidates know super early. That is indeed an advantage and it helps significantly if you’re one of the ones to be cut free, at least if you applied in Round 1, since it gives you notice early enough that you can start in on a Round 2 strategy quite soon. Many other schools including Booth and Wharton have since followed suit, so that the mid-cycle release is now common among other programs too. So those were all good innovations that helped candidates (mostly) but perhaps those were the low-hanging fruit, since we haven’t really seen many more applicant-friendly modifications to the process happening from Harvard more recently.
And, we’re also currently working on some analysis that will hopefully be ready to share with all of you soon, which makes us miffed at HBS to such an extent that we’re not really inclined to give them any sort of applause.
So what other school might deserve an honor from the ‘Snark for changes this season?
Well, if we were looking only at changes then Tuck seems like one to be looking at. They implemented all sorts of changes to their app process this year, including standardizing their admissions rounds to match other schools’ and making very big changes to their essay questions. But the round-name change really only was a cosmetic thing, which was rather overdue as it created confusion for applicants. And the essay questions? Well, that prompted this:
Wish we didn't have to say this but…. The @TuckSchool essays this year kinda suck. ☹️They are REALLY hard for applicants to execute on well. Tuck has always been a school that gave applicants a chance to share themselves. That doesn't feel like it's happening much this year.
— Essay Snark (@EssaySnark) January 3, 2019
So yes to making changes and we appreciate that Tuck wants to put its branding into its app. But meh (or even ) to the changes themselves in terms of actual value to the MBA applicant.
Darden too made significant changes, including kind of the reverse of what Tuck did: Now Darden has an Early Action round (not terribly surprising, given that Darden’s new Admissions Director was running Tuck’s MBA admissions for years). Darden also made changes to its essays, though the changes weren’t actually that radical. It’s appreciated that their process became more transparent, because they pulled out questions that they used to bury in the app and made applicants more aware of the requirements on their website itself. So that’s a positive, but as with the Tuck changes, we don’t feel that they deserve kudos just for making things standard. The short-round Early Action option at Darden is definitely worthwhile, because it’s a) non-binding and b) really short! They definitely tell you quickly if they’re going to admit you. So Darden is doing interesting things, both in admissions and also across the whole school — even all the way to DC with a new facility! And they have a new scholarship fund that pays for a global experience for every student . That’s pretty darned impressive. There’s a lot of energy at UVA and evidence of positive changes going on.
But, as much as we appreciate schools that aren’t afraid to mix things up, we cannot give the most coveted and desirable EssaySnark Radcom Award for 2018 to either Harvard, or to Tuck, or even to Darden.
We dithered and debated back and forth on this internally and have come to the conclusion that yet again, the Radcom of the Year goes to….
And why is that? What has MIT done THIS YEAR that so impressed us, that it knocked out the other schools that were finally starting to give them a run for their money?
Because every year, we award this based on current-season policies and changes that a school makes. (In the long-ago ancient past, we did it on essay questions alone, and that’s when Best MBA Questions contestDuke cleaned up first place over and over.) But none of our assessment for the current award factors in any prior moves by the admissions team in past seasons. We’re looking only on what schools did this time.
Alrighty then, what amazing new policy or practice did MIT implement in 2018?
It is this new feature:
and you’re accepted…
and you pay your deposit, intending to matriculate…
and something happens where you have to cancel your plans and withdraw from the entering class…
MIT WILL REFUND YOU PART OF YOUR DEPOSIT.
We don’t know of any other school that will do this.
At most schools, the deposit is non-refundable, regardless of the reason why you need to cancel.
At MIT, as of this season, they say that if you have to cancel your enrollment, you can do so by August 1 and they’ll refund you $1,500 of the deposit paid. The first deposit to hold your spot is $3,500, so it’s not even half back (assuming you paid only the first one), but still, that’s a pretty square deal.
What that means is, they know they can fill your spot! They are confident that they’ll have a full waitlist, even potentially as far out as right before the program begins. The other schools could always fill seats late like that too, but we’ve not before seen one who will give you even a penny back if you change your mind.
The reason for that is legit: If they gave refunds on deposits, then applicants would be canceling right and left, doing the wait-and-see game where you deposit at one school while hanging onto the waitlist at another. It makes sense these are non-refundable, or it would throw the whole system into chaos.
The deposit is how a school gets you to put skin in the game. It’s unheard of that they would give you any of that back if you decide you won’t be attending.
There’s another bonus point too that MIT gets credit for, which they already got credit for last year and just this year, they outdid themselves even further:
MIT’s Round 2 deadline this season was not until the third week of January!! Now that was a kindness!!
The only aspect of the MIT process that semi-swayed us from granting them this high honor:
The special-purpose resume they made you submit (with redacted name/address – nonsense). That is a ridiculous component of their app which adds more work.
The org chart was also an oddity. We’re not convinced it’s that useful. If app volumes softened to the degree that we believe they may have this season, then MIT may end up ditching that for the Class of 2022. It’s certainly not an application innovation that other schools will adopt. Those two things were nuisances for candidates. There’s a slight chance that the org chart requirement prevented a few applicants from moving forward with an app to MIT — though the Round 2 applicants had no excuse, given how staggered the MIT deadline was compared to other schools. It’s not like Sloan didn’t give you plenty of time to put together all of the pieces!
“But hey EssaySnark,” you may be saying. “Didn’t you just say that Darden is paying for students to travel around the world now? Doesn’t that count for something?”
Why yes, in fact it does! But this is the Radcom Award — it’s for the admissions team who has promoted the most applicant-friendly policies. The new Darden scholarship, impressive as it is, is only a benefit to actual students. So we could not give this coveted award to Darden based on that funness alone.
So there you have it. A three-peat from MIT Sloan. Congratulations to an awesome admissions team and thank you for being on the Brave Supplicants’ side!! Congratulations!